The young driver sped on by, glorying in the thrill of leading the race. Nothing could stop him. Not one. There were only a few laps left and an open track in front of his machine. Nothing would prevent him from driving into Victory Lane.
Then he checked his mirror, and there it was, the most feared car on the track. He swallowed, tightened his grip on the wheel, and questioned his destiny for a second–just long enough for his pursuer to grow just a bit larger in the reflection. Dammit! It wasn’t fair! He had a great car and had driven a clean race. Today was surely destined to be his! And still his nemesis stalked ever closer.
A slow car appeared ahead on the inside. Crap. He had to lift. Not enough to lose the lead, but just so that the noise of the following car grew a little louder. Another lap lost another second. The distance between the two became space rather than time–car lengths, feet, inches. The tension in cockpit skyrocketed. What did he do wrong? How was it that car always would win, and not his team?
It was over. The checkers fell for the No. 54 car. That was on Saturday. On Sunday the Brickyard welcomed the No. 18 to its circle of Sprint Cup winners. Not only did the competitors shake their heads at the brutal consistency of the pilot still recovering from a broken leg, but so did NASCAR Nation. It’s almost like…
There have been other drivers who have always won. The list is pretty short, actually. It goes something like this: Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt, Sr. aka The Intimidator. Each of these drivers absolutely dominated the track when they came riding into town. None of them were loved at the time of their crushing dominance. Yes, even King Richard struggled through years of grumbling because if his No. 43 showed up, nobody else had much of a chance that day. Dale Sr.’s supporters were nearly matched in number by his detractors. Fans called him arrogant, a bully behind the wheel and just plain unapologetic for being so good. Jeff Gordon was never named belligerent, but those who adored Senior’s brand of showmanship didn’t care much for a rainbow colored car that could hunt down that black No. 3. Finally, what do you do to combat the perfection of Johnson and Knaus? You can complain that they’re too good. If you add up the championship trophies for these four drivers you get the number of Gordon’s car: 24. There must be something worthy of admiration when there’s that much hardware involved.
Well, the story is starting again. Kyle Busch will never win the Most Popular Driver award. He’s not the guy that will be nominated for Cuddliest NASCAR Personality. He’s good. Okay, great. And he knows it. While he has suffered through years of setbacks when it comes to proving that his M&M’s car is worthy of a Cup, it may just be that he has finally figured out how to do this thing called win.
Since the younger Busch’s return to competition in May, there’s been a noticeable change behind the wheel. He might stumble, but he seems more determined than ever to put whatever machine he might be driving in the spotlight. It’s a bit like watching Jaws at the track. His car appears out of the corner, and you can practically hear the echo of the infamous soundtrack while he chews up the asphalt. He’s a-coming. He’s going to drive through whatever obstacles are in his way. And if you see him approaching in your mirror, you might experience that sinking feeling that maybe you needed a bigger boat.
It’s time, time to bow down in the face of an exceptional talent and give him his due. We still don’t have to cheer for him during driver intros, but it’s probably the moment when he ought to be given the kind of nickname worthy of a driver destined for the Hall of Fame. The King, The Intimidator, Rainbow Warrior and Five-time/Six-pack have come before. What will Kyle Busch’s moniker be? He’s clearly outgrown being a Shrub.
1997 Pocono 500
Since we’re talking about seasons that highlighted depressing consistency, beside the fans of the Rainbow Warriors, not too many people were cheering in 1997 when Jeff Gordon was stinking up the show. To show that things haven’t changed all that much, the cameras weren’t even following Gordon during the final ten laps of this race because you couldn’t see the second place car in the same shot. Even the commentators sounded a bit bored with the results.
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