- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Since arriving in NASCAR, Busch has been a lightning rod for criticism, even when he hasn't deserved it, no matter how much good he does. He is too aggressive, too brash and too arrogant. Fans seemingly dislike him with a passion, whether it is for winning too many races or coming off like a sore loser.
One slipup, as we saw on Tuesday when he was ticketed for going 128 mph in a 45-mph speed zone, and the year and a half of goodwill Busch has produced is out the window.
Maybe that's because Busch entered the sport with a chip on his shoulder. It doesn't make him a bad person, it just makes him different.
That never was more evident than on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
We began the day talking to Bayne for the first time since he was sidelined with an undisclosed illness that doctors initially traced to an insect bite. We listened as he talked about the outpour of warmth he has felt from the NASCAR community, from Carl Edwards visiting him in the Mayo Clinic with his guitar to Tony Stewart flying family members to visit him to Michael McDowell spending five days keeping him company.
He told us how he's had a text message wishing him well from almost everyone in the garage. He told us the time away from the track has put a new perspective on life, "how blessed we are to be race car drivers."
He sounded almost too good to be true.
Listening to others talk about him, you start to believe he is.
"Trevor is obviously a special person," Kevin Harvick said of the driver who will return to the Nationwide Series next weekend at Chicagoland and the Sprint Cup Series two weeks later at Michigan. "He's a good kid, and it's hard to believe when you hear him talk and hear the enthusiasm and hear everything that comes along with him, it's hard to believe that he is 20 years old.
"Trevor is just a good person. Obviously, he can drive the race car, and when you listen to him talk he just bleeds enthusiasm. ... He's a fun person to be around."
Mark Martin recalled when he worked for Dale Earnhardt Inc. a few years ago and Bayne was working in the shop while going to high school.
"A very impressive young man," Martin said. "He always had a great attitude, was very interested in absorbing. When he was around me, he was like a sponge."
Not long after Bayne spoke, Busch arrived. He was apologetic for the traffic incident that he called a "lack of judgment." Instead of discussing how excited he was about Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, which Bayne will miss, he spent most of the interview explaining his actions.
There was no outpour of support for what Busch had done, which, according to Harvick, "put a lot of people in a bad situation." Several drivers didn't want to comment at all, knowing any semblance of sympathy could be detrimental to them.
Both drivers had their team owners in the room with them: Eddie Wood to express how thrilled he is that Bayne will return to the No. 21 Wood Brothers Cup car at Michigan; Joe Gibbs to monitor Busch's responses and make sure he said all the right things.
"I am just glad he is back," Wood said of Bayne. "You guys can see how he has that warm and fuzzy feel again. I am happy."
You seldom if ever hear warm and fuzzy used to describe Busch outside of those "love, love" Toyota commercials in which the 26-year-old driver wears a pink firesuit decorated with bunnies and other furry critters.
He is and always will be a lightning rod on and off the track. It's the foundation he laid when he was Bayne's age, ticking off drivers such as Stewart, who once said Busch was going to hurt somebody.
"He has a fast car," Stewart said when Busch was 20. "He just needs to learn how to drive the thing."
No one's ever said that about Bayne. Maybe that's because four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon trusted him as a drafting partner so much in the qualifying races before the Daytona 500. Or because of the way Bayne pushed David Ragan to the front in the 500 before a late miscue by Ragan left Bayne with the victory.
Or maybe it's because Bayne didn't enter the sport with a chip on his shoulder.
"I think some people are their own worst enemy when it comes to being responsible as a person or as a business person or anything that comes with life's responsibilities," Harvick said of Busch.
Granted, Harvick has issues with Busch because both were placed on probation after their postrace incident on pit road at Darlington. But it's hard to imagine Bayne ever putting himself in that position.
Bayne is the All-American kid Busch never will be. His smile is infectious, not antagonistic, like Busch's sometimes can be.
It's doubtful he'd ever think of driving a street car 83 mph over the speed limit.
"I am blessed and happy to be a race car driver," said Bayne, who says the symptoms of double vision, fatigue and swelling in the joints have disappeared. "I think we get to drive fast enough on the racetrack, and that is why I drive a truck, so I am not tempted.
"Even though it is a Ford Raptor and probably could do that, I try not to push it to that level."
Busch likes to push, which is why he arguably is the best in the sport today. He has reached a level that Bayne perhaps never will competitively, winning 97 races in NASCAR's top three series in an unbelievably short time.
Bayne has only one win, albeit it's the Daytona 500, a trophy that Busch would love to have. But Bayne has earned a level of support and respect that Busch likely never will.
That doesn't make Busch bad.
It just makes him different.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.