Behind the scenes with Kyle Busch: On fatherhood, his past and advice for NBA sharpshooter

BY Cory McCartney • February 5, 2015

ATLANTA -- Sitting at a table at RED that overlooked the Philips Arena court while the Hawks and Wizards went through their pregame preparations, Kyle Busch picked at a plate of pan-roasted chicken breast and rosemary-garlic potatoes.

The topic turned to Super Bowl commercials, and the veteran of 10 full NASCAR Sprint Cup seasons offered a fix to the Fiat entry, which ended with a car being enhanced by ... a certain little blue pill.

"They should have teamed up with Viagra and split the cost," Busch said.

Long one of racing's biggest bad boys, Busch is now a 29-year-old team owner with a baby boy on the way -- and he's an astute businessman.

In town to promote the Feb. 22 Daytona 500, Busch arrived a short time earlier Wednesday evening at the media entrance wearing a black Monster Energy hat (his XFINITY Series sponsor) and a gray and black jacket draped over a M&M's polo shirt (his Cup sponsor).

Waiting for a press conference following Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer's pregame availability, Busch opened up about a year in which he had one win a 15 top-10 finishes -- his fewest since 2009 -- in finishing 10th in the Chase.

While the year was devoid of the feuds and run-ins that have defined his career -- they've included Kevin Harvick, Rick Hendrick and Brad Keselowski as a small sampling -- Busch saw that as a result not of maturation but circumstances.

"Every year I think you get older, you get more experience, you get a little more reasoning in different situations in what not," he said. "But last year was sort of an unsuccessful year in general. I was really quiet and it felt bad not being such a dominant force or being a competitive force ... sometimes that also just kind of dials back every thing you get into on the race track."

Changes were needed, most notably with his crew chief.

Busch and Dave Rogers teamed up with three races remaining in the 2009 season and would go on to win 13 races, including four in '11 and '13 and they finished fourth in the 2013 standings.

In steps Adam Stevens, with whom Busch combined for 19 victories, 46 top-5s and 47-top 10s in 52 XFINITY Series races together.

"The success we've had at the XFINITY Series has been awesome, getting ourselves used to each other the last two years and seeing how we work together," Busch said. "It was a good learning experience for us, but it's a whole different level at the Cup level."

Stevens' ascension was part of a reorganization at Joe Gibbs Racing, which added a fourth team for Carl Edwards.

Rogers slid over to Denny Hamlin's No. 11 team, while Hamlin's former crew chief, Darian Grubb will be with Edwards and the newly formed No. 19 team.

Edwards spent his entire Cup career with Jack Roush, finishing in the top three in the Chase three times, including runner-ups in '08 and '11.

After a season in which JGR won two races -- one by Busch and one by Hamlin, while Matt Kenseth went winless -- Busch is hoping for more balance out of the four-team organization.

"If Carl goes out and wins 10 races and the rest of us don't win any that's still a problem for the company but at least somebody got it done," he said. "Hopefully it's a little more even, you know, we can all win 2, 3, 4, 5, however many races a piece. That would be a really dominant year for Joe Gibbs Racing."

Busch made his way into the Hawks interview room, answering questions about Daytona, Stevens and a 2008 incident at Richmond International Speedway in which Busch spun out Dale Earnhardt Jr. with three laps to go.

"It was really, really bad," Busch recalled. "It was ugly. Nasty. Probably a few death threats in there."

Just before walking into the room, Busch revealed that he grew up a fan of Dale Earnhardt Sr., whose on-track identity was wrapped around the similar Intimidator persona.

Busch has a past, one that he knows he can't run from. While having a child may impact his decision-making on the track, the feuds and the run-ins will always be out there.

"As fact as the matter as that may be ... there's still YouTube," he said. "Anything that I've ever done in the past, whether I've had a kid or knowing that I always wanted to have a family, that kid's going to find some day on YouTube and see. I don't know if it will change it a lot, but maybe different things and different mindsets that you have."

Busch made an appearance in the main concourse for a photo with FOX Sports South Girls Canicka and Morgan and the Harley Jr. Earl Trophy that goes to the Daytona 500 winner.

Busch poses with the Harley J. Early Trophy and FOX Sports South Girls Morgan (left) and Canicka

The Great American Race has eluded Busch, who won on the 2 1/2-mile tri-oval in the summer race in '08, but has never finished higher than fourth in the opener.

It's part of his struggles in restrictor-plate races. Over his career Busch has a 19.0 average finish at Daytona and 22.4 at Talladega.

It was at Talladega where Busch's '14 turned sour as he entered the race second in the Chase but was collected in a wreck on Lap 103. He finished 40th and did not advance.

"I've never been a fan of restrictor-plate racing. Even when I'm winning I'm not necessarily a fan of it," he said. "It's too circumstantial. It has absolutely nothing to do with skill, talent any of that. It's just hold the pedal down and how's your luck that day. It's frustrating sometimes but it's a necessary evil of the sport and one of the greatest races there is, the Daytona 500."

Out on the court, Busch met Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, who the driver would join -- along with Bob Rathbun -- during the SportSouth telecast.

"You're going to be joining us tonight, right?" Wilkins asked, then said of his NASCAR knowledge. "I'll act like I know what I'm talking about."

"And I'll act like I know what I'm talking about," Busch responded.

During dinner, Busch was offered up a few tidbits on the Eastern Conference-leading Hawks, including their three All-Stars -- Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague -- and the historic chase of Kyle Korver.

Hitting at a 54.0 percent rate on 3-pointers, 52.3 from the field and 91.8 on free throws, Korver is in line for the first 50/50/90 season in NBA history.

When told of Korver's pace, Busch asked "Does he have it now?"

"Yes."

"I'd tell him no more shooting," Busch joked. "You're only passing the rest of the season."

Busch, though, didn't need any help.

After a first quarter in which the Hawks led 29-18, Busch spun a wheel in a promotion that resulted in fans being shown on the big screen as if they were riding a roller coaster, then he joined the SportSouth telecast.

They discussed Daytona, pit crews and fatherhood, and Rathbun offered up a replacement driver should Busch ever need a race off. The screen flashed to a shot of Wilkins standing in Victory Lane wearing Busch's yellow M&M's fire suit.

"That's Photoshop at its finest, right there," Busch said.

But, Wilkins, quipped "The color on my finger is a little off."

Busch made his way back through the tunnels of Philips Arena and off to waiting car. The next day brings with it a trip to Phoenix for a Hurricanes-Coyotes game as the Road To Daytona push continues.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney


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