Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is one of the most important figures in NASCAR today.
The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion swept the weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, reaching victory lane in all three national tours last week, but he also earned vicious jeers every step of the way. It was a reminder that NASCAR fans simply don’t like the 32-year-old.
Sure, his success has garnered a dedicated following, but there’s something about his intensity, perceived petulance and success in the Xfinity/Truck divisions that alienates a majority of the fan base, making Busch the most polarizing driver of his era.
In fact, he’s reached a level of unpopularity that not even Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace or Darrell Waltrip could sustain in their eras.
With that said, the character traits that make Busch such a captivating villain are the same ones that make him so valuable for the continued growth of stock car racing moving forward.
Look, for every fan who complains about Busch and his attitude, there’s another one that takes aim at corporate celebrity steering wheel holders unable or unwilling to move the needle. Busch is unapologetically himself, and NASCAR needs to feature all types to be at its best.
It especially needs to feature the black-hat bad guy.
When I was a kid going to Mobile International Speedway, we bought tickets to watch two locals named Gerald Wilkerson and Bubba Gale duke it out each week. Wilkerson was the “aw shucks” Southern mainstay and Gale was unwavering in his desire to be the villain.
He won most of those head-to-head duels with Wilkerson, too.
What’s my point?
Fans continued to come out because they didn’t like Gale and because they needed to see Wilkerson or one of his contemporaries take out the bad guy.
A thriving NASCAR should work the same way.
Again, fans don’t like Busch but they need someone to root against. Be it Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott or Erik Jones, fans also need someone to step up and take the white hat and take the fight to “Rowdy” on a week-to-week basis.
Busch should also be at least acknowledged for his contributions to the sport in the form of Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Through both his Truck Series and Super Late Model program, Busch has launched the careers of Jones, Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson. He’s a consummate racing lifer, and his success runs parallel to the success of the sport as a whole.
Simply put, there is no version of the sport that can return to the forefront of pop culture or on “SportsCenter” without Busch and everything he brings to the table.
Continue to root against Rowdy because that’s what NASCAR needs more of.