Commentary

Kyle Busch not dirty, just fast

Updated: May 17, 2013, 7:58 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- The Sprint All-Star race is defined by no-holds-barred, where anything goes for the winner to collect the $1 million prize -- $2 million if you can win all five segments.

Drivers would wreck their mama for that kind of money and think little of it.

It won't make them a dirty driver -- it'll just make them and their owner richer.

The format is perfect for a driver such as Kyle Busch, one of the most talented and aggressive drivers in the series.

But Busch shouldn't be defined as a dirty driver for whatever he does in Saturday night's non-points event at Charlotte Motor Speedway any more than he should be for being involved in wrecks with Kasey Kahne the past two weeks at Talladega and Darlington, and earlier this year in the Daytona 500.

Whatever you think of Busch, he's not dirty.

Not even close.

If you think of Busch as a dirty driver, then you have to consider the late Dale Earnhardt and many of the sport's greats dirty, too. But to define any of them simply as a dirty driver is just as wrong as defining Busch that way.

[+] EnlargeDale Earnhardt
ISC Archives/Getty ImagesDale Earnhardt had his moments racing up front when competitors may not have agreed with his tactics.

"Dirty and aggressive just get confused," says Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, who was referred to as dirty a few times during his career because of his aggressiveness. "Drivers that win a lot, drivers that race for the lead a lot, are going to be accused of everything because you're always in the mix.

"Was Dale Earnhardt a great driver? Yeah. Was Dale Earnhardt aggressive? Heck yeah. Was Earnhardt a dirty driver? At times, heck yeah. When you're the guy that is up there trying to win a race every week, you're going to be accused of everything."

Busch has been up front most of the season. He's led 740 laps, second most in the Sprint Cup Series behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth with 781 and 285 more than points leader Jimmie Johnson.

He'll likely be up front on Saturday night. He's fast, talented and aggressive.

So is Kahne, who has won a race and been in contention for several other victories this year.

"Racing up front, racing hard, I'm sure there will be a moment he could come back on me," Busch said of Kahne. "I expect it. It's fine. I just told Kasey, don't make it hurt too bad."

He was joking, of course.

"But if it happens, I'll understand," Busch says.

If it happens, it'll likely be a product of hard racing because Kahne isn't a retaliatory kind of driver. And if it happens, Kahne won't be looked at as a dirty driver.

"You can't win if you're not aggressive," Waltrip says. "Jeff Gordon is an aggressive driver. Is he a dirty driver? He doesn't have that reputation."

Is Busch a dirty driver?

"I don't consider him one," Waltrip says. "He has a lot of talent. Sometimes you run out of talent. Even when you're one of the most talented drivers out there, you put yourself in a position where no matter how good you are, you can't help yourself."

But because Busch has a reputation for being controversial, at least in the eyes of many fans, he gets labeled. He jokingly said the incidents with Kahne wouldn't be drawing headlines if his name were Kenseth or Tony Stewart.

He's right.

And Waltrip is right about talented drivers putting themselves in positions that sometimes don't turn out for the best. That's what happened with Busch at Darlington.

He and Kahne were racing aggressively for the win. They went into Turn 3 side by side, and neither was willing to give an inch because each felt they had the talent to handle it. Busch felt he could handle the low side because he had done so all night. When his car got tight, he moved up the track.

Kahne spun out.

"Whether or not we touched, that's insignificant," Busch says. "I'm not racing to wreck Kasey Kahne."

Intent. Therein lies the general definition of a dirty driver.

"When you are a talented driver and you do something on purpose, that's dirty," Waltrip says. "When you're a great driver with a lot of car control and a lot of talent and do something on purpose, that's dirty."

Brad Keselowski agrees.

"Everybody knows I'm strongly opposed to intentional wrecking," Keselowski says. "That's probably the only thing that comes to my mind [when defining a dirty driver]."

But Keselowski doesn't consider Busch a dirty driver even though he's "given up trying to understand him."

"Dirty is when you don't even give a s--- to the guy next to you," says Busch, spelling out the profane word. "You just flat-out run over him. I mean, I do have some care on who I'm racing and how I'm racing."

With the exception of intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in retaliation for an on-track incident in 2011, Busch has raced fairly and aggressively. That moment, he could have been considered a dirty driver.

But overall, he's not a dirty driver any more than Carl Edwards was for sending Keselowski airborne in retaliation for an earlier incident at Atlanta in 2010.

Was that moment dirty? Definitely. Edwards went to the garage to have his car repaired, then came back on the track with the intent of teaching Keselowski a lesson.

"That's dirty," Waltrip says. "That's not fair. When you go in the garage and fix your car to go back out and wreck somebody, that's just wrong."

Denny Hamlin isn't considered a dirty driver, either. But when he intentionally wrecked Keselowski in a 2009 Nationwide Series race, he had a dirty racer moment.

It happens.

It likely will happen on Saturday, whether it involves Busch or somebody else. As Busch reminds us, no points are on the line and you "go out there and race as hard as you can."

We should look at whatever happens as Keselowski did the Busch-Kahne Darlington incident.

"I thought it was great racing," he says. "Why does somebody always have to be to blame? Can't we just race?"

Exactly.

Nobody has to be the villain in all this. Nobody has to be called dirty or any other name, even though the drivers will be mad regardless. Wrecks happen. In the case with Busch and Kahne it has just happened to happen three times.

They will get over it, just as Busch and Hamlin did at the 2010 All-Star race, another one of those cases where somebody ran out of talent.

Remember that race? Busch thought he had the $1 million in his pocket going into the final 10-lap segment. He had a run on Hamlin on the high side for the lead with eight laps left.

Hamlin crowded him. Busch eventually crashed, then shouted on his radio, "Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race. I am going to kill that … "

Nobody called Hamlin a dirty driver then, either.

Nobody should be calling Busch a dirty driver now.

He'll just be a driver who will likely be near the front trying to win.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter