Old Kyle. New Kyle.
They are two phrases that have suddenly entered the world of NASCAR and have been repeated more than “Amen” in a church. They pertain to NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, who claimed after winning a race earlier this year that the “old Kyle” would have given up.
The “New Kyle” has recently picked up a habit of taking what the car is giving him and not trying to win a race with a 10th place car. This new trend has put him on a seven race streak of finishing better than ninth, which includes two wins and a third in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 with a bruised race car.
Other than that, though, is there really any difference in Kyle Busch, new or old? He’s still as aggressive ever. He’s still a threat to win almost everywhere the Sprint Cup Series goes.
One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is Busch’s magnetism to controversy.
On the final restart of Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch made a bold move to make it three wide between the No. 17 Ford of Matt Kenseth and the No. 31 Chevrolet of Jeff Burton. The right front of the splitter on Busch’s car made contact with the left rear tire of Burton’s car, cutting it.
Although he managed to escape any further damage, Burton had no choice but to fall to the back of the pack and head to pit road. He finished a disappointing 25th.
After the race, Burton met Busch as he climbed out of his car and engaged the 25-year-old Las Vegas native in a heated discussion.
Afterward, Busch claimed he did nothing wrong.
“[Jeff Burton] said I ran into him and I don’t what I could have done to have made that work without touching him,” Busch said. “The 33 made me three-wide getting into [turn] one.
“I held it as tight as I could on the 33 trying to stay off the 31. I guess all that nice respect stuff he talked about earlier this week’s out the window. I guess that’s how I race everybody, from what everybody says.”
Jeff Burton saw things a little differently.
“Kyle made it three wide there on the restart trying to make something happen,” Burton said.
He continued, “I can’t blame him for that, but the least he can do is stay off of me. He cut the left rear tire. I like racing with Kyle, I really do. I enjoy it. But when he gets over-aggressive and I pay the price for it, I’m not going to tolerate it.”
Busch is as well known for his moments of over-aggressiveness as he is for his talent. The irony of this situation Sunday is that it came eight days after he was on the opposite side of the fence in an altercation with teammate Denny Hamlin in the All-Star Race.
Hamlin, who was leading during the final segment, put a block on a hard-charging Busch. The move put Busch in the wall. The resulting damage cut a tire on Busch’s car, taking him out of the race.
He was nothing short of fuming.
“Someone keep me away from Denny Hamlin,” Busch screamed over the radio.
Busch proceeded to drive his wrecked race car to Hamlin’s hauler, where he waited until the race was over and Hamlin returned. There, the two talked things over in a conversation moderated by team owner Joe Gibbs.
Thursday, before qualifying for Sunday night’s race, Busch spoke about the incident.
"It surprised me and I wouldn't have expected my teammate to race me that way, but he's the leader, he's got the race track and I now understand that."
Little did he know that three days later, during the longest race of the year, he would make a move that would cost someone else a chance at a good finish. Instead of him wanting to go after Hamlin, he had Jeff Burton wanting to come after him.
That’s the common denominator between the old Kyle Busch and the supposed new one. Both seem to have no problem finding controversy. If there’s trouble somewhere on the track, it seems like that multi-colored No. 18 Toyota Camry is somewhere near the middle of it.
Busch has an incredible amount of talent in the cockpit of a race car. The dude can wheel anything. But he’s always seemed to have problems picking his spots, being impatient, and driving outside of the limits of the race car.
That’s what has earned him the reputation he has. That’s what has earned him both adoration from those who appreciate his “I want to win every race” mentality and the scorn of those who feel he has a reckless nature and takes too many chances. His brash attitude doesn’t help matters with those folks.
Busch polarizes fans of the sport. Moments like his altercation with Burton Sunday night only increase the divide between fan and foe.
NASCAR needs that, though. NASCAR has needed rivalries and villains for some time now. Kyle Busch versus the field is a rivalry that seems to be brewing. In a one-on-one race for the checkers, he’s likely the only driver in the garage that could make a non-Jimmie Johnson fan root for the 48, despite a prominent “anyone but Jimmie” sentiment in NASCAR’s fan base.
You can like Kyle Busch, or you can loathe him. Either way is easily justifiable. One thing that will never change about him, he divides the sport like no other driver in the garage.
He may not be the old Kyle. He may be the new Kyle. He will always be Controversial Kyle.