A couple of hours before Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, championship driver Kyle Busch of Las Vegas and championship running back Marshawn Lynch of Oakland, California, traded helmets.
It’s possible they also swapped Skittles anecdotes, given Busch occasionally drives a car sponsored by them and Lynch had an affinity for guzzling the little fruity treats when the defense was on the field.
This turned out to a bad omen for reporters who dared to ask Busch about his awful race in which he hit the wall early and another car late and was scored in 19th place.
NASCAR’s regular-season champion and playoff favorite coming in went Beast Mode. He even parroted his new buddy Marshawn’s Super Bowl media day catchphrase about only being there so he wouldn’t get fined.
As interviews go, it wasn’t exactly David Frost chatting up Richard Nixon in four parts.
— ronkantowski (@ronkantowski) September 15, 2019
— What happened there with the 53 late (an erroneous reference to the car driven by Garrett Smithley, with whom Busch bumped)? “52, get it right. Don’t know.”
— How’d that impact your car? “Killed it.”
— Were you happy that you were able to come back from early damage? “Nope.”
— What happened at the beginning of the race? “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”
— What about the heat? “Felt great.”
— Any thoughts of going to a place where you won last time, at Richmond? “Nope. Can’t pass there.”
— Feel OK about your chances overall? “Don’t care.”
— Did it help any that you had bonus points coming in here? “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”
— You feel like if you were able to get a top 10 …
Busch sought out a NASCAR official. “I’m answering the dumbest (expletive) questions over and over again — am I good (to go)?”
He turned his back on the reporters. One or two chuckled at his petulance, which has almost become humorous in a Tony Stewart, Gregg Popovich kind of way.
End of interview.
On the same day Kyle Busch sent sour grapes skittering down pit road like errant lugnuts, I had written a story about his big brother Kurt, who used to be curt, but has evolved into one of stock car racing’s nicest guys.
Kyle still appears to be working on it.
“Different people show their emotions in different ways. Unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious — and I don’t know that it ever will be,” he said during a 2017 interview in which he was trying to be forthright and introspective following a runner-up finish in the Coca-Cola 600 and a terse debriefing with the media.
Whereas most guys need 10 minutes to cool off, Kyle seems to require a week to 10 days.
“I’m sorry, that’s just who I am,” he said. “I mean, I can probably get better and go to training and classes and everything else, but I don’t know. It is the way it is.”
But a funny thing has happened on the way to the NASCAR hauler.
A warmer embrace
Where once he was universally despised by NASCAR fans, many are slowly starting to warm to Kyle, in the way they warmed to Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace and even Dale Earhhardt, whose hard-as-nails methodology of wheeling a stock car around a paved oval wasn’t exactly appreciated, at least not at first, by a certain percentage of leather-lunged fans sitting in the Turn 4 bleachers.
Social media types were lining up on both sides of the pit wall Monday after Kyle went Beast Mode at LVMS. At last check, it was almost 50-50.
Love him or hate him we are all lucky to have @KyleBusch in our sport. He drives more fan passion in our sport than anyone I can think of since Dale Earnhardt. I believe he is great for @NASCAR I hope he never changes. https://t.co/7B9qvYtq96
— Mark Martin (@markmartin) September 16, 2019
— Ricky Dalton (@RickyDalton17) September 16, 2019
To be fair, it’s not all engine smoke and screeching tires when it comes to Kyle’s comportment: He has been known to visit race site campgrounds to interact with supporters; stop in traffic to sign an autograph for those flying his flag; tap a young lady on the shoulder of her M&M’s racing jacket at Wynn Las Vegas during Champion’s Week to ask if she would pose for a selfie.
Five years ago, I was a witness to a quickie marriage on the Strip. The bride was Crystal Riley. The groom was Bobby Dezarov. The official witness — the one not wearing a “Lucky’s Speed Shop” bowling shirt — was Kyle, who had never met either one. The betrothed had written LVMS for a chance to win tickets, saying they were among the driver’s biggest fans.
And so when Kyle was in town to promote the big NASCAR race, he agreed to witness Bobby and Crystal’s marriage and autograph the blessed certificate.
He did it just because speedway officials asked, not because he feared being fined.
Lionel Racing’s top 10 selling NASCAR drivers of 2018:
1. Chase Elliott
2. Kyle Busch
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Kevin Harvick
5. William Byron
6. Brad Keselowski
7. Kyle Larson
8. Ryan Blaney
9. Bubba Wallace
10. Austin Dillon