Columns/ Daily & Internet
David Newton, ESPN.com
THE SIDE OF KYLE BUSCH YOU NEVER GET TO SEE
INDIANAPOLIS – The Gleaners Food Bank off East 16th Street is in a rundown building more than 100 years old. The latest quote to repair the roof is more than the value of the 380,000-square-foot structure through which about 21 million tons of food move each year.
The buildings and houses around this area called Center City scream of poverty.
This is a side of the city that hosts Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a side I'd never seen before Thursday, seemingly another world from the scenic area on the canal where my hotel sits less than 3 miles away.
Fittingly, it is here Kyle Busch revealed a side of himself I'd never seen.
Others saw it, too.
Busch ventured into this area to help promote the "Bar Hunger" program that his primary sponsor, Snickers, uses to raise awareness for Feeding America. He didn't come with the attitude or bad-boy image we often see on race day.
He came because he wanted to, for the same reason his foundation became so involved in the St. John's home that provides housing and structure to children in need.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't know what to expect," said Pamela Altmeyer, one of the directors of this facility.
Altmeyer never met Busch before Thursday. Her impression of the 23-year-old was that of most who watch him on television -- "young and hotheaded."
By the end of the hour visit she was his No. 1 fan. "I would be proud to have that young man for a son," she said.
It took only the few moments required to brief Busch on what happens at Gleaners for her to come to this realization.
"He realized it," Altmeyer said. "He got it. And he's got a passionate streak that makes him good for this campaign. It's important to him to help."
Busch's passion comes out in a different way at the track. If he doesn't win or if something goes wrong that denies him a chance to win, he'll often disappear into the motor coach lot without talking to reporters. Some fans call him "Cryle," and he gets two to three times as many boos as cheers during prerace introductions.
But that's Busch the competitor, the one willing to make moves many drivers wouldn't consider because he wants to win so badly. It's not the real Busch, the one who jumped to his feet with duct tape when Altmeyer needed help putting a "Bar None" that had fallen back on the wall.
"He obviously has a very thoughtful and strategic side," she said.
And he's a fast learner. He quoted me statistics about the program -- from the 20 counties this one supports to the 460 different charities it helps -- as effortlessly as he calculates lap times and what they mean.
For the record, the Feeding America program is part of the nation's largest hunger relief charity, providing food for more than 25 million Americans at risk of hunger through food banks such as this.
"You don't know those things until you hear them," Busch said.
And you don't really know Busch just from watching the television or chasing him down in the garage seeking comment as I did earlier this month following his last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway.
Yes, I've picked on him about these things before. He became quite upset a few months ago when I suggested he shouldn't have competed in a NASCAR East/West Camping World Series race at Iowa Speedway because he was above that. He reminded me he did it for charity. He called me a name that many might agree was fitting.
That's why I ventured into a side of Indianapolis I'd never been to see a side of the driver I'd never seen. Just like Altmeyer, I was impressed. That there weren't a ton of fans invited to watch, making this a production to promote Busch's image more than what it really was all about, impressed me even more.
"I don't care how many people get to see it," Busch said, with a touch of the tone I've become familiar with. "This is me, something that is more in tune to who I am. Yeah, it's a Mars production and a Snickers deal, but they asked me 'What appearances do you want to do?' and this is one I wanted to do."
I'm sure I'll again write something Busch doesn't like sometime in the near future, and I'm sure he'll call me a name again as well. That's OK.
But I'm glad I got to see this side of him. So was Altmeyer, who wasn't a Busch fan before the visit.
"No," she said. "But I'll be rooting for him on Sunday."
More people would if they saw this side of him.
SAY HELLO TO 'BILLY BAD BUTT'
CONCORD, N.C. – Many literary tools were taught to help me in my journey to becoming a professional journalist. Alliteration was one of them.
Billy Bad Butt, however, never was mentioned.
Yet here I am on the phone with good ol' BBB himself while the rest of the motorsports world is abuzz about the breakup between NASCAR's most popular driver and his crew chief.
If you aren't familiar with Billy Bad Butt, otherwise known as Dwayne Bigger until Tony Stewart gave him a new name, then you apparently missed the best part of Monday's rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Bigger, 33, is a mechanic for David Reutimann, who won the rain-shortened event that was anything but short considering it took six and a half hours to run 227 laps.
