Sunday, February 22, 2009
Busch one of the best -- maybe the best
By David Newton ESPN.com
Kyle Busch obviously was frustrated during last Sunday's Daytona 500 as he stood near his No. 18 Sprint Cup car, which looked as though it had been in a demolition derby. Much of that frustration was directed at Dale Earnhardt Jr., who clipped Brian Vickers to start the chain reaction that took out the 23-year-old with the dominant car and nine other drivers.
But if you listened carefully, Busch was frustrated before the wreck, even before the 500. Why? Because he finished fourth in Saturday's Nationwide Series race after failing to complete a last-lap move on winner Tony Stewart and was second in Friday's Truck race.
"You're not happy until you're in Victory Lane," Busch said.
Busch had plenty to be happy about on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. He led 95 of 100 laps in the Truck race and 143 of 150 in the Nationwide race to become the first driver to win two events among NASCAR's top three series on the same day.
He then reiterated words that re-emphasized what he was trying to say at Daytona but couldn't be heard among the attacks on NASCAR's most popular driver.
"Winning is what I love to do most, and to do it in a fashion like that means the world," he said.
That desire, along with his incredible talent, is what separates Busch from most of the competition in all three series. He's much like former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Stewart in that regard. Racing is not just his profession. It's his passion. His life.
Kyle Busch was in a flag-waving mood after his Saturday sweep at Auto Club Speedway.
He doesn't want a weekend off to hang out with friends on Lake Norman as teammate Denny Hamlin will do during his down time. He doesn't want to spend Saturday afternoons relaxing in his motor coach or fishing at some local hole while there are Nationwide cars or Camping World Trucks on the track.
He wants to race.
No, he wants to win.
That, in many respects, was the forgotten story in 2008. When we left Homestead-Miami Speedway, the talk was about Jimmie Johnson winning a third straight championship and Carl Edwards winning three of the last four races to lead the Cup Series in victories with nine.
Lost was the amazing season -- eight wins in Cup, 10 in Nationwide and three in Truck -- Busch had before mechanical problems in the first two races of the Chase made him an also-ran, a flash in the pan.
What Busch did Saturday reminded us that he's not a one-hit wonder. What he did reminded us that, championships aside, he is one of the best drivers on the track today.
Maybe the best.
Give him good equipment and he's going to be a factor. That's why he was so frustrated in the Chase. He knew it wasn't his fault he wasn't holding the crystal Cup trophy above his head.
"If his car is as good as it looks, he could probably win three or four in a day," Edwards said after Saturday's Nationwide race. "We have to be able to beat him. He's going to be the guy we're racing for the championship."
Busch is going to be the guy to beat in the Cup and Nationwide Series if his cars don't fail him or he doesn't get caught up in somebody else's mess as he did at Daytona.
He's that good. And what he did Saturday will re-energize the argument that was forgotten last year: that he's the best driver, period. What he did will once again draw comparisons to the late Dale Earnhardt.
Busch isn't concerned with comparisons or what people think about his sometimes controversial persona that draws more boos than cheers on most race days. He just wants to win and let the rest take care of itself.
That's why he was so frustrated last week at Daytona. He'd led a race-high 88 laps -- kind of ironic since the 88 ended his day -- and was "100 percent" certain he was going to win.
But Busch likely would have been just as frustrated had the rain not come and he completed the race in second. He lives by the memorable line from "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."
"If you ain't first, you're last," Bobby, the character played by Will Ferrell, repeated often during the movie.
At Daytona, the final leaderboard had Busch second in the Truck race and fourth in the Nationwide. It might as well have said last, which is close (41st) to where he wound up in the Cup race.
First is why Busch felt so happy Saturday. He won't be happy with anything less on Sunday in Fontana as he attempts to become the first driver to win in all three series on the same weekend.
"It's really a lot of fun to come out here and win two in a row," Busch said, "and hopefully we can do some more."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.