Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, August 23, 2010

Historic Sweep Comes With Controversy

Well, you know Kyle Busch can't do anything quietly.

Busch completed a historic sweep this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the first driver in NASCAR history to sweep all three national touring series races in one weekend. After taking the Camping World Truck Series O'Reilly 200 on Wednesday, Busch won the Nationwide Series Food City 250 on Friday and dominated the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday.

But if you think it was all clean and easy ... well, you don't know Busch all that well, do you?

With 32 laps to go on Friday's Nationwide Series race, Busch raced side-by-side with Brad Keselowski. Busch had a run coming off Turn 2, but got loose and slid in front of Keselowski. Keselowski had nowhere to go, clipping the right rear of Busch's car and sending it into the wall. Keselowski went by going into Turn 3, but Busch banged into the back of Keselowski and sent him spinning into the wall.

Busch went on to win the race, much to the chagrin of many of those in attendance. Not that he cared, mocking the fans for their booing before proceeding to admit in a live television interview that he effectively pulled a Carl Edwards.

Don't believe me? Watch:

Keselowski did not retaliate Saturday night -- partly because he's still on probation following his dust-up with Edwards at Gateway -- but he did manage to get off this little shot during driver introductions:

Sadly, the video is censored. For those who can't lip-read, Keselowski called Busch an ass. Over the loudspeaker. In front of roughly 150,000 fans -- the vast majority of whom loved it.

Set aside the issue of Keselowski for a minute ... this is who Kyle Busch is, at least on the race track. To be fair, NASCAR has been in desperate need for flashy personalities for years, particularly following the death of Dale Earnhardt. Busch gives us that -- he's immensely talented, yet his attitude, unique that it is, rubs a lot of fans and competitors the wrong way.

Love him or hate him, Busch is the sort of driver you have to watch, because you never know what you're going to see. He might dominate a race and win going away, or he might put himself in the fence. He might even make a mistake in the car, then turn around and blame someone else and spin him out.

You just never know, which is part of Busch's appeal.

The talent is indisputable -- when Kurt Busch won his only Sprint Cup title in 2004, he warned everyone that he had a younger brother who was even better than him. The attitude is what polarizes everyone (though this Richmond incident in 2008 didn't help matters). Some fans love Busch's style, but most don't.

The reaction to Keselowski's statement on Saturday is all the proof you need.

As for Keselowski ... for someone who has this reputation of being a rough and dirty driver, Keselowski sure is on the receiving end of intentional wrecks a lot. Keselowski is aggressive, sometimes too much so, but that aggression got him to where he is today, and it's a big reason Roger Penske hired him away from Rick Hendrick, even though Hendrick desperately wanted to keep him.

We've mentioned the probation, and there's thought that Keselowski hasn't retaliated yet because of that. It's a valid argument, but I think it goes deeper. Penske, Keselowski's car owner, strikes me as the sort of guy who doesn't tolerate race cars being used as weapons, so maybe he's had a conversation or two with Keselowski about how to handle his incidents with Edwards and now Busch.

But think about this: for all his aggression, Keselowski isn't the type to intentionally dump people (if you throw the Talladega incident in my face, you lose all credibility). Yeah, he'll bump and rub and make contact and put his car in places a lot of other drivers won't. But guess what? That landed him his ride with JR Motorsports. That landed him his first career Sprint Cup Series win at Talladega. That got him his ride with Penske, and it will more than likely land him the Nationwide Series championship this year.

Oh, and it landed him one of NASCAR's most iconic rides, the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, next season.

Maybe that's what has Edwards, Busch and Denny Hamlin all ticked off at Keselowski; he's talented, he's aggressive and most importantly, he beats them. Most importantly, he won't back down. In 2008 and 2009, Keselowski was the only non-Cup driver who regularly raced with and beat the Cup drivers moonlighting in the Nationwide Series.

Trust me, the only way not to make veteran drivers mad at you is if they beat you. Keselowski beats these guys on a semi-regular basis, which upsets their mental sense of hierarchy.

All Keselowski has done is the same thing that he's been doing all along, which is what's allowed him to ascend the ranks of NASCAR. It's entirely conceivable for Keselowski to retire as a Sprint Cup Series champion, and he's not going to let rankled veterans of questionable maturity stand in his way.

And don't mistake Keselowski's reticence to retaliate for letting Busch and others walk all over them. Keselowski will have his revenge, in his own way and on his own terms.

Busch can win all the races and set all the records he wants. He certainly has the talent, and he may one day win the Sprint Cup. But he has a lot of maturing to do before that day comes, and no matter what anyone tells you, Busch is not, and will never be, anything like the late Dale Earnhardt.

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