The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is tailor-made for a racer nicknamed “Rowdy.”
Traditionally, Kyle Busch approaches every race as if there were no points on the line. For the 28-year-old phenom, it’s all about the hardware. On Saturday night, that’s exactly the kind of race he’ll find.
It’s not surprising that after leading 265 of 367 laps last Saturday night at Darlington Raceway before finishing sixth, Busch was disgusted with the result despite gaining solid points in the process.
"If you lead 260 whatever laps and don’t win, it’s a lost race, it’s gone, it means nothing,” Busch said. “It is what it is. It sucks and you hate it and on the flipside if you can only lead one lap and lead the last one and win any race, I’d have that happen every single week.
“It’s all about taking home the trophy and the checkered flag. It’s not necessarily about how many laps you lead. When you lead all those laps it shows that you’re good, your team’s good, your car’s good and everything else, but it just goes to show you how much bad luck this has."
Perhaps Busch’s checkers-or-wreckers attitude is what has kept him from winning the final segment of the upcoming race — and the All-Star race trophy. In seven starts in this event, Busch holds the record among current drivers with three poles, but his best finish was second in 2011.
Rowdy has certainly been fodder for the race’s highlight reels in the past. The Busch sibling rivalry in 2007 when he tangled with his brother Kurt and crashed was one for the ages. In 2009, Busch made contact with his current teammate Matt Kenseth when being cut off on the final restart with 10 to go. Two laps later, Busch took Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman three wide for the lead — with Gordon getting the worst of the incident. Although Busch regained the point, his car faded after battling again with Kenseth and he dropped to sixth as Tony Stewart won the race.
It was a row with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the 2010 All-Star race that thwarted his shot at a trip to Victory Lane. Busch led three times for 19 laps and “had this race won” before he was pinched by Hamlin with seven laps remaining and cut a tire in the process. With three laps to settle the event, Busch slammed into Turn 1 and collected Kasey Kahne.
Now, fast forward to last weekend’s race at Darlington, where Kahne challenged Busch for the lead on Lap 333 and ended up in the wall. Forget about 2010, between Busch and Kahne this was Round Three of 2013 after they also had run-ins at Daytona and Talladega — and again, Kahne was caught up in wreck involving Busch.
Busch, who called Kahne after the incident, sized up the situation as a racing incident. When asked how he’ll compete against Kahne in the All-Star race, Busch insisted “just as hard as you race him any other week.”
“The first two instances were a mistake, just misjudgment,” Busch said. “Kasey admitted it, he had to get on the brakes in Daytona and checked up a little bit and I ran over him. You couldn’t really see through the cars in front of you to see what was happening. Daytona I just misjudged, I wanted to pull out and thought last second that I was going to stay in line and push Kasey. I turned him sideways when I was coming back in line.
“Last week was just hard racing. You’re in the last three laps and you’re past the last pit stop and it’s all about track position. For us, we were racing as hard as we could. He pulled a huge slide job on me in Turn 3 and I got back to his inside and I had been running down there on the flat all night and had been passing lapped cars down there and some of my restarts were even that low on the racetrack.
“I didn’t think there was going to be a problem and when I got down there I just got tight and pushed up a little bit. Whether or not we touched, I think that’s insignificant because I’m not racing to wreck Kasey Kahne, but Kasey Kahne did crash because of me so it’s a part of hard racing at the end of the race and I hate that it keeps being the same guy, but if it were a Matt Kenseth or a Tony Stewart we probably wouldn’t see a story."
For Busch, history comes into play when determining whether he races a fellow driver with respect. Busch contends that “dirty” racing is “when you don’t even give a (expletive) about the guy next to you and you just flat out run over him.”
But drivers have to be prepared because that temperament goes both ways.
Certainly, the tempo picks up when competitors are racing at the front of the pack. But Busch is quick to point out that when the drivers raced for the win at Bristol and Kahne won, it was a clean finish. At Las Vegas, Kahne and Busch traded the lead on several occasions without incident.
“You run up front and you try for wins in the last 30 laps and you have to give it everything you’ve got,” Busch said. “You’re not there to roll over and let a guy go. Even the Darlington piece, if I would have let him go, I don’t know that I could have got back by him. It was a little difficult to pass and he did seem to have a good car on the long runs so I knew that protecting my spot was what I needed to do at that particular point.
“Racing up front, racing hard I’m sure there would be a moment where it could come back on me and I expect it, it’s fine. I just told Kasey, I said, ‘Just don’t make it hurt too bad.’"
Is he expecting Kahne to retaliate this weekend?
"I don’t think Kasey is that kind of guy, but if it happens I’ll understand," he said.
Kahne acknowledged that Busch knows he “may have one coming.”
But Kahne seemed to just want to put the drama behind him.
“We talked, kind of went through things,” Kahne said. “We’re as good as we can be. I feel like I’ve been taken out four times this year — (by) other people with really good cars. It’s discouraging. Me and Kyle talked about it. I know we were racing hard. He made a mistake — and I understand that.”