Controversy has already arisen just nine races into 2012 Sprint Cup season.
For example, there have been NASCAR rulings against David Reutimann at Martinsville and Carl Edwards at Richmond – and they have ruffled feathers and stirred debate.
But, surprisingly, there’s one story that hasn’t been prevalent in the headlines, and it used to be.
NASCAR’s “bad boy,” Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, is doing his job and is out to win a championship – which, obviously, would mean a lot to him.
That’s nothing new. But this season, unlike the past, the Las Vegas native has been squeaky clean. He hasn’t been the subject of controversy, there have been no rough comments to the press and no one has been put in the wall because of some on-track dispute.
Nothing negative has been associated with Busch. Nothing at all.
Busch logged three top-fives and four top-10s in nine starts before he earned his first win of the season at Richmond Saturday night. His 24th career victory was his fourth in a row in the spring Richmond race and it broke the record of three straight previously held by Richard Petty (1971-73).
So why is Busch such a cool customer in 2012?
Maybe he’s matured. Maybe he has realized it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
Let’s go back to late last season when Busch was parked at Texas after he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday during a Camping World Truck Series race.
Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, made the announcement the morning of Nov. 5, before the Nationwide race, that Busch would not compete in that event or any other over the weekend.
“This has been done under section 9.12 of the rulebook that gives NASCAR the authority to react during a race weekend,” Helton said. “And, following the event and after a good deal of conversation and discussion, NASCAR has decided to maintain that parked position on the driver of the No. 18 truck for the balance of the weekend.
“So basically what that means is that Kyle Busch will not be participating today or tomorrow in the NASCAR events here in Texas.”
Michael McDowell was chosen to fill in for Busch in the Sprint Cup race and finished 33rd.
While McDowell was on the track, Busch sat on the pit box under two-way radio headphones, listening but not talking.
For him, there was another storm brewing behind the scenes. Longtime sponsor, M&M Mars, wasn’t happy with the bad press Busch was generating and wasted no time telling him so.
The press highlighted other controversial incidents that involved Busch during the 2011 season, and for his sponsor, it was obvious some intervention was necessary.
The wake up call came when Busch lost backing from M&M’s for Sprint Cup events at Phoenix and Homestead. As a result, team owner Joe Gibbs had a very stern chat with his talented young driver and demanded a new, dedicated effort from him.
Through April, Busch, known as “Wild Thing“ and “Rowdy,” has been very, very quiet. He’s been a virtual no-show in the media, other than for the positive news he’s generated.
He’s steadily built an impressive resume of finishes at the front. The Sprint Cup race winner at Richmond, and winning Busch Series team owner there with brother Kurt at the wheel, was very happy to talk with media members when asked about his weekend and about his win.
Busch was surprised when told he had set the record for consecutive in Richmond’s spring event.
“Is that some sort of record?,” Busch asked. “It means so much that we’re able to come to this place every time and know that we can have a decent car and again, like I said, it wasn’t the best car, but it was really good.
“We just kept fighting, kept ourselves up there in track position, kept the fenders clean, the right side clean – didn’t hit the wall or anything.”
The team has had its share of roller-coaster finishes since the season-opening Daytona 500.
Crew chief Dave Rogers has focused on getting Busch to victory lane and building the team to championship status through impressive finishes.
It’s been a work in progress but the team has seemingly turned the corner when it comes to consistency.
“I have to perform a job and my job is to bring the best race cars I can to the race track each and every week, regardless of whether or not people are saying we’re in a slump,” Rogers said. “You know, obviously a year ago, if I think you look back, we were leading the most laps and contending for the win nearly every week at this point in the season.
“Now we’re not living up to that standard. That tells me we’ve got to work harder, bring better race cars to the race track.
“I feel this race is an indication that we’re turning the corner. I think Kansas was an indication. Kyle came back after Kansas and just gave me phenomenal feedback about what we need in our mile-and-a-half program and that we’d come back to Richmond, a place we think we should run good and we do.
“I don’t think one race makes or breaks a season, but I am pleased we were able to run up front. Now we’re looking forward to going to Talladega, Darlington, Charlotte and seeing what we can do at those tracks.”
This year Busch, and Rogers, have not dealt wiith controversy, nor has Busch had to explain himself in NASCAR’s hauler.
That leaves more time to focus on the race car, wins and championship points.
So far the new Busch is impressive.
Second chances can be a very good thing.