Kyle Busch simply 'Amazing' at Bristol
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- OK, who kidnapped Kyle Busch?
Seriously, did you listen to his interviews after Saturday night's Sprint Cup victory at Bristol Motor Speedway that moved him within 34 points of the Chase? He talked about what an honor it was to compete with all the drivers in the series. He called runner-up Mark Martin a class act and said Martin deserved to win.
He said he loved the fans, even the ones that booed him before and after the race. He passed the checkered flag through the grandstand fence to a crying woman wearing his paraphernalia -- at least he hopes she got it after a Tony Stewart fan tried to wrangle it away.
And through all of this, he looked and sounded sincere, not sarcastic, as we're accustomed.
He was just as polished after his crash in Friday night's Nationwide Series race, the only thing that kept him from sweeping NASCAR's top three series after taking the checkered flag in Wednesday night's Truck race. He wasn't hard on rookie Chase Austin for causing the wreck and he wasn't bothered that the crowd wildly cheered his misfortune.
A public relations person from another organization said it was one of the most professional interviews she'd seen, and she was right.
Somebody call CSI Bristol. The real Busch would have stormed away without talking, just as he did after the spring Nationwide race. Remember? He parked his car on the track in Turn 3 and pouted away into the darkness.
But it wasn't just Busch's comments that raised suspicion that the 24-year-old phenom was abducted by aliens. It was the way he conducted himself on the track Saturday night -- particularly on the final two laps.
He gave Martin plenty of room to get underneath him instead of blocking as he attempted with Tony Stewart earlier this summer at Daytona -- and we all saw how that turned out. He drove so clean that Martin praised him. It's hard to remember the last time a fellow driver praised him for driving clean, especially on the final lap.
Or if it's ever happened at all.
"He raced me like a good sport," Martin said. "When he's behind me I will be comfortable that he will race me the same way I raced him."
That's not the Busch fans have come to love and hate. And hate. And hate.
That's not the Busch that a week ago got out of his Nationwide car at Michigan and blasted Brian Vickers for the way he raced him on the final lap, allowing Brad Keselowski to steal the win from both of them. That's not the Busch that Vickers only a few days ago said he felt sorry for because he always is so angry.
There must be a ransom note somewhere.
Or maybe this is the new and improved Busch. He has been going through media training. According to sources, he had a session early Saturday morning while most of his competitors were asleep in their motorcoaches.
"For him, he can have all the media training you want, but it's got to come from the heart," Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said.
Everything seemed to come from the heart on this night, beginning with prerace introductions, when drivers came out to the tune of their favorite song.
Actually, Busch's song was on loan from Scott Speed, who recommended he go with "Amazing" by Kanye West.
The lyrics begin with, "It's amazing, I'm the reason everybody [is] fired up tonight."
And when Busch suggested maybe he was the reason the sellout crowd of more than 160,000 was fired up, he sounded humble. He sounded humble about everything.
Yes, Kyle Busch.
But I refer to another verse in the song that goes, "I'm amazin', yeah, I'm all that. If I ain't on my grind then what you call that? Victorious, yeah, we warriors. We make history, strive off victory."
Busch does strive off victory. He's won 16 times in Cup, surpassing Jeff Gordon's mark for the most wins by a driver before the age of 25. Busch will win a lot more.
He may one day make history.
That's how we know we had the right Busch here on this electric night. An imposter couldn't drive the car as masterfully as he does. Few can. As Martin and most will attest, he's a special talent.
Vickers seems to think Busch wants to win so badly that he makes himself miserable. Maybe he does. But Busch is working to change that, and what we saw this weekend was a step in the right direction.
Imagine how dangerous a calmer, more consistent Busch will be once he makes the Chase.
And he will make it barring a collapse the next two races at Atlanta and Richmond, two places he's won before. He's already figured out, according to what a source told him, that if he averages 147 points over the final three races, he'll get the supposed 3,160 points needed to qualify.
He got 190 on Saturday, so he's well ahead of the average.
Unfortunately, there are a lot better ways for me to handle [losing]. I can certainly do a better job at that.” -- Kyle Busch
And if Busch makes the Chase, he'll start no worse than second when the points are reshuffled for wins.
Saturday's win was his fourth of the season, tying him with Martin -- who improved from 12th to 10th in points -- for the most this season. If they both make the Chase, they would be at worst tied for second in the standings headed to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and very likely tied for first.
If I were the competition, I'd be nervous. The Busch we saw this weekend seems unflappable, and Vickers tried his best to shake him with a barrage of mind-game jabs.
Busch didn't even mind talking about his shortcomings that Vickers repeatedly pointed out. He explained that, yes, winning is important to him. But he explained that it is important not just for him to win, but the team to win, and how much of his anger after a race is from feeling he let his teammates down.
This all sounds like a psychology course, but again Busch sounded sincere. He didn't roll his eyes or look straight ahead without making eye contact with the person that asked the question.
"Unfortunately, there are a lot better ways for me to handle [losing]," Busch said. "I can certainly do a better job at that. But like today, I mean, you see all the faces of the guys in the pits that work so hard, now in Victory Lane.
"I mean, they're jubilant. They're excited. They know they've accomplished what they set out to do. I accomplished what I set out to do. That's to win races."
Busch was starting to sound as sappy as Martin did about the fans who cheered him for his 1,000th NASCAR start prior to the race. He didn't cry. He just smiled and looked at peace with the world.
Back to "Amazing," there's a verse that says, "I'm a monster, I'm a maven. I know this world is changin'. Never gave in, never gave up. I'm the only thing I'm afraid of."
The world isn't the only thing that is changing. Busch is. And he is a monster on the track, one who should be feared perhaps more than any other driver.
Asked what the game plan was moving forward, he grinned and said, "Win."
Call off the search. Kyle Busch is alive and well.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.