Polarizing personalities who wheel race cars in NASCAR's top series sometimes end up being the most respected and accomplished drivers as history unfolds. Controversial drivers make racing fun.
When it comes to controversy, Kyle Busch is perhaps the chart-topper in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. He is a driver fans either love or love to hate.
He and his older brother, Kurt Busch, come from a racing family, with both sharing abundant talent to drive a race car—but both may be genetically predisposed to arrogance tempered by immaturity and unharnessed emotions.
The younger Busch faced the reality of using poor judgment when he was parked at Texas Motor Speedway after a dangerous racing incident in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Race last year.
He was unable to drive in the Cup race and sat atop his pit box watching his No. 18 M&M's Toyota make laps on the track. For a driver, that equates to a form of Chinese water torture.
Busch then came dangerously close to losing his major sponsor Mars M&Ms. Though he got back in the car for the remaining two races, M&M's was not on his car. They will return in 2012.
Busch found out quite quickly just how many ramifications there can be from a brief moment of poor judgement.
He learned how many people's lives could have been affected had he lost his sponsor, or perhaps been fired from Joe Gibbs Racing.
Those who love him and care about him showed their support, but their disappointment was hard for Busch to watch. Much of that disappointment came from his boss, Joe Gibbs.
Busch described the time after the Texas incident by saying, "Went through a lot for about a month after Texas." The experience had more impact on the driver than he expected.
Though the driver of the No. 18 knows he needs to watch his manners a bit more heading into the 2012 season, he claims he doesn't feel handcuffed.
The driver of the No. 18 knows he must balance his edgy personality with the professionalism expected by his sponsors. It is not an easy task for this driver.
Busch is driven to win, and win he does. His record shows 23 Cup wins and he has the most wins of any driver in the NASCAR Nationwide series and 30 victories in the truck series.
Knowing his accountability to JGR and the sponsors, plus operating Kyle Busch Motorsports and the sponsorship duties involved there, can only make Busch more responsible and mature.
At KBM, the younger Busch is partnering with his older brother to run a NASCAR Nationwide team sponsored by Monster Energy.
The older Busch vows to treat his boss with respect and allow him to call the shots, though he did say it would be easier calling him "dude." Being the boss of a Sprint Cup champion should challenge him.
Running this Nationwide team is a big deal. The edgy drivers with the edgy sponsors will run for the owner's championship and will be a really big threat to consistently win races.
Kyle Busch Motorsports is a state of the art operation that Busch has built himself; it wasn't handed to him. It takes ability to deal with others who can help him grow that operation which can only raise his maturity level.
Busch did not go the way of a sports psychologist after his variety of troublesome incidents in the 2011 season.
It seems the reality check he got was adequate along with the guidance of Joe Gibbs, J.D.Gibbs and, of course, his wife, Samantha Busch, who has a degree in psychology.
Kyle Busch has always felt that if he didn't win, he didn't have a job. He said, "I need to win for job security." It is self-inflicted pressure that leads to his high emotional level and passion to win.
Finishing second just means he is a loser in his mind and he must find a way to suck up not winning and be more gracious for whatever finish he gets.
NASCAR needs heroes and villains, so we need personalities like the Busch brothers to add to racing excitement.
The JGR driver is very confident this year that he and crew chief Dave Rogers will have wins in the Sprint Cup series. His focal point is on Cup racing and winning the series championship.
Will he get involved in some on-track unpleasantness? More than likely he will. Kevin Harvick just plain doesn't like him and may test his ability to keep his temper in check.
When we look back at some of the sport's top drivers, like Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, we must remember how untamed they seemed and the dislike they felt from other drivers and fans early on.
As history plays out, we may well find Busch in the category of those drivers. He may also become an owner in the big leagues with one or more Cup teams and a driver with multiple Cup titles.
Busch, 26, is still young and has his best years ahead of him. He has accomplished a great deal already, and in the years to come, who knows what he will be able to do.
Busch will rein in his attitude just enough to start regaining respect from his peers, sponsors and any fans who may have jumped ship.
We need drivers who express their personalities on and off the track because it makes NASCAR racing more entertaining.
So will he be able to keep his attitude in check during the 2012 season? We can only hope not totally, because that unpredictability is part of his persona.
All quotes were obtained in person or by official press releases unless otherwise noted.