Busch a study of two extremes

Petulant driver shows gracious side

The Associated PressAugust 25, 2009 

— Kyle Busch deviated from his traditional victory celebration when he spotted a crying fan in the grandstands and tried to hand her the checkered flag through the fence at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He was at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville the next day for a late model race sponsored by the Kyle Busch Foundation. Handling problems forced him out of the 150-miler, but he still went to Victory Lane to present the guitar trophy to the winner.

Such is the enigma that is Kyle Busch lately.

He's sullen and surly some days, to the point Brian Vickers repeatedly characterized his rival as an angry person living a miserable existence. But other days he can be charming, charitable and even gracious.

His mood mostly reflects the most recent race results, and when Busch isn't winning, he makes no apologies for being upset.

"You know, I am who I am," Busch said Sunday in Nashville, where he arrived fresh off of Saturday night's crucial NASCAR victory in the Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol.

"It is what it is. I go out there to do my best week in and week out to win races. I'm a guy that loves to win. There's nothing else to me but the feeling of winning."

In other words, he's a racer.

But in his struggle to balance the highs and lows of his high-profile NASCAR career, he's made several missteps that have cost him on and off the track. Fans despise him for a myriad of reasons, ranging from on-track tangles with Dale Earnhardt Jr., his aggressive racing style and his arrogant attitude.

They also find him to be a petulant whiner who finds fault in someone else every time he's denied a victory.

When he's winning, he doesn't really care about the backlash that comes from being a Bad Boy.

But when he's losing, it's best just to get out of his way.

So his mood had been terrible for weeks during a 13-race slump in the Cup Series that's got him dangerously close to missing the Chase for the championship. With his season now on the line, Busch stepped up Saturday night with a gutsy victory at Bristol that has him still in contention for the title.

The victory moved him up two spots in the standings to 13th, and with two races remaining before the 12-driver Chase field is set, he's just 34 points out of the final qualifying spot.

What his fourth win of the season did for him statistically pales to what it did for his psyche. The struggle to win had apparently wreaked havoc on his confidence, and that sour mood was seemingly affecting his racing.

As team owner Joe Gibbs pointed out after Saturday's win, it's not too different from the emotional highs and lows everyone saw from Tony Stewart during the first, oh, decade of his NASCAR career.

Stewart has mellowed a bit with age, and at 38 years old, he's learned how to pick his battles.

Busch, 24, is still trying to find his way.

But much like Stewart, who seemed so unlikable at the race track only to be a charmer away from it, Busch does his share of good deeds.

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