Las Vegas is known for many things, but, producing winning brother combinations in NASCAR is a new feat for Nevada's largest city.
Guest Column By Cathy Elliott
"Brother acts" are hardly a new phenomenon in NASCAR. There are many notable examples: Bobby and Donnie Allison. Terry and Bobby Labonte. The Waltrips. The Wallaces. The Burtons. The Flocks.
But as the sport continues to diversify, attracting drivers from all over the nation and even the world, that time-honored tradition is becoming diluted just a little bit. Looking around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage these days, there really aren’t too many active competitors who are actual relatives – or blood kin, as we call them in this neck of the woods.
There are two guys who share the same last name, although they don’t hail from a town exactly known for producing legendary racing families. Las Vegas, Nevada natives Kurt and Kyle Busch are neither small-town nor Southern, but both have proven to be NASCAR to the bone.
If you take an informal -- and truly impartial -- survey, most people will have to admit that when it comes to raw racing talent, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone with a bigger supply than Kyle Busch. Years ago, before Kyle had even run his first race in the Cup Series, Kurt went on record as saying his kid brother was the more talented driver in the family.
Since his first full-time Cup season, Kyle has gone on to put his money where his brother’s mouth is, winning 18 races and, according to who you ask, roughly the same number of fans. He has also tacked a NASCAR Nationwide Series championship onto his increasingly long resume, winning the title last year.
Along the way, Kyle’s aggressive racing style and public displays of pique have alienated an awful lot of people including, most recently, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin. Hamlin isn’t always a day at the beach, either, but there’s still something to be said for presenting a united front.
When Kyle fails to win a race, he will often stalk off disgustedly rather than sticking around to chat it up in front of the TV cameras. He is often roundly criticized for this, although I sometimes wonder why.
NASCAR’s policy is to hold the second through fifth place finishers on pit road for post-event interviews. On more than one occasion, when Kyle has failed to place in the top five, I have seen the media chasing him back to the hauler in an attempt to get a comment. You don’t see much of that with any of the other so-called “losers.” The guy doesn’t like to be beaten. But then again, who does?
Kurt Busch looks relatively tame these days compared with his younger brother, but he had his own share of controversy early in his career. In interviews, he often came across as sounding either condescending or sarcastic, because frankly, he’s a whole lot smarter than the average bear.
He has been involved in a couple of fairly famous feuds, most notably with Jimmy Spencer and Kevin Harvick, coming out on the short end of both, at least in terms of public opinion. After enjoying a great deal of success at Roush Fenway Racing, he left under, shall we say, less than amicable circumstances, and was in fact taken out of the car for the last two races of his contract.
Just to make things harder on himself, Kurt has developed that annoying -- to some -- habit of winning. A lot. He has 21 Cup Series victories, and in 2004 was the first-ever champion under the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format.
Headed into the race weekend at Pocono, there is an impressive statistic that has been frequently quoted. Of the last six races run in NASCAR’s top three series, including the non-points-paying Sprint All-Star Race, the Busch brothers have combined to win all six of them.
The last time a different driver won in either the Sprint Cup or Nationwide series was in Darlington, where Hamlin swept the weekend. And Kyle probably still holds that against him.
Of course it can’t last, but a six-for-six record is nothing to sneeze at. It is also nothing to ignore. Both Kyle and Kurt currently sit in the top 12 in the Cup driver standings, and their names regularly come up in conversations about potential championship prospects.
Our siblings are the people we practice on before we have to deal with the folks that aren’t related to us and aren’t obligated to spend money on us at Christmas. It is an ongoing process. Kurt and Kyle don’t always get along with their fellow drivers; shoot, they don’t always get along with one another.
But you can’t argue the fact that they seem to be getting along just fine with their mechanics, crew chiefs, engine builders and, by extension, with their race cars. It may not be what we’re used to, but it’s nice to see a racing family doing so well.
So in the case of Kurt and Kyle Busch, we can all just sit back, enjoy the show and let brotherly love continue. Until one of them comes in second, of course. Then, all bets are off.