I have the majority of today's NASCAR Cup Series drivers on my phone. They are a fraternity, brotherhood to some degree.
I believe most of them respect me because when I reach out during race weekends, all generally respond quickly, knowing that the information I request is used to prepare for SportsCenter.
Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick: They and many others have been very helpful to me the past 11 years during my time at ESPN.
The one phone number I don't have is Kyle Busch's. Never have! Never asked for it, probably never will.
I have his brother Kurt's phone number. I've always had his crew chief's.
I don't need Kyle Busch's phone number to get what I need to do my job at The Worldwide Leader in Sports because Busch's actions speak louder than his words. Usually, anyway!
Busch provides everything I need to do my job and unlike many of the people in attendance on Saturday night in Bristol, I often celebrate when he wins because he's great for our sport.
And when our sport wins, we all win.
Busch has emerged as the easiest and best suited driver to dislike in many years.
Busch hates losing more than he loves winning. I think I first heard that expression somehow associated with Dale Earnhardt years and years ago. Maybe I used it.
It has always been very apparent to me that Busch agonizes over losing just a little bit more than anyone else.
NASCAR cannot, should not, and will not pin its hopes of prosperity on one driver, no more than any good company should allow one customer to represent a high percentage of its income.
I will tell you this: Over the next 10 years Busch has the potential to create the most entertainment, and perhaps yield the greatest return.
There is not a driver in the Cup Series more talented than the one in the 18 car.
Now that's considerably different than saying there is not a driver in the Cup series better than Busch, because there is. His name is Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson is the whole package, has all the components, skill, determination, amazing race-car sense and most importantly, he has the highest driver intellect of anyone I've ever competed against.
Case in point, Johnson won last year's title in arguably the fourth fastest car in a four-car final at Homestead.
Busch is amazing in that he can drive the hell out of anything with four tires and a steering wheel. Neither Johnson nor Jeff Gordon presented the same versatility, at least not if you look at Johnson's Xfinity Series numbers or even Gordon's IROC numbers.
In my lifetime I say the best drivers I ever competed against were Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt. All possessed that sixth-sense ability to close the deal, push the hardest when it mattered most. Simply put, they knew how to win and they also knew how to beat you!
Busch might actually be more talented than the three I just mentioned ... isn't that crazy?
If you don't believe me, ask Johnson or Gordon.
Years ago Gordon celebrating the win moments after coming under the checkered flag, pushed the microphone and said, "We just beat Kyle Busch!!!!"
I believe the race was Phoenix. It put most listeners back on their heels!
How could Gordon elevate anyone to that height?
Nobody knows or understands talent better than those who share the asphalt together.
It's a shame Earnhardt and Busch were never able to square off in their primes.
Perhaps we got a sample of what it might've been like as I've heard a number of times that Earnhardt said among the greatest he ever competed against was Tim Richmond.
Earnhardt was saddened by Richmond's death not only because of losing a friend but also because he lost someone with a competitive spirit that challenged him.
Few were capable of doing that.
Earnhardt drove and Busch drives his cars like they are mass produced. They drive them like they are disposable. Neither seemed concerned about losing one or having a favorite. Most drivers have favorites. Gordon had favorites.
In the early stages of Gordon's career, the team would win a race, bring the car home Sunday night and the fab shop would cut the front clip off -- replace it, give it the equivalent of a knee replacement -- and they would compete with it again five days later.
Busch is a special kind a driver, a seat-of-the-pants wheel man.
His driving abilities do remind me of Earnhardt.
My rookie year in the Xfinity series in 1992 I was in Atlanta for the first time for a test.
I wasn't that comfortable, and I couldn't tell my crew chief right from wrong.
At lunch time, I crossed paths with Earnhardt, asked if he would do me a favor and take my car for a spin to help me and my crew chief.
He replied by saying, "Why don't you just take one of mine?" That always stuck with me as being very sincere.
I convinced him to squeeze in the small seat of my car -- he referred to as the training seat -- and I remember him backing out impatiently as the window net was going up. The belts drooped over his shoulders and were hardly tight.
Earnhardt whistled down pit road, hit the banking and Turn 1 in second gear, full throttle off the exit to Turn 2 into third gear. Dust was flying down the backstretch when he went into high gear.
It was the last time he lifted the throttle off the floor board for three laps. He ran full throttle and abruptly came down pit road at a high rate of speed, pulled into the slot, window net already down he barked out to Darrell, my crew chief, "You better tighten this thing up or the kid's going to bust his ass."
I never forgot what Earnhardt did for me that day. How could I? How would I have told my crew chief that I was too loose? I would've thought the perception of not being able to handle a loose racecar on a high-speed track would feed into the stigma often affiliated with any driver having had success on short tracks and nearly no experience on big tracks. That was me.
I didn't always agree with Earnhardt, but I had an exclusive appreciation for what he could do behind the wheel of a race car.
I feel the exact same way about Busch.
Busch will not win as many championships as Earnhardt or Johnson's seven. He may not win as many as Gordon's four.
But he stands a very good chance at winning more races than any of the three. You may not like me saying that, and I'm sure it may contribute to you booing just a little bit harder the next time he wins.
But you might as will accept it, because I know what I'm talking about on this one. I've competed against all four. I know exactly what we have in Kyle Busch. You're going to be booing him for a long, long, time.