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NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Busch’s 2012 – Turning A Corner Already?

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Kyle Busch (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kyle Busch (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When Kyle Busch completed his celebrations after winning the Budweiser Shootout – the curtain raiser to the new NASCAR season – he did so to a chorus of cheers from the crowd.

As remarked on by the American broadcast team only hours earlier the 26-year-old had been announced at driver introductions, only to be greeted by boos and jeers from exactly the same Daytona crowd. Did the 75 laps of Daytona International Speedway start the end of Kyle Busch the bad boy – at least in the eyes of the fans?

Unfortunately, it is the latter of those two reactions that Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing squad would have been more familiar with. Very, very few drivers will divide opinion among NASCAR fans and draw reaction like Kyle Busch – coincidentally one of the very, very few who can rival him is his elder brother Kurt.

Busch the younger emerged into NASCAR's premier series in 2004 – just as Kurt was winning the championship with Roush Racing. Initially Kyle fell into the shadow of his older brother – the nickname 'Shrub' a clear indication of his position in the fraternal pecking order. But Kyle was soon cutting a separate furrow from his brother.

For his first three full seasons in the Sprint Cup Kyle established himself as a front runner for Hendrick Motorsports. While he notched up a handful of wins and two appearances in The Chase there were signs of the temper that resided within, though nothing out of the ordinary in a sport that had long been used to retaliatory helmet throwing.

The switch to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2008 brought a change in Busch's fortunes.

Immediately he was a title contender. Arguably he should have won the championship in 2008 – only a run off poor results in the all-important chase came between him and the Sprint Cup title. However, with the eight wins of that season came higher and higher profile on-track altercations, none more so that knocking Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the lead at Richmond.

Few things are guaranteed to send your reputation downhill like taking out Dale Earnhardt Jr., and since then Busch has found himself in more and more feuds – Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick.

Busch has done little to play down his 'Wild Thing' image, indeed has occasionally actively encouraged it – playing up to crowds that made their dislike of the man more than clear.

That's not to say that the reputation isn't deserved. It is impossible to see the intentional wrecking of Ron Hornaday in a Truck Series race at Texas last year as anything other than retaliation, the unprecedented move by NASCAR of denying Busch the chance to run in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races that weekend and indication of how seriously the incident was taken – as was sponsor Mars' decision to pull the name from the car for the closing races of the 2011 season. The reaction, however, owed as much to Busch's previous character as it did to the moment in isolation.

Against all this background Mars are back on Busch's no.18 for 2012 and he took the M&Ms liveried Toyota Camry to Victory Lane after a win that deserves to live as long in the memory as some of the driver's less palatable moments.

Twice he saved the car from race ending damage after being tipped sideways from behind. Those, perhaps, would have been enough to grace a highlight reel for a few weeks at least but going onto win added the perfect final sentence to the story.

Or Chapter as it should be. Busch's Budweiser Shootout is just the latest part of the story of his career. Though it would be nice to think so a single win – even in those circumstances – will not turn around Busch's reputation. The cheers that greeted him have long faded back to silence and it's difficult to believe that that new wave of support will be waiting for him for next weekend's Daytona 500 – or at the other tracks the NASCAR circus will visit over the course of the season.

Nor is it likely that we've seen the last of the Kyle Busch aggression that causes as many problems as it wins races – even after the punishments meted out after his Texas misdeed.

What's far more likely is that Saturday night was the first play in another rowdy Busch season – with more the same mix of startling driving and aggression ready to boil over from one of NASCAR's best drivers.

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