Kyle Busch: Why His Lovable Jerk Persona Works in the NASCAR Sprint Cup

David DeNennoContributor IIISeptember 19, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 07:  U.S. President Barack Obama (C) extends his hand for hand shakes with NASCAR drivers (L-R) Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Clint Bowyer during an East Room event September 7, 2011 at the White House in Washington, DC. Obama hosted the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson to honor his win. Johnson is the only driver in the NASCAR history to win in five consecutive years.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Kyle Busch is a man in transition, maturing before our eyes.  While he still has a few qualities that make him NASCAR's most notorious heel, he is in the the process of becoming a more lovable driver than in the past.

Do not expect him to smash any more guitars as he did in Nashville in 2009 as a victory celebration.  Additionally, do not hold your breath for him to make any more comments about the Car of Tomorrow and how much  it "sucks."

That is the Kyle Busch of last decade.  Today, he is more apt to shake the President's hand and say "thank you."

This is not to say that "Rowdy" will become a dull corporate sponsor drone for Joe Gibbs Racing—far from it.  He is undergoing a metamorphosis; a maturation process.  He has not completely shed his skin...yet.

Through his continued winning and his more somber demeanor he has, in essence, become more lovable.  However, he can never possibly rid himself of the wake his past reputation has left.  It is doubtful whether fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. will ever forgive him for the wreck he caused Junior at Richmond in 2008.

His detractors cheered louder at the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte this year when he crashed and finished 60 laps short than they did for the eventual winner, Kevin Harvick.

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Speaking of Kevin Harvick, this is an ongoing feud that Kyle Busch was initially willing to continue until his conscience, maturity, sponsors—whatever it was—grabbed a hold of him.

After taming the "Lady in Black,"  in Darlington, SC, Kevin Harvick jumped out of his car to let Kyle Busch know that he was not happy with him.  For whatever reason, he forgot to put his car in park. Naturally, Rowdy bumped the car and pushed it into a wall.

This led to the NASCAR version of a restraining order against the two.  Kevin Harvick came dangerously close to breaking this order later in the year at Pocono by bumping him, yet Busch offered no repercussion.  This was a public display of his maturation.

Later in the year, Kyle Busch lost his driver's license for driving 145 mph on the North Carolina back roads.  He still has some of the old Kyle in him, now with the absence of the of whining child prone to temper tantrums.

Kyle Busch will never be universally loved, but that works in his favor.  He attracts the type of fan that loves to root against him as much, if not more, than his or her own driver.  He is the prototypical lovable jerk, and it has carried him to success at every level of NASCAR.

If he continues this path, he will be one of the most lovable jerks enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.


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