Commentary

Which road is Kyle Busch on?

Updated: April 14, 2012, 1:08 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The last time NASCAR had a Sprint Cup race in Texas, Kyle Busch was watching from his pit box -- not of his choosing, of course.

That was at NASCAR's insistence, a rare one-race reprimand for a moment of rage Busch would like to forget. It is the only time in his eight seasons as a full-time Cup driver that Busch sat out an event.

That type of public embarrassment can be a life-changing experience, good or bad. Now five months later, it's debatable whether Busch has recovered.

Most drivers today will go through their entire career without being suspended, so it does stand out as a moment of infamy.

Busch politely said he didn't want to talk about it this weekend. I'm sure he just wants it all to go away.

He has long since apologized for his inexplicable decision to punt Camping World Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday Jr. into the TMS wall during a caution, a shockingly dangerous move that could have seriously injured Hornaday.

As bad as it was, the resulting punishment could have been much worse. Busch could have lost his job, a fate suffered by his older brother Kurt a few weeks later when Roger Penske decided he'd had enough of Kurt's anger issues on and off the track.

Kurt now drives for Phoenix Racing, not exactly center ring in the Cup pecking order.

Kyle still drives the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, one of the top teams in NASCAR. But the 18 team has struggled most of the season. Busch ranks 16th in the standings and has finished 23rd or worse in three of six races.

He needs something good to happen, something to get back to where he was as a driver before the careless decision last November. And what better place to do it than Texas, a chance at redemption to overcome the darkest moment of his career.

Busch never has won a Cup race at TMS, but he's been to Victory Lane here more than any other driver. Busch won five consecutive Nationwide races in Texas from 2008 to 2010. He also has two TMS wins in the Camping World Truck Series.

"I'm hoping we can bring back a little of that magic that helped us win five in a row there in the Nationwide car," Busch said earlier this week. "It's a fun place. It's really challenging because of the flatness getting into the corners, and then they're so banked through the turns and it falls off real quickly.

"That was always really weird for me to try to figure out because the lateral grip seems to go away so fast on the exit of the turns. You kind of want to be straight by that point."

Busch is capable of figuring out any race track. He is viewed as one of the most talented drivers in racing, but talent alone isn't enough. Busch has to overcome his demons, which surfaced here last November.

He has made major changes in his professional life since that day, greatly reducing the number of races his runs in the two feeder series. Kyle and his brother split the driving duties on Kyle's Nationwide team, but Kurt is racing most of the events.

[+] EnlargeKyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesKyle Busch & Co. would like nothing more than to put Dallas-based Interstate Batteries in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kyle is only competing in the Cup race this weekend, an indication of his commitment to right the ship on the Cup side. And also a hint of how much he wants to make this Texas weekend a complete turnaround from his last trip here.

He wants to win this race because he never has won a Cup event here. But more importantly, he probably wants to make amends for his team, his sponsors and his fans.

Interstate Batteries, which is based in Dallas, is on the car this weekend. Norm Miller, the president of Interstate Batteries and JGR's longest-running sponsor, has yet to win a Cup event at his home track.

"It would mean a lot to see Norm's face in Victory Lane," Busch said. "It meant a lot to get him to Victory Lane in the Truck Series [at TMS], but to win a Cup race there for him would be a huge deal.

"I can't seem to get that win in Cup that's eluded me, even though we've been close [four top-5s at TMS]. Hopefully, that's something we can change this weekend."

Denny Hamlin, Busch's JGR teammate and a two-time winner at TMS, was asked how he thinks Kyle is feeling coming back to Texas.

"I'm sure it's probably a bit of a different weekend for him," Hamlin said. "But he's not running the Nationwide race, so I think it's all business for him on the Cup race."

All business and no looking back.

"We'll see how it all goes with everybody, but we like our chances," Busch said. "I know what I need in my racecar to make it easier."

He also must know now what he needs to do as a person to make it easier. Texas last year was a turning point for Busch. Where that turn takes him remains to be seen.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter