One word for Kyle Busch: Greatness
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- He began the night being called an ass and ended it being called "greatness."
Welcome to the wacky world of Kyle Busch.
Love him or hate him, there's no denying Rowdy or Shrub or whatever you call him is the most spectacular driver in NASCAR today. His victory in Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway concluded the most dominant -- and some might say unusual -- weekend in the sport's history.
It started with Busch winning Wednesday night's Camping World Truck Series race after starting 35th because of an engine change after qualifying. It continued Friday night with him intentionally "dumping" points leader Brad Keselowski to capture his 10th Nationwide Series race of the season.
It really ramped up during Saturday's prerace introductions when Keselowski told the near-sellout crowd "Kyle Busch is an ass" to turn jeers into cheers.
It concluded with Busch becoming the first driver in the history of the sport to sweep NASCAR's top three series in one weekend.
Spotter Eddie D'Hondt obviously thinks so.
"We are in the presence of greatness," he said as Busch took the checkered.
Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs reluctantly thinks so, too.
"I never quite use those terms," he said with a laugh. "I would say this: He's pretty good at what he does. That [greatness] probably was appropriate for what he did."
Busch might have taken his greatness to a new level by refusing to address Keselowski's comment no matter how hard reporters tried to goad him. Such maturity we've seldom seen in this 25-year-old phenom.
"Who?" Busch said, shrugging his shoulders. "Yeah, I don't know who you are talking about."
Uh, the driver of the No. 12, he was reminded.
"I saw it," Busch said of Keselowski's car, which finished 19th, one lap down. "But I passed it."
This was a moment for celebration, not retaliation.
First Busch drove his No. 18 Toyota along pit road and high-fived all his crew members. He then took the checkered flag and bowed to all four corners of this half-mile madhouse where fans booed him the night before and during introductions. He was so hoarse after screaming throughout his victory lap that he barely could do his first interview.
"Swept the weekend at Bristol, baby! Oh, yeah!" Busch yelled.
"Pretty remarkable what he's been able to do this weekend, especially owning his own Truck team," third-place finisher Jamie McMurray said. "Obviously, Nationwide, it's amazing how many races they win in that car. But then to come out tonight and win again. It's really impressive what Kyle's been able to do."
This was Busch's 16th victory in 2010 -- three in Cup, 10 in Nationwide and three in Trucks -- and the 78th of his career among the three series.
What's funny is, listening to Busch talk before each race, he didn't feel he had a car capable of winning this Cup race or even the Nationwide race. He was in such a down mood after a horrible first Cup practice Friday that, when asked about his Chase chances, Busch said, "We're playing defense. Every week, we seem to fall further and further back. Hopefully, we make it."
Kyle's a special driver. In my opinion, he's the most talented driver on the circuit. I told him before the race there are some guys booing him and some wise guy saying things that are unprofessional. But it's an absolute honor to work with Kyle Busch.” -- Crew chief Dave Rogers
Busch will make it.
If you believe what goes around comes around, he could win it. Busch won eight of the first 26 races two years ago. Many were crowning him the champion before the Chase began. Then he started the 10-race playoff 34th, 43rd and 28th and faded into mediocrity.
He seemed to have been there ever since.
Until this weekend.
Maybe this will be the turning point for a season seemingly in reverse the previous nine races -- an average finish of 20.4 and no finish better than eighth. Busch was frustrated, so down 24 hours earlier that when asked whether he had the ability to "turn it on" once the Chase began, he bluntly said, "Not right now."
Funny how one race and one four-day stretch can change an outlook. Busch is now third in points, within 72 of second.
Just look at how Busch took the lead from four-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson before Johnson's night turned sour with a crash on Lap 264. He dropped back on the restart to give up his inside position, then went high to force three-wide with Johnson and David Reutimann on a track where three-wide once was unheard of.
OK, so Busch admittedly made a mistake. But he turned something bad into something good, something few can do without crashing.
Then, on Lap 428 of 500, Busch showed the patience it takes to be great, battling Reutimann for the lead. After a handful of laps, exchanging sheet metal a couple of times, he got a run on the low side and pulled away.
"Great patience, bud," crew chief Dave Rogers radioed.
Busch doesn't always display this. He at times lets his greatness get him in trouble.
But on weekends when he puts it all together, there's nobody better.
"Kyle's a special driver," Rogers said. "In my opinion, he's the most talented driver on the circuit. I told him before the race there are some guys booing him and some wise guy saying things that are unprofessional.
"But it's an absolute honor to work with Kyle Busch."
What makes Busch really great is he doesn't get caught up in his press. He doesn't let all the accolades that will come his way from this unprecedented moment go to his head.
By the time Busch gets home, this win will be forgotten and he'll be focused on Wednesday night's off-road debut. If he finishes second there or in next weekend's Truck race at Chicago, he'll be mad.
"That's kind of the way I am," Busch said. "That's what you've seen the years since I've been here and hopefully for years to come."
And when somebody calls Busch great, his response is to ask why, not say thank you.
"First he'll argue with you," Rogers said. "Then he'll start back with you, 'Why do you say that?' We've got to keep him pumped up. He won Bristol here tonight. He's probably five minutes away from forgetting about it and trying to figure out how to win this Baja race Wednesday."
Sounds much better than "ass."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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