Kyle Busch is more than just 'Rowdy'
More than a few columns and countless hours of NASCAR airtime have been spent discussing the maturity and attitude of Kyle Busch. He's been involved in a variety of incidents since beginning his Sprint Cup career at Hendrick Motorsports, where a late race wreck of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond first put him on the bad side of many NASCAR fans. He's publicly embraced the role of villain and his post-race bow to the booing crowd has resulted in more than one shower of beer cans. Yet for all of that attitude, there's another side to Kyle Busch that peeked out from behind the curtain after his Nationwide win Friday night. It's too bad this guy comes out so rarely and Rowdy comes out so often; this version is someone fans and sponsors alike could someday come to embrace.
Lee Spencer article from Fox Sports
Whether it's wife Samantha's influence, the natural process of growing up or something else entirely, Busch is putting his position and celebrity to good use. His Kyle Busch Foundation is doing a whole lot more than just throwing a few words and public appearances at the issue of breast cancer. Fox Sports' Lee Spencer wrote an excellent article this past week on just what the Foundation itself has accomplished over the past year. Busch himself donated his entire race winnings from Friday night to the Pretty in Pink Foundation, a group that assists with medical bills and daily living expenses for breast cancer victims.
For all of the abuse Cup drivers in general (and Busch in particular) take for running on the Nationwide level, this was worth it for a number of women. He and Samantha brought 12 different breast cancer survivors (or “Champions” in the parlance of Pretty in Pink) to this weekend's race. Between the race winnings, merchandise sales and other fundraisers the total raised through his foundation this past weekend was $154,000. He also had a mobile mammography unit at the race shop this past week enabling employees and fans alike to receive a screening- at no cost. There's nothing wrong with using a pink paint scheme to raise awareness for the cause but the Busch family raised real money here, money that will do real good in the lives of people who desperately need it.
Foundation and charity work is one thing. But it's not the only thing Busch is doing that ought to receive more attention than it does. Despite having a full time schedule driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch also has his own race shop in Kyle Busch Motorsports. And while many Nationwide and Truck teams depend on veteran drivers to make their operations viable with sponsors, Busch employs a handful of virtual unknowns. Scott Bloomquist's run at Eldora is the only time this year a driver born before 1990 (aside from Kyle) drove a KBM ride.
It's the height of irony, really. Kyle Busch takes an enormous amount of heat for running on the Camping World Truck and Nationwide levels. Critics say that he has no business driving in those series because he overshadows the young up and comers and wins the bulk of the races he enters there. They also batter Busch (and others) for taking up a quality ride that might otherwise go to one of the young guns. Yet without KBM, several of those drivers wouldn't have a quality ride in the first place.
Look at the drivers Kyle Busch has employed so far this season. 23 year old Parker Kligerman is the team's Nationwide representative, currently standing 10th in points as his first full time Nationwide season draws to a close. 23 year old Joey Coulter and 20 year old Darrell Wallace Jr. are in the middle of their first full season at the Camping World Truck series level for the team, sitting 9th and 13th in points respectively. The truck team has also put 21 year old Chad Hackenbracht (aka Hockensomethin') and 17 year old Erik Jones behind the wheel at various times this year. Each driver has gained valuable experience running at the national level in top-level equipment. Or in other words, the head Buschwhacker puts his money where other's mouths are when it comes to opportunity for younger drivers.
The exposure they've gained running for KBM is even more important than the experience. With Busch running full time at Joe Gibbs Racing, the door is wide open for Busch drivers to run for JGR. Drew Herring, a 26 year old who's run for KBM in the past has also piloted a Gibbs Nationwide car this year. Both Wallace and Coulter have also climbed behind the wheel for Gibbs and have had the chance to show their talents on a larger stage. The Gibbs cars are among Nationwide's elite; running a JGR car provides a young driver with an unmatched opportunity to show just how good they can be.
Over the years, both Kyle and his brother Kurt have been criticized for their tempers both on and off the track. That criticism was earned by a series of hard-headed moves made by stubborn drivers refusing to think beyond the moment. That stubborn selfishness was on full display last weekend and Busch first wrecked Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide race, then was wrecked in near-identical fashion by Juan Pablo Montoya in the Sprint Cup race. Kyle didn't help his case by claiming he had more “class” than the defending champion Keselowski- only to turn around and say that JPM “won't be missed” after he leaves NASCAR racing this upcoming off-season. These kinds of incidents only provide more ammunition for the anti-Kyle crowd.
Yet little in life is black and white and so it is with Kyle Busch. Much like another driver who ran a generation ago, Busch's outlandish comments and on-track attitude are not all there is. Behind the arrogant racer is someone who goes out of his way to provide a helping hand for those who need it. Behind the win-at-any-costs Rowdy is a guy who gave his whole paycheck to women suffering from cancer. If he can someday find a way to balance his need to win with his desire to do the right thing, he might finally gain both the respect and the appreciation he clearly wants.
Stranger things have happened, after all. The aforementioned “Jaws”, Darrell Waltrip, was once the most hated man in racing. By the time his career was over, the fans voted him NASCAR's most popular driver two years in a row. Any fan old enough to remember how Waltrip started in NASCAR will tell you that's after that happened, anything's possible. Even “Kyle Busch, Humanitarian of the Year” isn't the icicles in Hell moment that “Fan-favorite Darrell Waltrip” was.
Hope springs eternal.