While he finished in 11th place, Joe Gibbs Racingâs Kyle Busch was the center of attention for a large chunk of Sundayâs NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.
Separate run-ins with Hendrick Motorsportsâ William Byron and Richard Petty Motorsportsâ Darrell Wallace Jr. during the Go Bowling at The Glen resulted in these two drivers sharing their displeasure with the driver of the #18 Toyota later in this 90-lap race around the eight-turn, 2.454-mile (3.949-kilometer) Watkins Glen International road course in Watkins Glen, New York.
They also resulted in expletive-laden rants from Byronâs crew chief, Chad Knaus, and Wallace himself, as they made a point to drive across the fact that they are no longer going to put up with the 34-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada nativeâs garbage, although far less kind words were used in their statements.
See what they had to say about Busch here.
With all things considered, yes, skirmishes like the few we saw during this race can re-energize a sport that has been on a decline for several years. And thatâs exactly what they do literally every time they happen, as fans tend to enjoy them.
But as far as NASCAR truly needing these kinds of things, they arenât going to save nor grow the sport, especially not more so than great racing itself.
However, in Buschâs case, itâs slightly different, and for a few reasons.
Iâve used this illustration before. Hendrick Motorsportsâ Chase Elliott, who won Sundayâs race in dominant fashion, unsurprisinglyÂ won his first NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award at age 22. If he drives until he is 100, he will retire as the 79-time winner of the award.
Simple. He has more fans than anybody else in NASCAR, and itâs really not all that close, and as a result, the most people voted for him. Heâs practically a shoe-in for the award.
But looking at popularity in terms of how much a driver is talked about, Busch is in a league of his own.
The main thing and probably the only thing about Kyle Busch that his fans and haters have grown to agree upon is that there really is no âmiddle groundâ.
You are either a huge #18 fan, or you canât stand him.
Thereâs no âwell, I donât mind himâ or âI donât really care either wayâ when it comes to Kyle Busch.
The most âneutralâ you can get to how you view him is you love it when he loses, but you love the comedy created by watching his haters lose their minds when he wins.
There really isnât another driver quite like that in this day and age in any series, aside of maybe Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1, albeit for totally different reasons.
The fact that this is the case proves that when he is involved in something controversial, it is far better for the sport than the average scuffle between two drivers.
Sundayâs race illustrated it.
If the 27th place driver in the championship standings gets into a scuffle, it usually means nothing. Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez arenât even that low in the standings, yet when they fought at ISM Raceway in March, the talk about it lasted for all of about one day and really only lasted that long because McDowell started the fight while wearing a helmet.
But when the 27th place driver is involved in a scuffle with the hated Kyle Busch, there is just a different level of energy to it.
It couldâve been a championship contender. It couldâve been a part-time driver. It couldâve been anybody.
The reaction to somebody spinning Busch out in turn one like Wallace did after the two bumped and banged down the front straightaway over an earlier incident in which Busch spun Wallace out would have been the same: the crowd cheering, roaring and hollering in approval at the new quasi-fan favorite driver of the #43 Chevrolet.
Youâd think there was a heated rivalry between the two drivers.
Busch has become known for competing in (and usually winning) Truck Series and Xfinity Series races, what his haters deem as âtaking candy from the babiesâ. He is the all-time winningest driver in both series who is NASCARâs all-time winningest driver because of it, and thatâs one of the reasons he is so despised.
HisÂ haters swear they wonât watch when he competes, yet every week, theyâre back, and for no other reason than to root against him.Â No matter who is up against him, the fans who supposedly canât stand him watch events solely to watch him, to see him possible lose and to see who the newest âheroâ is for beating him or for taking him out. While he is a full-time Cup Series driver and isnât âstealing candy from babiesâ in the Cup Series, the same logic applies there as well.
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As much as many NASCAR fans despise Kyle Busch, his involvement in controversy is unlike anybody elseâs and is truly beneficial to the sport. In a way, NASCAR needs a villain, and Busch is that villain, through and through. He never fails to deliver moments, no matter who else is involved, that bring out the passion across NASCARâs fanbase and that illustrate that the sport still has dedicated fans even in the midst of a decline.