Kyle Busch could take over NASCAR’s victory lanes

Four-time champion Jimmie Johnson is not the only Sprint Cup driver who seems to have the ability to get into the competition’s heads these days.

There is at least one other Cup star that rival drivers seem to constantly have their eye on.

And, no, it’s not Crash Keselowski, who seems to have a target on his back now that Carl Edwards got away with a little retribution at Atlanta Sunday.

And it’s not Edwards, whose Jekyll and Hyde personality has to have his rivals on edge after he lost his cool and sent Keselowski flying into the fence.

No, it seems that the driver that most NASCAR stars want to beat most these days is Kyle Busch, who keeps the competition on edge in all three of NASCAR’s major touring series.

When Kevin Harvick won the Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta last week, the thing he was most proud of was beating Busch, or “protecting his turf,” as he called it.

"A lot of the reason we race trucks is just to make sure Kyle doesn’t win all the races,” Harvick said.

Busch, who has won 10 Truck races in a limited schedule the past two years, has proven that he can show up in the Truck series any time he wants and win.

And now he has his own Truck team, one Harvick obviously views as a threat in the series his teams have dominated the last few years.

When Kurt Busch won Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta, giving new crew chief Steve Addington his first victory with the Penske Racing team, one of the things Addington was most proud of was beating Kyle, his former driver.

The victory was a bit of vindication for Addington, who led Kyle to 12 Cup wins the last two years before being replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing and hired by Kurt’s Penske team.

“I think if I denied that, I would be lying,” Addington said. “It honestly feels good to be with this race team, with Kurt as the driver, and come back and win before the 18 car (Kyle) got a chance to win. That’s a personal deal.”

Even big brother Kurt seems threatened by his younger brother, who has sort of overshadowed him the past few years.

Kurt has 21 career Cup victories, five more than Kyle, and won the 2004 Cup championship. Yet he seems driven to beat his younger brother, which is somewhat of a role reversal from a typical sibling rivalry.

Why is everyone so concerned with beating Kyle Busch?

Because he is widely regarded as the most talented driver in the sport today, aside, of course, from Johnson, who has established himself as one of the greatest of all time.

Though he and his Gibbs team are currently going through some growing pains, Kyle Busch is the driver with the most potential to completely dominate the sport, and everyone knows it.

He also strikes a nerve with fans and other competitors. While most Cup drivers today are guilty of having, or showing, little personality, Busch has a confident swagger, a no-care attitude and wears his emotions on his sleeve.

He is like an old-West gunslinger that rides into town looking for a fight, one he usually wins.

Busch’s love-hate relationship with fans has the potential to make him one of the sport’s biggest villains – if he isn’t already – or eventually turn him into a popular megastar. Either role figures to attract plenty of attention and make him millions.

That is a position just about any driver or athlete would envy.

And Busch has the talent, attitude, potential and time to make it work.

At age 24, he already has 16 Cup victories and 63 wins across NASCAR’s top three series. He is the modern-day Mark Martin, a driver capable of winning in any series, in any car and with any team.

If he continues to race in all three series, he will quickly rewrite the record books for both the Nationwide and Truck series.

Busch has made a shambles of the Nationwide Series the past two years. In 2008, he won 10 of 30 races and finished sixth in points, despite skipping five events.

Last year, he won nine races, finished second a record 11 times and ran away with the championship.

He won seven of the 15 truck races he entered last season and has 16 Truck wins in just 71 career starts.

The fear is that Busch could eventually display similar dominance in the Cup series.

He has already flashed that potential, winning eight of the first 22 races in 2008 before his team hit a slump. He won just four races last year, but had several others slip away due to late-race misfortune.

Busch’s team is struggling to give him the cars and setups he needs right now, but the fear in the garage is that once that happens, Busch will take off on another long winning streak.

And, at his age, most believe he is the driver most likely to put together a Jimmie Johnson-like stretch of dominance in the near future.

The only thing that seems to be standing in the way of greatness for Busch is immaturity and his inability to harness his emotions.

Those are problems that should be easily solved with age and experience. Many believed that the young, brash, erratic Busch would never win a NASCAR championship, yet he won the Nationwide title last year.

“I think that proves that we can get the job done,” Busch says.

The theory in the garage is that once Busch matures (he turns 25 in May) and gets his head on straight, the sky is the limit and he is the driver with the most potential to supplant Johnson as king.

Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team are the measuring stick for all NASCAR teams right now.

But Kyle Busch may be the driver they fear the most.