By admin | June 24, 2009
By Richard Allen
Kyle Busch is extremely talented as a race car driver. About that, there can be little question. But in one sense Busch does not get enough credit. He is also very smart.
Just being a great driver does not guarantee that fans will discuss his every move, that columns will be written about him, or most importantly, there will crowds around his souvenir trailer.
So, what is it that Busch has done to place himself at the center of the NASCAR world, aside from winning races? He figured out that picking a fight with the most popular driver in the sport is not necessarily a bad thing.
Granted, being the enemy of the driver with the most fans will assure there will be plenty of booing whenever he is introduced, but it also means there will be a certain segment of the crowd who will take up his cause.
Whether it be by making outlandish statements or smashing guitars in victory lane, Busch has created an anti-hero persona. And of course, smashing guitars did cause a great deal of discussion on this website. In the piece I wrote on that incident I called what he did disrespectful and embarrassing but I did not say anything about it being a dumb thing to do.
There are always plenty of folks who want to go against the grain. Look at golf for example. Tiger Woods is the most popular player and many tune in each week to watch him win. But at the same time, there are some who tune in each week to watch him lose.
There is niche, and a profitable niche at that, for anyone who is willing to risk angering many to reach out to that segment of fans who do not want to ‘go with the flow’.
Of course, the most popular driver in NASCAR is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Last year in Richmond, these two drivers tangled while racing for the win. Busch became the biggest villain in NASCAR from that time on and he has seemingly relished every minute of it.
As a matter of fact, he rarely misses any opportunity to take a stab at Earnhardt and his ‘Junior Nation’ legion of fans.
Recently, when asked about his popularity as compared to that of Earnhardt he once again stirred the fans of the third generation driver. In this particular dig he suggested a change in the naming of the ‘Most Popular Driver’ award.
“It should be ‘The Most Loved Driver Award’ because he’ll get the votes for being the most loved driver but it seems to me I’ve been the most popular driver here this year,” Busch said.
‘Most loved’ means everybody likes you. The most popular is whether you’re doing good, bad or whatever, they write about you and talk about you. You’ve got more people calling in to radio shows talking about me than you do Junior. You got more writers and everyone in the media talking about me than talking about Junior.
“Seems to me there’s a pretty big difference.”
The ‘Most Popular Driver’ award is not going to be renamed to please Kyle Busch, and he knows that. But he also knows that by taking yet another jab at ‘Junior Nation’ he has further endeared himself to those who oppose Earnhardt for the simple reason there are so many who like him. And that endearing can be a good thing.
A person who sells NASCAR themed items recently told me that he is selling less and less Earnhardt apparel but he can hardly keep Kyle Busch items on the shelves.
For a long time there have been many drivers who have gone out of their way not to anger Junior’s fans so as not to have the wrath of so many brought against them. Kyle Busch was smart enough to realize there is profit to be made by doing just that.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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