I have a confession to make.
The full intention of this column was to bash Kyle Busch for his awful Pete Townshend impersonation at the Nashville track last weekend. However, after researching the incident, and after reading what fellow writers and fans have said, I've changed my tune.
I personally was horrified to see Busch take the guitar he earned from winning the Nationwide Series race and try to smash it to bits (quite ineptly, by the way). My first thought was how could someone take one of the most prized trophies in racing and treat it like garbage?
It also bothered me that this guitar was a Sam Bass creation. If you don't know Sam, just understand that he pours everything he has into his work, and for someone to just destroy it right in front of him was, well, disturbing.
I still believe there was a better way to handle it, but the more I've thought about it, the more I can understand it. Kyle Busch simply doesn't care what you or I think, and in a way, that's extremely refreshing. And in answering a question this past week regarding the incident, he made one statement that changed my mind on the whole thing.
"I don't regret it. In fact, it was fun," said Busch, almost shaking his fist at his detractors. "There was only one comment I've had to my face that was any different than support. Everybody else was for it. They thought it was great. A lot of people enjoyed it and thought it was different because this sport is so vanilla."
There it is. Vanilla. As in Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin vanilla. Now, there's nothing really wrong with those guys being who they are, just as there's nothing wrong with Kyle being Kyle or Tony Stewart being Tony Stewart.
But NASCAR and its fans crave something different. And if anyone in my profession would admit it, media members do also. We respect Gordon and Johnson for their integrity, their talent and their accessibility. We respect the Busches and Stewarts for their honesty and the fact that you never really know what they're going to do or say at any given moment.
It's that spontaneity that draws us to them. If you ask Busch or Stewart a question, you better get ready to hear what's on his mind. Really, what more could you want?
And then there's the mischievous side to Busch that endears him to some fans and alienates others. When discussing the guitar-smashing incident, Busch just had to take the opportunity to stick a pin in his favorite voo-doo doll, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"A lot of people hated it," he said, a smile starting to break out, "and I guess those are the people with 88s tattooed on their arm."
He just can't help himself, and, really, who can blame him? What if you lost your job to a hot shot whose only advantage was not in talent but popularity? And what if, in the next year, you clearly outperformed that person? Wouldn't you take every opportunity to rub it in his face?
Busch never misses a chance, and this time he not only gigged Junior, he went after his legions of fans. I guess Busch figures any fan of Earnhardt will never be a fan of his, so why not stick the fork in deeper?
"I've got no issues with Junior," he added, smirk now fully in place. "It's his fans that are crazy -- but that's all right. Sounds to me like the most popular driver award goes to Kyle Busch this year, right?"
Priceless. There's nothing like a villain to inspire NASCAR fans. In this day and time in NASCAR, is there anything more valuable?
E-mail Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...