CONCORD, N.C. – At NASCAR’s all-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last weekend, Kyle Busch got so angry after an on-track incident with teammate Denny Hamlin that he vowed over his radio that he would kill him.
Given a few days to think about it, is Busch sorry he said that?
“Absolutely not,” he said Thursday.
That’s why NASCAR needs Busch – besides the fact that he’s an extremely talented, 25-year-old driver who ranks No. 2 in Sprint Cup points.
Busch is unrepentant. He doesn’t mind being a bad guy or getting booed in the pre-race introductions. He doesn’t care that Hamlin – who seethed later Thursday that Busch needed to grow up and stop creating needless “drama” – clearly isn’t his Facebook friend.
A simmering feud with another driver? Shoot, that’s nothing for Busch.
Busch and his older brother Kurt (who won that same all-star race Saturday) once had a feud that went for much of the 2007 season. They barely spoke for months. It didn’t get resolved until they both spent Christmas at their grandmother’s house and made up for her sake.
Busch’s on-air diatribe against Hamlin Saturday included these words: “I swear to God, I’m going to kill that (expletive). All his (expletive) fault! I had this race won! It was won!”
Busch defended those comments Thursday as “heat of the moment.” He also said that while he wasn’t joking about what he said at the time, he obviously wasn’t going to hurt Hamlin.
“With what?” Busch joked. “My great looks?”
Still, the latest controversy involving Busch has entertained a number of people, including the folks at Charlotte Motor Speedway and driver Jimmie Johnson.
Speedway officials staged a “delivery” to Busch on Thursday at his news conference that included a pack of M&Ms (his No. 18 Toyota’s primary sponsor) and boxing gloves.
Johnson, who was involved in a similar tiff with teammate Jeff Gordon several weeks ago, said he was enjoying the Busch-Hamlin controversy and was “just thankful it’s not me in the middle of it.”
“I want to see it continue on,” Johnson laughed.
For his part, Hamlin remains angry with Busch. Hamlin said: “Kyle brings this stuff on himself. I don’t want to be a part of it. Any drama he wants to create – it’s on him. Anything he says on the radio – it’s on him. … Each year I think Kyle is going to grow out of it, and each year he doesn’t. Until he puts it all together, that’s when he’ll become a champion. Right now, he just doesn’t have himself all together.”
Busch, though (who qualified ninth Thursday for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600), hardly seems bothered if people don’t like him. One of his nicknames is “Rowdy” – as the younger Busch brother, he’s also called “Shrub”– and he has been rowdy since he was the Cup series’ rookie of the year in 2005.
On the move in question Saturday night, Busch thought Hamlin cut him off with a bit of defensive driving when Busch was about to pass his teammate for the lead. That caused Busch to hit the wall, and he soon got a flat tire. Busch then stormed to Hamlin’s hauler, where he waited inside for Hamlin along with team owner Joe Gibbs.
One of the most interesting parts of Busch’s news conference Thursday came when he talked about how different drivers would either “open the door” or “close the door” on a driver trying to pass in the same gray area.
In the “close the door” category, Busch put Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski, saying he wouldn’t even attempt to pass them in the same situation. (Gordon said he thought Hamlin did nothing wrong.)
In the “open the door,” Busch put Joey Logano, older brother Kurt, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin – and himself. He said he thought Hamlin would also fall into that category but that he was wrong.
Although Busch is a forceful driver, he’s not generally regarded as an unfair one. Said driver Jeff Burton: “Kyle, in my view, has never been a guy who wrecks other people. … He’s very aggressive but typically does it in a way that puts himself in harm’s way.”
Busch sounded like a cross between Panthers coach John Fox and Popeye on Thursday when he said of himself: “It is what it is and I am who I am.”
And given the constant need for NASCAR drivers who can cause some sort of reaction from fans besides a shrug, there is no need for Busch to round off those rough edges anytime soon.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; firstname.lastname@example.org.