- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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DOVER, Del. -- This Chase is missing something. Controversy. Attitude. Nastiness. Sarcasm. Arrogant bravado. Heat-of-the-moment anger. Fiery tempers. Somebody to boo. Somebody to hate.
You know, a villain.
A bad boy.
Maybe that's because, for the first time since NASCAR implemented the 10-race playoff in 2004, neither of the Busch brothers is involved. Kyle missed the show by three points, and Kurt never was a factor driving for underfunded Phoenix Racing.
Maybe that will change in 2013. Kyle should be a contender with top equipment at Joe Gibbs Racing if his contract negotiations don't become too much of a distraction and the bad luck he's been having ends. Kurt is doing his best to become viable again, signing to replace Regan Smith in the No. 78 at Furniture Row Racing.
Make all the jokes you want about them, but they are missed in this Chase that has arrived at Dover International Speedway for Round 3 (ESPN, Sunday, 2 p.m. ET). They bring an energy to the table that you just don't get in points leader Jimmie Johnson or 2003 champion Matt Kenseth.
Defending champion Tony Stewart can stir it up every now and then, but he's way past his really bad-boy stage. Denny Hamlin makes things interesting by predicting wins and talking to a sports psychologist about what he can do to love Dover, but he's way too nice about it.
Kevin Harvick can get nasty at times, but that's usually when Kyle is in his way. Jeff Gordon gets booed by those who still resent him for stealing Dale Earnhardt's thunder in the 1990s, but that's not so passionate anymore. Dale Earnhardt Jr. aw shucks, he's only controversial when he's not in the Chase.
There are only two drivers in the sport today that fans truly love to hate, only two fans boo with a unified passion during driver introductions, and that's Kurt and Kyle. The Chase needs them as much as they need the Chase.
"Because we're polarizing figures, right?" Kurt said Friday at Dover.
Imagine how much more attention Kyle would have drawn last weekend at New Hampshire when he responded with "I'm not stupid" to a request by crew chief Dave Rogers to check his gauges to figure out why a race-leading car was fading fast.
Imagine how Kurt would have reacted finishing 32nd and 25th in the first two Chase races if it really mattered.
These two have created more Chase bad-boy memories than everybody else who has competed in it combined.
We only have to look back to last year's finale for one of Kurt's worst-best moments. Remember how he unleashed a profanity-laced tirade against ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch and delivered a one-fingered salute that by chance was aimed near the first lady's motorcade, resulting in his release from Penske Racing?
Remember how Roush Fenway Racing suspended Kurt for the final two races of the 2005 season after a run-in with a police officer near Phoenix Raceway?
Remember how Kyle was suspended from the Cup race at Texas last season after intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Truck race, and how sponsor M&Ms chose not to be on his car for the final two races because of the incident?
Remember at this very track in 2008 when Kyle lost an engine and finished last? The fans went nuts booing and delivering hand signals as Busch drove the No. 18 to the garage.
Nobody in this Chase will come close to creating that kind of drama. For the most part, they're all too nice.
Kurt called Charlie Sheen his Zen master Friday for goodness' sake.
The Chase needs the Busch brothers, particularly at Dover. Kurt is the defending champion of this race and has three straight top-5s in the Chase race here. Kyle has two wins here and had four straight finishes of sixth or better before losing an engine in the spring race.
If you're going to have a Chase race at the "Monster Mile," you need a Chase monster or two who is viable.
Alas, the Busch brothers aren't viable this year. The most Kurt has stirred things up during this Chase came Friday. He apparently was bothered by reporters calling his move to Furniture Row Racing lateral.
"Everyone with a hard card knows this 78 car has much more potential in it," Kurt said of his future ride.
Kurt defended this repeatedly even though he has gone from one lower-tier race team to another, even though he has gone from a team that gets Hendrick Motorsports support to one that gets Richard Childress Racing support.
But he defended the move with a defiant me-against-the-world attitude that few other drivers would.
"We want to be that gang that shows up at Daytona [in February] as one of the teams with an asterisk next to it, and that means we've got a shot to win," Busch said.
Kyle isn't stirring things up, either. He openly admits he's here only to win races and stay out of everyone's way. His biggest contribution was a suggestion to have a separate points system for Chase drivers so one bad finish wouldn't kill title hopes as it likely has for Gordon, who finished 35th at Chicagoland.
He's right about that, by the way.
Otherwise, it's almost as if Kyle has been beaten down by not making the Chase.
"It's certainly very frustrating and a little bit demoralizing when you have a year like this," Kyle told reporters at Martinsville Speedway earlier in the week. "I mean, you get over it as best you can, I guess. It's still in your mind. You're going every weekend to make circles and hope you can win. If you don't win, it's pretty much a waste."
Yes, this Chase needs somebody to shake things up. In two races, there have been only eight cautions, and five of those were for debris, with another a competition caution. The other two were single-car incidents.
The Busch brothers majored in shaking things up.
"We're competitive guys who want to go to the front like everyone in this garage," Busch said.
The Chase needs the Busch brothers making a run at the title. It doesn't need them sitting on the sideline being inconsequential.
"I'm shocked Kyle's not in," Johnson said. "He's a definite threat week in and week out. As Kurt finds his way back into highly competitive equipment, he will be."
Hopefully, Kurt is right when he says Furniture Row has everything it needs to make him a Chase contender. Hopefully, Kyle will find a way to be more consistent so he can get back where he belongs.
The Chase needs the Busch brothers like baseball needs the Yankees in its playoffs. Follow this rather lengthy quote for more evidence.
"I was following my Zen master Charlie Sheen, and that wasn't going very well," Kurt said. "Then I followed a top-10 most-hated athlete guy, LeBron James. He brought his talents to Miami and won the championship, so I'm going to use that motivation. I'm going to take my talents to Denver [where Furniture Row Racing is headquartered] and bring the championship out there.
"Then I decided I didn't need Charlie Sheen, so I'm going to look at a new Zen master. I found him. It's Bryce Harper. He's the Nationals guy that helped his team get in the playoffs. He's so wise, he told the media no more clown questions. So I'm really looking up to a 19-year-old Bryce Harper to help me through this."
The Chase is missing something.
The Chase is missing that.
The Chase is a thrill ride, but something's missing this year. Maybe a bad boy, some controversy or even a little arrogant bravado. Let's face it, no Busch brothers means less fun.