In The Pits: Busch gracious in victory and defeat
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kyle Busch deviated from his traditional victory celebration when he spotted a crying fan in the grandstands and tried to hand her the checkered flag through the fence at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He was at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville the next day for a late model race sponsored by the Kyle Busch Foundation. Handling problems forced him out of the 150-miler, but he still went to Victory Lane to present the guitar trophy to the winner.
Such is the enigma that is Kyle Busch lately.
He's sullen and surly some days, to the point Brian Vickers repeatedly characterized his rival as an angry person living a miserable existence. But other days he can be charming, charitable and even gracious.
His mood mostly reflects the most recent race results, and when Busch isn't winning, he makes no apologies for being upset.
"You know, I am who I am," Busch said Sunday in Nashville, where he arrived fresh off of Saturday night's critical NASCAR victory in the Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol.
"It is what it is. I go out there to do my best week in and week out to win races. I'm a guy that loves to win. There's nothing else to me but the feeling of winning."
In other words, he's a racer.
But in his struggle to balance the highs and lows of his high-profile NASCAR career, he's made several missteps that have cost him on and off the track. Fans despise him for a myriad of reasons, ranging from on-track tangles with Dale Earnhardt Jr., his aggressive racing style and his arrogant attitude.
They also find him to be a petulant whiner who finds fault in someone else everytime he's denied a victory.
When he's winning, he doesn't really care about the backlash that comes from being a Bad Boy.
But when he's losing, it's best just to get out of his way.
So his mood had been terrible for weeks during a 13-race slump in the Cup Series that's got him dangerously close to missing the Chase for the championship. With his season now on the line, Busch stepped up Saturday night with a gutsy victory at Bristol that has him still in contention for the title.
The victory moved him up two spots in the standings to 13th, and with two races remaining before the 12-driver Chase field is set, he's just 34 points out of the final qualifying spot.
What his fourth win of the season did for him statistically pales to what it did for his psyche. The struggle to win had apparently wreaked havoc on his confidence, and that sour mood was seemingly affecting his racing.
As team owner Joe Gibbs pointed out after Saturday's win, it's not too different from the emotional highs and lows everyone saw from Tony Stewart during the first, oh, decade of his NASCAR career.
"You go back to Tony when he was first here, he wore everything on his sleeve," Gibbs said. "If you remember, some of the same statements we made about Kyle we were making about Tony."
Stewart's done OK for himself, with two championships, 36 victories, co-ownership of his own race team and the lead in the current Sprint Cup standings. Stewart has mellowed a bit with age, and at 38 years old, he's learned how to pick his battles.
The 24-year-old Busch is still trying to find his way.
But much like Stewart, who seemed so unlikable at the race track only to be a charmer away from it, Busch does his share of good deeds.
And so he ended up in Nashville, on a rare Sunday off, lending his time and name to a lower-tier racing series. After the backlash from his smashing of the guitar trophy following June's Nationwide race at Nashville Speedway, he was determined to prove he meant no disrespect to the music industry.
So he quietly donated some money to the Nashville Alliance for Public Education to provide 150 guitars to two area high schools that will create "Les Paul Memorial Guitar Labs" in honor of music icon Les Paul, who died earlier this month.
"I didn't know a lot about music, to be honest, but (the guitar smashing) kind of helped me realize how many people were really passionate about music," Busch said. "What's neat about this deal is that there are kids that are just as passionate about music as I am about racing, and we get to give these kids an opportunity ... to pursue their passion."
That's all Busch is doing week in and week out. The fans may not like his approach, but as he proved Saturday, he certainly keeps it interesting.
AP Sports Writer Theresa M. Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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