Opinion: Has Kyle Busch Mellowed? No, Just Tired Of Being Disliked

AVONDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, stands on pit road prior to the NASCAR Nationwide Series Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on February 26, 2011 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Though he's been less abrasive, more charming and unusually accountable for his actions this year, there is no "new" Kyle Busch.

Fans, media and Busch's fellow competitors have noticed a change this year in how Busch conducts himself. Through his interviews, Busch has become much easier to like – which has spawned all sorts of theories about the 25-year-old driver.

Marriage has tamed him!

He's matured!

He's been abducted by aliens and replaced with a different person!

None of these theories hold much water. Busch hasn't suddenly matured overnight, nor does saying "I do" suddenly summon a magic genie who transforms personalities (the jury is still out on the alien abduction, though).

Saying Busch has mellowed after marrying Mrs. Busch isn't quite fair and doesn't do justice to what's really going on here.

Kyle Busch isn't a "new" man; he's a smarter one.

As it turns out, no one likes to be hated – not even Busch. Pro wrestlers can revel in the role of the villainous bad boy, but real people don't particularly enjoy hearing tens of thousands of boos every week.

The truth is, Busch wants to be liked – just as all of us do. He'd prefer you appreciate his on-track talents on their own merits, but his actions and words off the track have sometimes overshadowed his success.

So what he's done is get smarter about those moments in which he has turned people off in the past. He doesn't storm off like a sore loser when things don't go his way, and he doesn't make snide remarks that repel those fans who had just decided to give him another chance.

In nearly every interview this year, he's been downright charming in many instances, mixing humor with just enough confidence to remind you he's still Kyle Busch.

That doesn't mean he's lost his competitive edge or had a lobotomy – nor does it mean he's a phony. Busch is seeming to make a conscious effort to show the sides of himself that people can like and appreciate, rather than the sides that spur the "What a jerk!" reactions.

Busch seems to have decided to connect with fans instead of push them away. He used to not care that much; now, he does.

While wife Samantha certainly deserves credit for her influence as well, it didn't just happen as soon as they tied the knot. And it's worth noting that just because Busch has done an admirable job in the first few races, it doesn't mean he won't slip up now and then.

If Busch keeps this up, though, he'll start to hear more cheers and fewer boos over time. It will be a long process – but at least he's trying.

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