Aftermath, Charlotte: Kyle Busch Walks The Fine Line Of Aggressiveness

Kyle Busch

The two Charlotte races gave us an interesting look into Kyle Busch's evolving philosophy as a racer.

In the All-Star Race, Busch was offended by what he considered an affront to the code of teammates when Denny Hamlin didn't give Busch the racing room he needed. Then, in the Coca-Cola 600, Busch tried an aggressive move that ended up costing Jeff Burton, and Busch was suddenly the one on the defensive.

Forget the "Old Kyle/New Kyle" debate. This isn't about how Busch conducts himself off the track. The real question is, what kind of driver does Busch want to be?

First and foremost, Busch wants to be a winning driver. And winning drivers are often aggressive, required to make moves that others may not like or appreciate – especially late in the race.

But in recent years Busch hasn't been reckless, which means he's wrecked less. The 25-year-old looks at the big picture more than he did as a youngster, with the season-long championship being the ultimate goal now.

And to win a championship, you must have the respect of the other drivers.

Why? Because in NASCAR, competitors can make another driver's job miserable and difficult if they so desire. Drivers can do a number of things if they don't feel they've been raced cleanly, including pinching a rival car down on the bottom lane and making it more difficult to pass than it should be.

A respectful driver moves aside for an obviously faster car, not hold him up unnecessarily. Of course, all bets are off when the race winds down, but that's typically how "clean" drivers race one another.

And Busch, against the common perception, has attempted to fine-tune his style by mixing his trademark aggressiveness with the respectful, Mark Martin-style approach.

In other words, Kyle Busch – yes, that Kyle Busch – believes strongly in being a "clean" racer. But he's also intent on retaining his aggressive nature, particularly when late-race situations become go-time.

That's obviously a fine line, but Busch is no longer the bull-in-a-china-shop driver he was as a teenager, where he appeared to sometimes be a menace to anyone in his way.

What makes Busch unique is he has the talent to pull off moves few others are willing to try. He can often make those three-wide situations stick, and he can put his car in places where some wouldn't dare.

And that earns him the admiration of those in the garage – until it affects them in a negative way.

The incident with Burton is a perfect example.

Burton spent part of his interview session on Thursday heaping praise on Busch, saying the younger driver was aggressive but that he enjoyed racing against the No. 18 car.

But when Busch made a mistake on Sunday night – and the replay indicates that indeed, this was one case where Busch's aggression cost another driver – Burton was outraged.

So Busch had to wake up this morning a little confused. Wasn't Burton the same guy who had just defended Busch's style? And now he was yelling at him and criticizing him in a very public way?

This incident will likely stick in Busch's mind the next time he's tempted to go three-wide late in the race, at least with Burton around.

With bold moves being Busch's calling card, the two Charlotte Speedweeks incidents probably won't result in a visible change. Busch, though, will file those experiences away in his memory bank and use them help him make decisions in the future.

Right or wrong, it's all part of the evolution of Kyle Busch.

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