Ever since his win in Richmond, both Kyle Busch and the media have been trying to convince NASCAR fans that there’s a “new Kyle Busch.”
Whether some believe it or not is their own personal choice, but here’s something they should believe: Kyle’s older brother is a new Busch.
It was Kurt that swept the May races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, taking home one million dollars last Saturday night, and put his name in the history books on Sunday night as a winner of the Coca-Cola 600.
He dominated both events and took the keys to CMS for May, all while becoming the king of mile-and-a-half racetracks over the past year.
As for being “new,” it’s actually not really new.
When Busch won the first ever Chase in 2004 to capture his first Sprint Cup Series championship, surprising many in the process, he did so driving for Roush-Fenway Racing. It was the organization he had been with his entire life and that gave him his racing break.
To the outside, it looked as though things were great at then one of the top organizations in the sport. Every one of their cars was winning and contending. But Busch always stood out as the wild child.
He clashed heads with other drivers and eventually announced he was going to be leaving RFR for Roger Penske and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Before he did though, Busch once again showed his ugly side when he was arrested in Arizona in November and subsequently suspended by Roush for the rest of the season.
He went to Penske, got married, and the transformation began.
Yet it wasn’t until after winning the Coke 600 that some could really see it. As Busch sat and talked in the media center, he was calm, cool, and collected. Even for someone that had just won one of the biggest races in his career, his demeanor was the same was it was last weekend.
Taking time to provide detailed answers to every question he was thrown, there were no sarcastic comments, no over the top remarks. Sure, when he’s angry you can still find the classic Busch in him, but is this the same driver that fans once saw go after Jimmy Spencer and later be punched by him? The answer is no.
Is this the same driver that fans once booed with a passion? The answer is shockingly no. This is the mature, champion Kurt Busch that could do it again in 2010.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I’m not one to go out there with a big flash and a big flair. I used to early on. I’d run my head against the wall. I’d run my racecar up against the wall. Reviews came in negative.”
The new Kurt is one that has learned to be thankful for those around him and understands the importance of racing for more than wins. Since he joined Penske he has become a leader of a team now front and center, taking some of the spotlight from his younger brother for all the right reasons.
Kurt is better suited at Penske than at RFR. After every win he makes sure to say that he wanted to win it for "the captain" and everyone else involved.
He talked about his sponsor and Roger Penske, as well as the men and women in uniform. Busch said he thought about them all day long and raced his heart out. Before he was finished he also thanked the Lord for letting things fall into place.
Every driver is going to say they want to win for their owner, but for Busch the faith and appreciation he has in his team has grown since 2006.
Possibly for the first time since his championship year, Busch should be considered a serious threat for the 2010 title, with two wins to date (the All-Star race makes three, but it was a non-points event), and with the experience and drive of crew chief Steve Addington wanting to prove Joe Gibbs Racing wrong, so far so good on the No. 2 team.
But you will never know when you’ve changed until the feedback comes in. As aforementioned, Busch used to be one of the regular drivers that would be booed on a weekly basis, no matter what track the series was at.
Once those reviews came in that Busch mentioned, he realized, “For me, that’s not how I wanted to be remembered, how I wanted to be looked at, sitting there on the porch talking to my grandkids about things. That 2003 taught me a lot, 2004 back up what I was thinking from my mindset.”
Now, when talking to fans some are going to tell you that they’ve seen him grow up over the years. They might not care for him now, but they "don’t mind" seeing him win. That’s exactly what he’s getting used to doing: now with 22 career wins, making it eight trips to victory lane since joining Penske.
While giving Busch credit for his dramatic 180, from passing the wild child syndrome off to Kyle to becoming a different person and driver, is all well and good, some of the credit needs to go elsewhere. Every great driver has the ability to look around him and learn from others; a driver needs to be a sponge and absorb everything they possibly can that has the potential to help.
For Busch, “A guy like Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, those kinds of guys I learned a lot from at Roush Racing when I was having my troubles. I look up to those guys tremendously. Those guys don’t get a lot of that flash or flair or recognition, but they’re one of the greats in our sport.”
Kurt Busch is well on his way to joining drivers such as those, and all it took was a whole "new" outlook.