At 16 years old, most people are working entry level positions, trying to learn the ins-and-outs of their business. Kyle Busch was no exception. He just worked in a little more dangerous, publicized, and exciting field: racing. Oh, and on top of that, he was incredibly talented, too. When asked about being sponsored at such an early age, Busch says, “My family, we couldn’t afford Late Models. Jerry Spilsbury spent all his own money to let me race. I had to work on the cars and I didn’t get paid a dime, but he let me drive them, which was great.”
Amazingly, at 16 years old, Busch competed in 6 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series until NASCAR cracked down and set a minimum age of 18 years old. But it didn’t matter. Busch had showed an unbelievable amount of promise and dexterity and would immediately get another chance to get back out on the track right when he turned 18 years old.
Over the next year, Kyle Busch became a teenage phenom, winning 5 NASCAR events before he even cracked the big 2-0 mark. After that, he became the youngest driver to ever win a Nationwide Series race at 20 years and 145 days (his record was recently broken by Joey Lagone). As the wins piled up and his resumé grew, onlookers began comparing him to the all-time greats.
One of Busch’s biggest supporters has always been legendary driver Darrell Waltrip. In an article for Fox Sports News, Waltrip writes, “[Kyle Busch] is evolving as a driver, and the fans are smart enough to realize they are witnessing a really spectacular driver who only comes around in our sport every so often.”
However, now at 28, Busch’s reputation has moved away from being a great driver, and instead, gravitated towards being a villain out on the track. Many fans and other drivers have found him to be cocky and arrogant, attributes that usually strike people with early success (just ask teen sensations like Justin Bieber). It has gotten so bad that articles like 18 Reasons to Hate Kyle Busch appear across the internet condemning him.
Of course, Busch’s reputation and growth is not unfamiliar to the sport’s world. Just take a look at LeBron James. Before James ever won an NBA championship, he was viewed as a cocky, overhyped teenage prodigy, as well. Every day, people spent hours chopping him down and rooting against his team. It was the cool thing to do.
But that doesn’t mean that people really wanted James or Busch to be expelled from the sport. ESPN’s NASCAR analyst, Ed Hinton, has smartly noted, “Nowadays, NASCAR needs Kyle Busch. You need Kyle Busch. I mean, what would you do with yourself if you didn’t have Kyle Busch to hate? Keep waiting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win a championship? Keep complaining that Jimmie Johnson is vanilla?”
In every sport, there is a need for somebody to play that villain role. As much as people like to root for a team or player, they have an equal- if not greater- need to hate somebody else. That is why the Miami Heat are great for basketball, and why the New England Patriots help football. You can always count on them to be there in the end, and you can always count on hating them. Busch is the man to filling this role in the NASCAR world. It’s just the price for early success and being great, the price for being Kyle Busch.