NASCAR bad boys mellow on their own
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 3:11 pm
By: By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart are known for their racing success and explosive tempers.
Most every problem on the track is followed by a profanity-laced rant, a tantrum and, in Busch’s case, a meltdown right in the car that has at times prevented him from making a strong finish. Then came the sulking and scowling. If they even bothered to give interviews, the answers were usually short and snippy.
It was boorish behavior, but tolerated. Nothing was going to change NASCAR’s two biggest bad boys.
Until they changed.
Busch and Stewart seem to have mellowed this season. That was never more apparent than Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Both had a chance to win, and neither did.
Busch was done in first by a flat tire, then a blown engine. He was running second when he got his flat, had to stop for a new tire and disagreed with his crew’s decision to change only two and not all four. That’s where Busch would unload on crew chief Dave Rogers, working himself into a hysteria that could have derailed his race.
Instead, Busch simply scolded Rogers. He then calmly offered advice when a caution moments later gave them a chance to salvage the setback.
A blown engine 10 laps later, however, ended his day at his home track.
“I’ve been blowing tires, mowing grass, knocking walls down and setting balls of fire down the backstretch in both races this weekend,” he said. “It might be good just to get out of here and come back and try again next year.”
Then came Stewart, who led a race-high 163 laps and had the field covered at one of only two active tracks where the two-time champion has never won a Sprint Cup race.
His final four-tire stop was a long one. But because so many others took two tires, Stewart found himself behind Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya on the final run. Stewart settled for second.
Stewart bottled that anger when he climbed from his car, and all the public saw was a disappointed driver dealing with his third loss in three weeks.
So what’s happened to the two firecrackers?
For Busch, the answer could simply be that he’s growing up.
He got married during the offseason, which perhaps gave him some serenity. But he’s also finally aware of the popular opinion that the only thing that’s prevented Busch from winning a Sprint title is Busch.
Stewart now sees that life is much easier when he’s not making it hard on everyone around him. He turns 40 this year. Still single, he longs to have children.
He’s tired of riding that roller coaster — charming and funny one minute, brooding and mean the next.
It’s far too early in the season to declare either driver a truly changed man, but both are certainly trying. And while everyone may miss their entertaining explosions, both will likely find their new approach will make life easier both on and off the track.