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Whooo! do you love?

THATSRACIN.COM OPINION

- tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Monday, Jan. 18, 2010

CONCORD, N.C. – Joe Gibbs, the Joe Gibbs in Joe Gibbs Racing, announces Monday that he has signed Kyle Busch to a long-term contract.

Don't you love good news? Aren't you glad Kyle is going to be around?

Even if you don't want to be seen cheering in front of friends, acquaintances and strangers, aren't you quietly thrilled?

Busch is asked if he envisioned the contract.

"I envisioned that with Rick Hendrick," he says. "But you saw how that turned out."

Hendrick Motorsports cut Busch after the 2007 season to sign Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Busch began driving for Gibbs in '08.

He's a beautiful fit. Gibbs can handle controversy, as Tony Stewart will attest.

Busch also is a beautiful fit for NASCAR. Thousands of fans buy tickets to watch him. A few even pull for him.

There's also this: If you could measure sheer racing talent, Busch might have as much as anybody. He might have more.

But he is like a basketball player who goes for 35 points while his team loses. He made the Chase in 2008 but flamed out. Last season he flamed out before the Chase.

Busch says that in '08 he felt that he was the best.

"I was out-driving everybody else," he says.

But he gets caught up in duels with drivers who offended him, might have offended him, or thought about offending him. While Busch competes with his enemies, Jimmie Johnson competes for championships.

"I know I need to work on getting that out of my system," Busch says.

Busch is imperfect. But he's only 24. And if he didn't exist, NASCAR would have to invent him.

Asked how he feels about the contact he'll have with open wheel media star Danica Patrick, Busch says: "Right now it will only be when I lap her."

Then he praises Patrick. But the quote still hangs in the air.

The media often criticize drivers because they often sound as if they attended the same finishing school. We do this because drivers often sound as if they attended the same finishing school.

Many have something to say. But because they are required to appease sponsors, they are careful when they say it. It's like interviewing Luke Skywalker.

On Monday, the first day of the media tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Gibbs tells the 110 fans invited to the event that they'll get to ride around the track.

The fans respond like 110 Ric Flairs.

"Whooo!" they yell.

Busch and the other drivers have left the stage. But when Busch hears the cheers, he returns.

"Whooo!" he yells, waving his arm.

"Whooo!" the fans respond.

"Whooo!" yells Busch.

"Whooo!" yell the fans.

A driver who isn't comfortable with fans – or with himself – will not make the effort to have fun with them.

Gibbs says he ought to make Busch a team owner. It worked for Stewart.

"He drove us crazy for years and now (that Stewart owns a team) he's a model citizen," Gibbs says.

But do you want Busch to be a model citizen? Sprint Cup has more model citizens than Canada.

Don't you love it when boos cascade from the grandstands as Busch celebrates a victory with a theatrical bow?

Busch says he appeals to fans who want their driver not to finish well but to win. In two seasons with Gibbs he has an incredible 19 victories in the Nationwide Series races and 12 in Sprint Cup.

And the fans that regularly greet him with a single finger?

Busch extends his index fingers and yells, "That's right, we're No. 1, baby!"

Says Speedway president Marcus Smith: "Kyle is a professional black hat in the sport. Who is Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader?"

Just another guy in a robe.

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