BROOKLYN, Mich. — The car owners are lining up to talk to Kyle Busch, and the overwhelming interest probably alleviated any hurt feelings he might have had following his ouster from Hendrick Motorsports.
Busch was pushed out of Hendrick’s elite organization when the team hired Dale Earnhardt Jr. to replace him starting next season. It put Busch on the open market, and the talented 22-year-old Durango High School graduate has drawn a flood of interest.
“I’m just kind of flattered and excited by all the interest and phone calls that we’ve gotten,” Busch said Friday. “I’m interested in talking to anybody who wants to talk … whoever has an open seat, let’s go. Let’s sit down. Let’s have dinner.”
Dale Earnhardt Inc., Evernham Motorsports, Ginn Racing and Robert Yates Racing have expressed interest in Busch, making him the hottest free agent in NASCAR.
It’s helped take the sting off his split from Hendrick, which was finalized earlier this week when Hendrick agreed to a five-year deal with Junior.
Busch’s contract with Hendrick ran through 2008, and both sides had been working on an extension. Hendrick said once other teams learned Busch was negotiating, interest piqued in the driver and complicated their talks.
“He’s a young guy, and everyone tells you how great you are and says you’re not going to be the top dog there, you’ll be the top dog here, we’ll pay you whatever it’s going to take,” Hendrick said. “How would you respond to that?”
Hendrick said the outside interest stalled negotiations, which gave him an opportunity to pursue Earnhardt.
But Busch indicated Friday he hadn’t been aware of outside interest and implied his former agent failed to keep him informed during the negotiations. Busch split with Alan Miller last weekend and hired Motorsports Management Inc. on the same day Hendrick released him from his contract.
He said it didn’t help when Earnhardt became a free agent on May 10.
“Negotiations were going well, then they weren’t going well, then we started getting back on track,” Busch said. “Then Junior announced his availability, and then that’s where we kind of stalled out again. I’m not stupid. You guys aren’t stupid. It’s kind of common sense, I guess.”
Although Busch has four career wins, finished 10th in last year’s Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship and is on pace to make the Chase this season, he’s had missteps in his career that have tarnished his reputation.
Considered an aggressive young driver, he has tangled on the track with several veterans and had questionable off-track behavior that didn’t fit the Hendrick mold.
He left the track following an accident in Texas earlier this season and wasn’t around to take the car back on the track after it had been patched. And he was highly critical of the Car of Tomorrow after he won its debut race in March.
Though Hendrick said he moved past each incident, crew chief Alan Gustafson said Busch leaving the track at Texas hurt the team. Earnhardt, who wrecked out, hopped in the car to complete the closing laps in Busch’s place.
“I definitely think that was a brick in the wall,” Gustafson said. “It wasn’t good.”
But car owner Ray Evernham said Busch has earned a bad rap based on a string of incidents that can be chalked up to immaturity.
“It’s hard to take a guy you want to be total fire and drive that thing on the line every minute and then expect him not to be emotional,” Evernham said. “You’ve just got to try to help somebody like that control his emotions.”Auto
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YELEY WINS FIRST CAREER POLE AT MICHIGAN
BROOKLYN, Mich. — J.J. Yeley won his first career pole Friday at Michigan International Speedway, making him like the 2-mile oval even more.
“This is one of my favorite racetracks,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun because it’s four and five grooves wide. It’s big and fast.”
Yeley posted a lap of 38.399 seconds — at a speed of 187.505 mph — to edge Jimmie Johnson by a thousandth of a second.
Johnson, the defending Nextel Cup champion, last won a pole more than a year ago.
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch was third at 186.829, showing he was not too distracted after Hendrick Motorsports chose to replace him earlier in the week with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on next year’s team. Earnhardt will start Sunday’s race 23rd in the 43-car field.
Ryan Newman, Joe Nemechek and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top six qualifiers.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS