I have been writing a NASCAR column in some form or another since 2002. That year, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman were rookies, Tony Stewart won his first Cup championship — and yes, it was a Winston Cup — and Kyle Busch turned 17.
Since then, I have probably written more words about the younger Busch than any other driver in any NASCAR series. By 2002, Kyle had already run six Camping World Truck Series races (all in 2001 at the age of 16). His NASCAR career was put on hold that year by a new NASCAR rule that didn’t allow drivers to race in one of the three national series until their 18th birthday, which meant he couldn’t race in NASCAR until 2003. In the interim he left Roush Racing, who had fielded his truck team and went to Hendrick Motor Sports. He won some races there before heading over to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick.
Since he was that 16-year-old kid in Jack Roush’s truck in 2001, Busch has raced a bunch of miles and won a bunch of NASCAR races — 166 to be exact — but I would dare say he hasn’t grown up much. And his actions and words at Bristol last Sunday are further proof.
After a mid-race crash, Busch had some harsh words for his Joe Gibbs team.
“Something (broke), obviously,” Busch told NBC Sports. “It’s a shame. The last few times we’ve been here, we’ve had real fast Camrys and we haven’t been able to finish, we’ve been having parts failures here. It’s something we have to address and fix. I’m tired of losing races here with parts falling apart. They’ll hear about it on Tuesday (in the team’s weekly competition meeting).”
You may remember last time the Cup Series was at Bristol, Busch hit a lady with his car in the pits after an on-track incident left his Camry damaged. There was plenty of blame to go around for that one, but Busch did have some culpability.
Back when I started writing this column — it was maybe the second one — I wrote a piece on Busch, his injury and my opinion that he should not be chase eligible in 2015 after missing 11 races to start the season. I caught some major heat from that one from an internet troll, who, apparently, keeps an FBI-style dossier on me.
It’s not that I don’t like Kyle Busch. Kyle Busch is a fantastic racecar driver. You don’t win 166 NASCAR races if you are not. But one thing you do not do on a third-rate cable news channel is throw your team under the bus.
Which is exactly what Kyle did. And not for the first time. Anyone remember Texas 2007? Busch wrecked his No. 5 Hendrick Chevy. His team busted their butts to get the car repaired and back on track for him. When the team had his car ready to return, Busch had gone ghost. No one could find him. Apparently, he had left the track. Earnhardt, who had also crashed out of the race, got in the car and picked up a few extra points for Busch. What happened next? Earnhardt ends up at Hendrick in 2008 and Busch is at Gibbs. Now that may have worked out well for Busch, but it goes to show how, even with immense talent, you can’t treat your people like crap.
These guys who work on these cars and pit them put everything they have into getting these cars ready and owners spend boatloads of cash on parts and pieces to make them go fast. The last thing they want or need is the driver ripping their effort on television. Save that for the competition meeting. Don’t announce your intentions to do so in front of the dozens of people in attendance and the folks who could find CNBC on their TV dials.
Now at this point I am purely speculating. I am going on nothing but a gut feeling here, but there is an issue with the number of seats at Gibbs and a rising star in Erik Jones who is up-and-coming. Jones is going to be driving for Gibbs satellite team Furniture Row Motorsports in 2017 and team owner Barney Visser stated that Jones would only be there for a year. I don’t see them shuffling him back down to Xfinity in 2018. Busch did sign an extension with Gibbs last year, but I couldn’t find the length; only characterized as “multiyear.” Again, nothing more than speculation on my part, but if he can get booted from Hendrick for essentially acting like a baby, what’s to say he could not get booted from Gibbs for the same thing.
Because, lord knows, his behavior hasn’t changed much.
Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column.