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Professional

Little love, plenty of hate for Busch

At a sushi dinner last week, I dropped a roll into my cup of soy sauce. It splashed all over the table, my phone, my girlfriend’s phone, and just about everything in a 2-foot radius.

Now, I didn’t drop the roll because I’m sloppy with chopsticks – although I definitely am not an expert – but because I saw something so shocking on TV I forgot I was eating.

What I saw was FOX Sports’ ratings of the top 50 NASCAR drivers ever. One driver’s placement shocked me.

Kyle Busch – at No. 12?!

Right about then, I dropped my sushi. Don’t get me wrong – I know Busch is a heck of a driver, probably one of the top three or four active racers. But 12th overall felt … generous.

Of course, as if he’d been at the table with me and seen my shock, Busch proved his value again on Sunday by holding off Kevin Harvick for his first win of the season. He’s also got three second-place finishes in the other six races this year.

You don’t need me, or FOX, or any sort of expert to tell you how impressive that is.

But NASCAR fans, by and large, don’t love Kyle Busch the way they love other drivers of his caliber. Busch’s contemporaries on the list – Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., to name a few – all have their own quirks, but they get more adoration than Busch.

How come?

Probably because it’s a lot easier to hate Kyle Busch than it is to love him.

Busch’s racing rap sheet reads like that of a true villain: the fistfight with Joey Logano, getting black-flagged in the Truck Series, and a history of boorish comments and fits of rage. He’s more than earned his reputation as a bad boy – although some of that has been mitigated since his son was born.

The truth is, Busch doesn’t care about the niceties or politics of NASCAR. The man cares about winning. Just winning.

And he’s truly good at it. With this win at Texas, he now has 44 Cup victories, tying Bill Elliott for 16th all-time (Busch did it in 469 races, elliott in 632). That’s in addition to his 91 Xfinity and 50 Truck wins. Altogether, he’s now just 15 checkered flags short of tying Richard Petty’s mark of 200.

Petty was ranked the No. 1 driver ever, by the way.

Factor in that Busch is just 32 (he turns 33 in a few weeks), and it’s completely reasonable that Busch passes Petty at some point. Shoot, if he keeps up his current pace, he could pass the King by the end of next season. What if he wins the championship this season or the next? What if he wins both? Then where would you slot him the list?

The point is, NASCAR needs villains, and while Busch isn’t as much of one as he used to be, he’s probably still the best (worst?) one the sport has.

So hate Kyle Busch all you want, NASCAR fans. He doesn’t care.

But appreciate him, too – he’s an all-time great, and may go down as one of the best ever.

And you don’t need any list to tell you that.

Food City 500

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Bristol Motor Speedway, Tennessee

TV: Fox

Defending champ: Jimmie Johnson

Polesitter: Kyle Busch

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