Very rarely, you see a driver-fan phenomenon occur in NASCAR, a spur-of-the-moment event that turns around the attitudes of the masses toward the guy.
The stars and planets may be aligning for Kurt Busch.
Suddenly the long-suffering, reluctant villain is awash in good will in the wake of his unprecedented victory lap at Atlanta Motor Speedway last Sunday.
He threw his Dodge in reverse and backed around the entire 1.54-mile circumference of the track, after a spectacular, dominating run to win the Kobalt Tools 500.
"We've done hundreds of media interviews since Sunday," Busch says, "and every time it's inevitable they'll get around to wanting to discuss our unusual victory lap."
Busch has been so "blown away" -- and so intent on repeating that kind of lap this season -- that he is asking fans to name the lap on his Web site, www.kurtbusch.com.
Dare we say Busch has reversed a long-running trend?
It happened to Darrell Waltrip 20 years ago this May. DW had been roundly booed at most tracks for fully a decade -- largely due to his unbridled mouth -- when in 1989 he was spun out by Rusty Wallace on the last lap of The Winston, now called NASCAR's All-Star race.
Appreciated as a victim rather than a villain, DW has been a fan favorite ever since, and it has carried over into his broadcasting career.
A little background on Busch's lap:
"That's something me and my buddies drew up after a few too many Miller Lites one night," Busch said during the winner's interview at Atlanta.
Suddenly he thought better of the way he'd gotten in a plug for his primary sponsor, looked at team owner Roger Penske and asked, "Is it OK to say that?"
Penske gave him the nod.
Now, notice Busch said, "drew up," not "drove," so don't get on him for drinking and driving. He wasn't.
"We had a name for it, but it didn't feel right," Busch said. You could tell he was searching for a name for the lap.
"I just kept focus, like Don Johnson would coming to the start/finish line, flipped a 180, did a little Miami Vice action. … Happy to do something like that today and create a statement. That could be the name for it, the Don Johnson."
Nah, that wasn't it.
So Busch sincerely wants your help. He wants to name the lap, because he's bent on repeating it several more times this season.
Now a little perspective on how and why this could do Busch a lot of good, imagewise.
Waltrip, as a Fox commentator, remarked during the lap that "He doesn't understand what the Polish Victory Lap's all about."
Waltrip was referring to the late Alan Kulwicki's self-named style of celebration, in which he drove around the track the wrong way, albeit driving in forward gears.
The public-relations effect Kulwicki got by driving clockwise was that the driver's side was turned to the grandstands so that the fans could see him waving the checkered flag.
Kulwicki first ran the lap at Phoenix after his first Cup victory in 1988. Thereafter, the reticent engineer -- who wasn't exactly the warmest and fuzziest of personalities -- became a fan favorite.
By driving in reverse, counterclockwise around the track, Busch got the same effect -- the fans could see him waving the flag.
If you ask me, it was the race performance that won the fans' approval. Nobody could deny the brilliance of the drive, on a day when the tires were so weird that everybody was slipping and sliding and sideways. Indeed, Busch himself scraped the wall twice.
After that, all he had to do was not screw up. And the brilliance was in omission.
Busch did his lap in reverse in lieu of a burnout or doughnuts.
I happen to think fans are sick to the gills of burnouts/doughnuts. I know I am. Busch not only drove dazzlingly, he didn't fog the grandstands with acrid tire smoke.
After veteran Terry Labonte won the Southern 500 at Darlington in 2003, he refused to do a burnout -- just drove around the track with the checkered flag -- and was thunderously cheered for it and got rave reviews in the media.
Burnouts/dougnuts, initiated in North America by Italian IndyCar ace Alex Zanardi in 1997, should be waaaay out of fashion by now.
So my suggestion for naming Kurt Busch's lap in reverse is this:
The Drive Against Doughnuts.
Should it catch on, Busch could be the dark-horse candidate for most popular driver in 2009.
All against doughnuts, say aye.