By Jerry Bonkowski
The Sports Xchange
There's one thing that has become a significant hallmark of Kyle Busch's young NASCAR career: When the 23-year-old Las Vegas native gets mad, it winds up being the best kind of motivation for him in his next race -- especially if it's the next day.
When a tire got loose in his pit during the final pit stop in Saturday's Nationwide Series race, causing him to be penalized for leaving the pit box too soon, Busch lost his chance to win a race that he had dominated to that point. He ultimately rallied to finish sixth, but that was little consolation.
In a not so classy end to the race, he abruptly parked his car in turn 3, stormed out of Bristol Motor Speedway and headed to his motor home. But just before he climbed out of his race car, according to ESPN he muttered over the team radio, "Y'all suck" and added, "Get my clothes from the hauler."
Given his angry outburst, you'd have to think that some of the same members who worked on his team on Saturday might have reservations working with him again during Sunday's Cup race.
But 24 hours after chastising his team, Busch was praising it after dominating -- leading 378 of 500 laps -- and ultimately winning the Food City 500 for the second time in three years.
"It's pretty awesome," Busch said, before adding one last dig: "We should've won here last fall and we should've won here yesterday. We've had so many great Nationwide cars here, too. We just keep messing up on pit road (Saturday)."
But all's well that ends well for Busch as he earned his second win in the last three races and his 14th Sprint Cup triumph overall.
"It's just an overall great day," Busch said. "The car handled well and we made some adjustments to it. Steve (Addington, crew chief) was good on pit road. The guys were great on pit road today."
It almost sounds a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, doesn't it? One minute Busch is calling out his crew; the next minute he can't praise them enough.
But there's some method to that madness, as well. The crew members knew they screwed up Saturday and took Busch's criticism in stride. They made sure they worked harder -- and avoided mistakes on Sunday -- and they were lavished with compliments.
"Yesterday was yesterday -- we put that behind us," Busch said after Sunday's race. "Yeah, it was very frustrating. It's one you'll never get back. It's lost, gone. The trophy is not at my house. It's at (race winner Kevin) Harvick's. We looked forward to today. Everybody put their job from yesterday behind them but thought about how to make today better and not have those same mistakes happen again."
That kind of criticism/reward strategy has long been part of KyBusch's modus operandi. Even at his young age, he's one of the most demanding drivers on the Cup circuit. He's demanding of himself, first and foremost. He's demanding of crew chief Steve Addington, who has roughly 20 years and a lot more pounds on Busch but who tolerates the occasional negative verbiage because, he figures, it's just Kyle being Kyle.
Busch is most demanding of his pit crew, whether it's in a Cup, Nationwide or Trucks race. He gives his all to make himself and his team look good, but when his team doesn't respond in kind by making a dumb mistake, it makes him look bad -- and he takes great offense to that, Addington said.
"You have to have tough skin in this business or you need to be doing something else," Addington said. "You have to take constructive criticism and work hard at it.
"(Busch) does an awesome job in that race car. I know that he's out there trying to win. And he just wants us to be that way. That's the way we all look at it. I talked to them this morning. Everything was fine. They understood it. They weren't happy about it, either. I mean, they want to win just as bad as Kyle does and as much as I do."
For his part, Busch took the high road when he walked into the track Sunday morning. He didn't even bring up Saturday afternoon's tirade, let alone bring up the unfortunate episode that occurred on the last pit stop that day.
"No, we (didn't) talk about that," Busch said. "If they don't know (how angry he was), they don't need to be working for me. These guys are great. They appreciate what I do behind the wheel and I appreciate what they do on pit road. That's a given in any team.
"Those guys should hang their head for that night but then wake up the next morning rejuvenated and ready to go and should have thought about all the stuff that happened yesterday and not worry about that today and (not) let it get to them today."
That's Busch for you. He might let some choice words slip right after an incident, but he doesn't dwell on it. He moves on to the next challenge, using a negative turn of events to motivate him and his team.
More often than not, the result is another victory.
"I didn't do so good yesterday of keeping my emotions in check, but this is a little bit of redemption," Busch said Sunday in victory lane. "This place probably owes me a few."
Just like a few more apologies he owes to some of his team members for bouncing back from Saturday's mistake to make him look like what he was on Sunday: good and unbeatable.