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MOTOR RACING

Kyle Busch's temper becomes a hindrance

Busch, who has won three races this season, is 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings and could lose his chances at a championship if he doesn't learn to control his emotions.

July 25, 2009|Tania Ganguli

INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Busch's frustration was clear two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway. His car was terrible, he thought, and nothing he could do would make that better.

He barked at his team over the radio and drove with an angry resignation that a strong finish in that race just wasn't going to happen.

The No. 18 Toyota finished 33rd, and the race provided another example of Busch's temper, his tendency to let his emotions take over on a bad day, and how all of that can derail his season. And it was a wake-up call for Busch.

"Our bad weeks are bad," Busch said. "They're real bad. You can't have super bad days. If you're having a bad day, then you need to make a 10th out of it and we're not very good at that. I'm not very good at that, and I don't think our team is very good at that.

"Maybe that's because of me. Maybe I'm not leading it in the right direction. I've got some things that I've got to try to work on to make ourselves better and ultimately more championship caliber."

Despite winning three races this season, the second most of any driver, Busch is in 10th place heading into this weekend's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, dangerously close to missing the Chase. A year ago at this time, Busch was the hottest driver in NASCAR. He's starting to realize something must change. He's starting to think about what he can do. If he doesn't, winning a championship might be out of Busch's grasp.

"[Drivers have] got to control that emotion so they don't destroy what they got," said Andy Petree, an ESPN analyst who was Dale Earnhardt's crew chief. "That's a big element in winning championships. Now winning races, they can get out there, throw caution to the wind."

With two wins in this season's first five races and three wins within the first 10, Busch seemed on track to start 2009 the same way he started 2008.

Last year he won eight races before the Chase and entered in first place.

It wasn't until the Chase began that Busch's team began to fall apart. Three consecutive mechanical breakdowns took him out of contention to win the championship, and Busch gave up on the season. He started focusing on this season instead.

Busch is keenly aware of the fact that his team isn't where it was last year. And he notes his personality's effect on the team's struggles.

"Maybe that's why I've won some races is because of who I am," Busch said. "But maybe that's a lot of the reason why I've lost some races is because of who I am."

Negative emotions such as fury and frustration are things with which many young drivers struggle and have to learn how to navigate.

Former crew chief and team owner Ray Evernham said those feelings can be distracting. He was four-time champion Jeff Gordon's crew chief in Gordon's youth and taught him how to stay calm. He did the same with Kasey Kahne, who drove for him when he was an owner.

"I've had this conversation with those young drivers that I didn't feel like they would ever be champions until they learned to control their emotion," Evernham said. " . . . Being able to control the whats and whens -- I've seen some great drivers do really stupid things because of frustration and anger."

One thing might work in Busch's favor. If he makes the Chase, all he has to do is string together 10 solid races to win the championship.

He can, and often does, get hot. That's why Jimmie Johnson isn't counting Busch out of the championship hunt.

"The thing that's dangerous with Kyle is that he can go onto a run, and with a 10-race stretch at the end of the season, he could link together 10 good ones," Johnson said. "It's just short enough to where he can do it. I think the old format would be tough on him."

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tganguli@orlandosentinel.com

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