There have been times Kyle Busch didn’t want to be in Texas.
A couple of Novembers ago, he intentionally wrecked a driver in a Truck series race at Texas Motor Speedway and got suspended for the rest of the weekend.
One year, he wrecked his car and was so frustrated, he left the track — unavailable to get behind the wheel when his team had gotten it ready to get back in the race.
He wanted to get away.
Which ought to be considered strange behavior for Busch around here. He really ought to be quite happy at TMS, where he has won more races than any other NASCAR driver.
Except, none of those wins, until Saturday night in the NRA 500, had been in a Sprint Cup series race.
Maybe that explains why he got so sentimental after the race when he was talking about Norm Miller, the CEO of Interstate Batteries, who “rescued” him in November 2011.
That was the race weekend when, during a caution, Busch hit the back of Ron Hornaday Jr.’s truck and sent it into the wall, knocking the veteran truck racer out of the championship picture.
The action, out of spite by Busch — Hornaday had rubbed him wrong earlier in the race — led NASCAR to park him for the Nationwide race the next night and the Cup race the day after that.
NASCAR hesitates to sideline any competitor, preferring to fine or dock points. So it was an embarrassing time for Busch, known to his fans as “Rowdy” for his aggressiveness on the track and to his critics for his short fuse on it.
His temper had gotten the best of him, and M&M’s followed by pulling its sponsorship from Busch’s No. 18 Chevy for the rest of that season (two races).
But Miller wouldn’t let Busch fall too far.
“Norm wasn’t going to let that car go the rest of the year without colors on it, so he put his on it,” Busch said. “It takes true character.”
Character is what might be rubbing off from Miller to Busch.
Miller, a University of North Texas alum, is known for his Christian outreach. Busch calls him “a huge supporter of mine,” personally and professionally.
“It means so much to have a guy like that on your side,” Busch said. “He’s been one of the best people that I’ve been able to talk to the last few seasons.”
It could be that over time, the influences of Miller and car owner Joe Gibbs are becoming more apparent in Busch. Of course, Busch himself is older now (27) and married. He is taking more responsibility.
But the people around him are bound to have an effect. It could be responsible for how Busch managed the disappointment of November 2011 — staying out of further trouble — and the narrow miss of the Chase for the Championship in 2012 (averaging a finish of 9.0 over the last 10 races).
“Kyle really handled all of those things about as good as you could handle them,” Gibbs said, wearing his TMS winner cowboy hat as he sat next to Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers in the post-race press conference. “I think it showed real maturity, and I think that kind of set the course for this year, really. Dave and he went through some real tough things, and they have — I think they have some of the most frank conversations, and they’ll both get fired up and get after each other. But I think that’s all part of sports.
“When I think about it, it’s like in football — the coach and the quarterback. You can have some sparks, but it’s neat to see the way they’ve handled all of that this year to get off to the kind of start the way we have right now. I just told Kyle, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. We don’t want to change anything right now.”