NASCAR Then & Now: Youthful Kyle Busch Vs. Legendary Mark Martin

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NASCAR Then & Now: Youthful Kyle Busch Vs. Legendary Mark Martin
(Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

One of these drivers has been a fixture on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series for nearly three decades, while the other has been dubbed as one of the sport's uncanniest characters in recent memory.

While you probably won't see Mark Martin banging fenders with Kyle Busch any time soon, if you were a Cup owner, which of these two drivers would you choose for a full season of racing?

50-year-old Martin is the face of "Old School" NASCAR, having been around the sport when the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte were honing their skills as some of the sport's best drivers of all-time.

Busch, the 24-year-old Vegas sensation, is NASCAR's new icon. He is often perceived as the "bad boy" for his all-or-nothing approach that leaves him with two results: a checkered flag, or the automatic beeline to his motor coach—a.k.a. anywhere away from a reporter in defeat.

However, they each share something in common: Both have been associated with Roush-Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, and most importantly, they each have three wins in the 2009 season, leading all drivers in the "W" column.

Would you take an experienced veteran whose only drawbacks are humility and caution, or an establishing force whose anger and temperament sometimes gets the best of him?  Let's take a look at each driver and you, the reader and juror, will make your case known.

 

Mark Martin

The Batesville, Ark. native has been in the NASCAR circuit full-time since 1988, with brief campaigns in the series during the early '80s. Like "Shrub," Martin was hard-charging driver who sometimes took unnecessary risks to get to the front.

However, he was Busch before car owners from established operations sought after raw, young talent. Simply put, Martin was put to school in stock car racing, driving self-owned to shoddy, C+ equipment that made him merely a "dependable ran-in" for the races.

Martin also battled with alcoholism in the 1980s, who makes no apologies about his mistakes as a youngster. Instead, he motivated himself to get clean.

He found solace through exercising, which transitioned the young man from a pint-sized racer to a compact, muscular machine like the stock cars he has piloted since the '88 season.

Often dubbed as the "best driver to not win a championship," Martin has finished in second place in the championship standings on four occasions (1990, 1993, 1998, and 2002). He had a streak of finishing in the top 10 in points from 1989 to 2000, winning 35 races during that span.

Running part-time campaigns in the 2007 and '08 seasons, the aging Arkansas native still showed flashes of brilliance—he flirted with victory in the 2007 Daytona 500 and led the points for a few races behind the wheel of the No. 01/8 Army Chevrolet.

Perhaps motivated by his performances as a part-time competitor, Martin made his full-time return for a title this season—in fashionable style.

On the strength of three wins, four top fives, and eight top-ten finishes, the sentimental favorite for the championship has gone from the cusps of the top 35 to the eighth spot.

What's most remarkable is the fact that Martin has won three races, which will prove crucial in his Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship seed position. At the pace that the No. 5 Kellogg's/Carquest team has competed at so far in 2009, there's no reason to see why the ageless contender won't drive his way to more victories.

Kyle Busch

He's the poster boy of the aggressive, trading paint driving style that seems to be lacking in today's NASCAR. Busch has the aggression and talent of Rusty Wallace, the glint of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., but the professionalism and sportsmanship of a six-year old Little League baseball player after losing the "big game."

While he embraces his antagonist role, which he seems to strive on with the resounding jeers on the tour, his actions away from the car sometimes speak louder than his amazing driving abilities.

Most recently, Busch displayed some of his "questionable" character with "Guitargate" at Nashville.

Jubilant and ecstatic over a win at a track that had eluded him from his "Victory Lane Portfolio," the 24-year-old leadfooter grabbed the track trophy and smashed it into bits—no less, a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar painted by renowned NASCAR artist Sam Bass.

Repeatedly this season, Busch has walked away from reporters and members of the media after some crushing defeats in countless Camping World Truck Series races and Nationwide Series events.

Despite his tantrums and character, Busch drives each race as if he has a chip on his shoulder—most of the time, he succeeds in driving his way to Victory Lane.

Proving his worth through the ASA ranks, ARCA ventures, and some dips in the Nationwide Series in the first half of the decade, the rest of the 2000s has been Kyle Busch's time to shine. Undoubtedly, he has the mark and makings to become the next legendary driver in NASCAR.

Driving the No. 5 Kellogg's ride from 2005-'07 and the No. 18 M&M's Toyota from 2008-present, he has made the Chase in every season but his rookie campaign of '05.

Busch showed his mark on racing from the start, gaining the praise and attention of car owners like Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, and present "boss" Joe Gibbs. You can liken the Vegas native to a young hurler on the mound who just needs to remember he has more than a fastball on his pitching repertoire.

The only thing that stands in Kyle Busch's way for a NASCAR Sprint Cup title is his temper. When his head is in the game and he has that killer instinct to take no prisoners, Busch will drive the wheels off his Camry and to many checkered flags.

With a little maturity, Busch can still be the "enemy" force on the track—much in the vein like Earnhardt, Wallace, and Darrell Waltrip, who psyched their opponents out with their driving abilities as much as their skills in playing mind games with the best.

So fans, who would you take to drive your Cup ride if you owned a team in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season? Post a comment and vote on the poll!

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