Say Kyle Busch to most any NASCAR fan and you very often get the range of smirks, frowns, grimaces, and yes, a few hisses and boos. Most fans acknowledge that he has a great talent on the race track, but they cannot quite stomach his attitude.
For whatever reasons, many fans just do not like this young man. They cite his arrogance, from his constant wearing of his huge sunglasses to his perceived condescending bow on top of his car, his signature move after every race win.
But at this race and at his home track, Busch seemed somehow different. An almost kinder and gentler driver seemed to be emerging.
We first saw glimpses of the softer side of Busch after his pole win. As he trekked off to Victory Lane for the obligatory photo opportunity, he noticed there were other activities going on in the area.
In fact, there were very exciting activities in Victory Lane.
Damon and Heather Landry were just about to get started with their nuptials. They had been trying to get married at the Vegas track for weeks, and their lucky number had just come up.
So, there they were, the happy couple, standing in Victory Lane waiting for Busch to get done with his pole media event so that they could tie the knot. They were ready to go, had the ring, and the bridesmaid all set for the ceremony.
The wedding was stymied, however, as unfortunately the groom had no best man. No problem, said the newly-sweetened Busch, agreeing to stand in for the couple.
Needless to say, these race fan newlyweds had the ceremony of their lives, and have the pictures to prove it. Instead of a wedding cake, Busch also treated them to some very special M & Ms.
After fulfilling his groomsman duties, this "new" Busch then set about getting ready to race. Although qualifying on the pole, Busch had to drop to the back of the pack because of an engine change.
But that poor starting position did not deter the aggressive and determined younger Busch. In the longest Vegas race in NASCAR history, Busch raced his way to the front to claim his first ever race win in his hometown of Las Vegas, right at the track where he grew up racing.
Sure, to the dismay of many fans, Busch did his trademark bow. But again there was something different.
Busch not only grabbed the checkered flag, but he also catapulted out of his car. And then he did something very uncharacteristic, as with great affection, he kissed the start/finish line of the race track.
As fans reeled from this rare display of emotion from one of NASCAR's cockiest drivers, Busch then appeared in Victory Lane again to hug not only his best, big brother Kurt, but also his weeping mom.
Fans at the track then reported another strange and unusual sight. The typically abrupt Busch was standing for hours, yes hours, signing autographs for anyone and everyone in Victory Lane and the surrounds.
When Busch had satiated all the fans' appetites for signed memorabilia, he finally headed off to celebrate at the Hard Rock on the Strip. But his magnanimity just continued as he treated everyone at the party with Dom Perignon champagne, handing out bottles like water, spending over $5,000 on the celebration.
Who is this new driver in NASCAR's highest ranks? It most certainly does not seem like that stuck-up, arrogant Busch that so many fans love to hate.
Instead, there seems to be a new, improved Busch. This one seems to truly be excited about what he has accomplished, especially in the desert that he has called home.
This Busch indeed seems to be softer, and perhaps even likable. How can this be? And more important, will this new gentler Busch last?
The NASCAR haulers have already headed eastward. It will be interesting to see if the kinder Busch will go along with them, making the trip to Atlanta.