I went back and counted.
Eight different times during Tuesday’s press conference announcing Kyle Busch’s deal with Joe Gibbs Racing, the same question was asked in one way or another.
Basically, it came down to this: Can Kyle Busch find a way to fit in JGR and get along with the drivers who’ll be his teammates, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin?
To be fair, the media didn’t start it. The entire affair kicked off with team owner Joe Gibbs doing a routine on videotape from Washington Redskins training camp.
"I got to thinking about this," Gibbs said as he addressed his son, team president J.D. Gibbs. "We’ve got Tony and the way Tony acts sometimes, and we’ve found that Denny is no piece of cake. Now we have Kyle? J.D.? ‘Good luck.’"
So that set the tone, and for the next 45 minutes or so there was a lot of collective hand-wringing about whether the 22-year-old Busch will ever grow up enough to fit in or whether his new team will let him be who he is more than he is allowed to be at the team he’ll leave at season’s end, Hendrick Motorsports.
For goodness sake.
There was a funny moment when somebody asked J.D. Gibbs if he’d be able to keep Kyle in line along with the team’s other drivers. Without missing a beat, Gibbs wondered aloud if JGR has managed to keep Stewart "in line" over his tenure at the team.
In case you’ve missed it, there have been times where having Stewart on the team has presented its challenges.
At the same time, Stewart has won three of the past four races and has to be considered a contender to win a third championship this year. He and his crew chief Greg Zipadelli have the longest driver-crew chief relationship running in Cup today, and a strong core group has been on Stewart’s No. 20 team since it first formed at JGR.
Winning goes a long, long way to smoothing over hurt feelings.
There’s not one reason in this world to think that Kyle Busch, who already has four Cup victories and could even win a championship at Hendrick Motorsports this year before he leaves that team to come to JGR, won’t be a winning driver for years to come with his new team.
That’s why when Busch became available, after Rick Hendrick made the decision to sign Dale Earnhardt Jr. instead of re-upping with Busch, there was a line of owners stretching out the door trying to sign him up.
"There were say 15 teams that really couldn’t have cared less about what Kyle Busch did off the track, around the track and to people at the track," said Jeff Dickerson, Busch’s agent. "I think that speaks volumes about where people’s priorities are. He can drive. All of the people that we wanted to talk to we were able to talk to."
Fans speak with a forked tongue on the whole issue of drivers and their personalities. They don’t want "vanilla" drivers, but let a guy they don’t like for some reason show a little bit of anger or tempestuousness and all of a sudden that guy is the devil.
"I think I've done a very good job at tricking everybody," Busch said Tuesday. "You know, I show them the bad side. I don't show them the good side. Why show the good side? Then I'd be Carl Edwards or something. Just kidding. See, there's some sense of humor. They're laughing, good. No, I'm kidding."
Carl Edwards is great for NASCAR, but the sport doesn’t need 25 of him. It doesn’t need 25 of any one type of guy.
As the press conference went on and on, Busch seemed to get worn down by the same question time and time again. He finally started talking about getting people to "help" him.
"I guess I've got a few edges here or there, but hopefully none where I can't just grind them down a little bit and soften them up some," he said.
Have there been times when Busch could have chosen his words or actions better so far in his career? Of course there have. But this business of anybody expecting him to become a different person just because he’s changing race teams or might celebrate a few more birthdays is just another indication of how absurd things get sometimes in this sport.
He is who he is, and he is one incredibly talented driver.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007