Every sport needs a villain and brassy young fireballer Kyle Busch delights in filling the bill as the new Bad Boy of NASCAR.
The 23-year-old whiz kid from Vegas has become the driver fans love to loathe. He eggs them on. When they heckle, he heckles back. When they boo, he bows. He revels in being reviled.
He’s the screeching fingernails on NASCAR’s blackboard.
“I don’t care,” Busch said of the jeers that rained down on his victory parade last Saturday night at Darlington.
He likes sending his tormentors “crying on their way home.”
Busch takes no prisoners and makes no apologies. He races the way the late Dale Earnhardt raced. If his grandmother gets trapped between him and the finish line, granny better duck.
Recently at Richmond Busch bumped fan-favorite Dale Junior of the way –and probably out of a win – to start the boo-birds squawking.
Busch said he didn’t wreck Junior on purpose. He was merely racing to win and Junior was in his way. Bye-bye Junior.
Whatever it takes. That’s Busch’s motto.
He’s not only the most tenacious driver in NASCAR, the stats say Busch is the most talented. He has three wins in 11 Sprint Cup starts and is on top of the standings.
In his spare time this season he has also won three Nationwide races and two truck races.
Every victory is salt in the wounds of the Busch-baiters.
Jeff Gordon still gets a rise out of the crowd and Tony Stewart creates a rumble, but not since Darrell Waltrip has a driver grated as many fan nerves as Busch.
Waltrip used to aggravate and agitate on purpose. It was his way of getting attention.
Darrell called it “stirring the pot.”
Eventually it got out of control. After a hard crash at Charlotte, a dazed Waltrip was pulled from the wreckage and being helped into an ambulance when he heard the roar of the crowd: They were cheering his crash!
A couple of days later I asked Waltrip about the incident and he was still furious. He made the memorable remark about “inviting fans who don’t like me to meet me in the K-Mart parking lot and we’ll duke it out.”
But beneath the bravado, the jeers stung. Waltrip finally realized he had created a monster, and began working to mend his image.
Busch shows no such inclination toward contrition. The more they boo, the brasher – and faster – he gets.
Larry Woody is a veteran sportswriter in Nashville and has covered auto racing for almost four decades.