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Win or lose, Kyle Busch making headlines in NASCAR’s return

Because we have been watching a lot of NASCAR and, unlike Korean baseball players, its drivers do interviews for TV, my wife since 1993 and constant companion since March 11 recognized Kyle Busch’s voice coming over my cellphone speaker.

This was just before the Las Vegas lead foot had his seven-race winning streak in the truck series halted by new rival Chase Elliott.

“Aren’t you glad you guys talked before the race?” the constant companion asked.

There would be no live TV interview of Busch after Elliott earned a bounty that had been placed on Busch by Cup series driver Kevin Harvick when the trucks last appeared in Las Vegas in February.

Busch apparently had used one of the seven words George Carlin said one can never say on television after his crew brought his truck to the track with a broken aerodynamic splitter — despite having had 95 days since the last race to fix it.

The Fox network said there wasn’t enough hand sanitizer on hand to clean up Busch’s quote in the time available.

This was race six in the 10 days since NASCAR had returned to the track after the coronavirus had shut down sports. Wednesday was supposed to be seven in 11 before Tropical Storm Bertha turned Charlotte Motor Speedway into an unlimited hydroplane course.

Busch was the only driver who raced in all of them. He won in the Xfinity Series and still is chasing his first Cup win of the disjointed 2020 season.

But with an assist from new drafting partner Elliott, he continues to be stock car racing’s biggest story.

Straw stirs drink

The latest chapters were written after the two-time Cup Series champion finished 26th after being slowed by a loose wheel at Darlington Raceway. Three days later, he ran second to teammate Denny Hamlin in another Cup race at Darlington and caused a major brouhaha when he misjudged a gap between cars and crashed out the popular Elliott.

Elliott threw Busch the middle finger. Busch threw blame on himself.

He ran second by an eyelash to another Chase, this one named Briscoe, in a wheel-banging Xfinity finish before settling for fourth in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Afterward he commiserated with Elliott, who lost another one he should have won when his crew called him in for a late pit stop.

The next night, Busch won his record 97th career Xfinity race with a last-lap pass.

That might have partly explained his pleasant demeanor on the telephone. The other part is that except for the first 10 minutes after races he does not win, Busch’s demeanor is almost always pleasant.

But there’s no cooling down period in auto racing before the media is allowed to speak to the drivers who don’t win. In the social media age, that is mostly to the detriment of Busch and other guys whose gears are wound tight.

Born too late

During our chat, Busch spoke of how strange it was not to have fans at the track, including his two biggest, wife Samantha and son Brexton. How driving seven races in 11 days, or 12 (he was not a factor in Thursday’s rain-delayed Cup race after suffering a flat tire) wasn’t such a big deal — not when Richard Petty and David Pearson drove in 61 and Ned Jarrett in 59 in a single season.

That was in 1964, when guys raced practically every other day, or so it seemed, with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in their T-shirt sleeves. Although he prefers Rowdy Energy (sports drink) to a pack of Marlboros, Busch agreed he was probably born too late.

“I’ve always said I missed the boat, because the way I go about things, do things, say things, was probably more fit for (another era),” he said alluding to his heat-of-the-moment reaction when paint is swapped and broken splitters are overlooked.

Two hours after our interview, he removed his surgical face mask and started his engine in front of empty grandstands.

Two hours after that, he used a swear word after Chase Elliott stole the win and mimicked Busch’s victory bow.

“Imitation is the strongest form or flattery or something,” Busch said for a Zoom video while in solitary motorcoach confinement.

He was mostly smiling after having mostly cooled down.

He is still NASCAR’s best and most polarizing driver.

In a while he would be leaving the track for the 35-minute drive back to Lake Norman on Charlotte’s high groove, where Samantha probably would be waiting up and Brexton probably would be asleep.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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