DARLINGTON, S.C. – Denny Hamlin dismissed any notion that Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch has morphed into a more mature race car driver.
“There is no new Kyle. That’s just a complete myth,” Hamlin laughed Friday at Darlington Raceway.
Busch touted a “new Kyle” following last Saturday’s victory at Richmond. Because he remained calm when his dominant car briefly faded midway through the race, Busch said that was an indicator of how much he’s changed.
“For the old Kyle Busch, he would have folded,” Busch said after snapping a 21-race winless streak dating back to last season. “The new one, he stuck in there, he dug hard. He kept going.”
Hamlin, in his third season as teammate to Busch at JGR, believes Busch is only a changed man after victories. A perfect example was when a late caution cost Busch a victory last month at Phoenix. Busch responded with an angry rant over his radio, was aggressive as he drove through the garage, and Fox executives said he was rude in declining a postrace interview.
“I think you all need to look back in your stories over the last two years and every time he wins you all say, ‘It’s the new Kyle,’ and whenever he loses you say, ‘It’s the same ol’ Kyle,’ ” Hamlin said. “I think we only hear about it when he wins.”
Busch may have proved that theory himself when he began his weekly interview session clearly in a sour mood after wrecking his Cup car Friday. He scraped it in practice, kept it for qualifying, but was forced into a backup after he hit the wall on his second qualifying lap.
Asked in that moment of frustration about Hamlin’s assessment, Busch didn’t agree.
“There you have it,” he said. “I think I proved my point walking up to you.”
Although Busch’s older brother initially declined to be pulled into the “new Kyle” debate, Kurt Busch eventually admitted he’s seen a maturity this season. Kurt Busch attributed the changes to his brother getting engaged, starting a Truck Series team and turning 24 on Sunday.
“Those things that happen to you in life make you grow up a little quicker,” Kurt Busch said. “I’m happy for him. He’s still going to continue to charge hard. He’s going to go after those wins. You just can’t write that was, ‘Hey, a good Kyle Busch or bad Kyle Busch’ when things happen. The things that you get to write are that he’s going through life changes and he’s maturing. He’s not 22 years old anymore.”
•Jamie McMurray set a Darlington record of 180.370 mph to lead qualifying Friday for tonight’s Southern 500. Seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon was a whisker behind at 180.323 and Brian Vickers third in 179.987.
All three bettered the mark that Matt Kenseth set a year ago.