Kyle Busch's Shots at Dale Jr.: Head-Scratching at Best

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Kyle Busch's Shots at Dale Jr.: Head-Scratching at Best
(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

You've got to give ESPN credit...they make their favorites the news.

And like Tim Tebow has become the face of college football, Ed Hinton and the rest of ESPN's racing team has made Kyle Busch the focus of all things NASCAR in 2009.

This weekend, when asked about personnel changes with the No. 88 team, Busch took a swipe both at Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport's most popular driver, and the same Hendrick Motorsports organization that booted him for Jr. following the 2007 season.

And while even Dale Jr. has admitted that some of what Busch said has merit to it, it doesn't change the fact that Busch's comments regarding his fellow competitor and former team were, well head-scratching.

Let's put 2009 in perspective. Yes, Dale Jr. has had a rough season as a driver. Between missing his pit stall on numerous occasions during pit stop cycles and incidents such as triggering a "big one" in the Daytona 500, it's not surprising that he's sitting 19th in points, well over 200 markers out of the Chase.

And yes, it was definitely time for a change atop the pit box of the No. 88 car. Because while Dale Jr. has been off his game, Tony Eury Jr. has also done nothing to alleviate the handling woes that have plagued his Chevrolets.

The past race weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Jr. fell through the field like a rock as soon as the green flag dropped. Jr.'s car was so loose that he was having to save his car every single time he exited Turn Four.

The 40th place finish that resulted was the worst performance in his accomplished career short of a 2004 race at Las Vegas that saw Jr. forced to the garage when his No. 8 car couldn't meet minimum speed on the track.

Had Busch made these comments or statements, there would have been no controversy whatsoever. Had this been the extent of the remarks, Jr. would have spoken accurately: "Kyle's right."

But the most hated driver in the sport today couldn't stop at making these observations. He just had to take his shots.

On Dale Jr. the driver: "It's never Junior. It's always the crew chief."

"If Junior doesn't run well, he [interim crew chief Lance McGrew] will be the problem again."

ESPN writer and avid Kyle Busch fan (whether he'll admit it or not) Hinton wrote that Earnhardt's statements in later interviews made it clear that Jr. agreed with Busch and that Busch, while candid, was right.

Wrong.

Read Earnhardt's comments for yourself. Yes, Earnhardt acknowledges that his new crew chief McGrew will face the most intense scrutiny of any driver in the Cup garage. And yes, Earnhardt is well aware it is ultimately him that will dictate whether or not he truly lives up to the legacy of his father.

Those statements, however, do not come close to meaning, as Hinton so craved to put it, "Kyle was right."

In fact, they're just the latest example of statements/actions that have kept NASCAR's most prolific winner and one of its greatest talents from becoming something more than the polarizing figure that he is right now.

For Busch to assert that "it's always the crew chief" when it comes to Dale Jr. is completely inaccurate and short-sighted.

First of all, the struggles that Jr. have endured so far in 2009 are the exception, not the norm, with regards to his career.

For crying out loud, Jr. has more NASCAR national championships and Cup wins than Kyle Busch. Plus he's got that nifty little Harley J. Earl trophy that Busch wants, oh so bad.

When talking about Dale Jr., one may not be talking about a career that rivals that of his legendary, 7-time Cup champion father, but a career with 18 Cup wins, a Daytona 500 triumph, and two Busch Series crowns is hardly something to dismiss.

And it's hardly the resume of someone that's consistently being saved by blaming the crew chief. Dale Jr. is a supremely talented race car driver, and the results say just that.

What Busch's comments ignore is that in this sport, no matter how good the driver, driver/crew chief relationships do go stale. Dale Earnhardt Sr. had to change crew chiefs during his career, as has Jeff Gordon...and those two have 11 Cup titles between them.

More than anything though, Busch's decision to take shots at his replacement driver and the team that cut him smells of sour grapes and jealousy.

And why should the hottest driver in NASCAR be jealous?

Despite all the money Toyota has pumped into Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports is still the reigning Cup champion. Despite all the wins that Busch has racked up (many by massacring the minor league ranks of NASCAR), the younger Earnhardt is still by far the fan favorite driver.

And despite all the best efforts of Darrell Waltrip and ESPN, the majority of race fans out there don't care to see Rowdy in victory lane.

Sure, the No. 88 team has not done what the No. 18 has since Busch switched seats. But the world over at Hendrick Motorsports has kept on spinning, even without God's gift to racing behind the wheel.

And to be asinine enough to buy from a dejected Kyle Busch that an organization like Hendrick Motorsports and a driver the caliber of Dale Jr. are simply making excuses is just that, asinine.

That's ESPN's NASCAR coverage, and Kyle Busch, for you.

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