Bigger, or Bad Butt as he lets me call him, was minding his own business when Stewart approached Reutimann on pit road during the next-to-last rain delay.
Stewart was a bit miffed, claiming Reutimann held him up racing for 10th place on Lap 112 of what was supposed to be a 400-lap event. He decided to give him an education on how a two-time Sprint Cup champion would do it.
The conversation began something like the message Stewart delivered to his spotter during the race:
"Go tell that ignorant [expletive] that this isn't the Nationwide Series, and if he holds me up like that again, he'll beat the traffic on the way home," Stewart said over his radio. "I love him to death, but I'm not going to [expletive] with him like that again."
That's not as juicy as a radio conversation between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his former crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., but it's pretty darn good.
Reutimann defended himself the best he could considering his waist isn't much bigger than Stewart's thigh. That's where Bad Butt stepped in.
Tired of hearing his driver criticized, he told Stewart to take his two Cup titles and shove it. Or something like that.
Let's let BBB tell you from his perspective what happened. Patience, this requires stringing together more quotes than they teach you in English 101, but since we threw out the rules to introduce Billy Bad Butt, it is allowed.
"Well, [Stewart] come down to the car and was giving us a hassle about being so hard to pass," Bad Butt began. "Reutimann was pretty good about firing back. He said, 'Yeah, I gave you plenty of room. I don't know what the problem is. If I'm in the wrong I'd admit I was in the wrong, but I don't feel like I was in the wrong. I gave you plenty of room and you got past me.'
"[Stewart] kept saying, 'Well, there's 42 other drivers out there that keep pointing the finger at the same guy every week.' David said, 'Tony, this is the first time we've had a conversation like this. I don't know what you're talking about.'
"If that was it nothing would have been said. But he just kept egging on, egging on, egging on. Finally, I just told him to leave."
Then the real fun began. This is Bad Butt's PG-rated version of what went down:
"After that he said until I start driving one of these cars and get out here racing with us that I could pipe in. He said the conversation right now is between your driver and me, and you don't need to be involved. I told him I was already involved.
"He acted like he was done after that. Then he came back and said some other stuff. I'm like, 'OK, when we pull up next to you and get up behind you I just want you to roll over and let us by.' He was like, 'I'll do that.' I pretty much called him out … [said] he wasn't going to do that.
"Then he walked off and came back for more. That's when I finally let him have it. The thing that fired him up was when I called him a prima donna driver … a Cup god. After that he threw out, 'I've got two championships and 33 wins, I'm a prima donna.' That's when I bowed down to him."
Yes, bowed. Bad Butt bent at the waist, bowed and actually kissed the ground, not out of respect and not without one eye on Stewart the entire time.
"I was watching his feet," Bad Butt said. "I was waiting for a foot to come up. I was pretty close to him. I was pretty sure I would get a foot up against the face."
“I respect Tony. The thing is he pretty much says what he wants to say and that's the kind of guy he is. That's the kind of guy I am, too. I don't hold back.”
It never got to that. Stewart said something children aren't supposed to hear and NASCAR officials stepped in to make sure it went no further.
A few minutes later, Stewart was interviewed by the network covering the race – and Billy Bad Butt was born.
"There are 43 of us out here and we all have to work together," Stewart told the TV reporter. "[Reutimann's] having a hard time understanding that, I think. He says he gets that, but I'm not sure he does. Then he's got a bald crew guy down there who wants to jump up there and be Billy Bad Butt.
"Maybe he needs to ride in the car with him since they both seem to think they've got it all figured out."
Petty good stuff, and the fans seemingly have embraced it. By the time BBB arrived at Michael Waltrip Racing at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, a Web site was selling "Billy Bad Butt" T-shirts for $18.99.
Or $19.99 if you want a fitted shirt.
The headline on the Web site was priceless. It said, "NASCAR Legend Billy Bad Butt … Who is Billy Bad Butt – Let's just say he won't kiss the ground that Tony Stewart walks on."
Stewart was invited to tell his side of what is sure to become the biggest story of the year once all the Earnhardt and Eury talk dies down, but declined through a public relations representative.
Bad Butt doesn't blame Stewart. He actually likes the guy, rating him as one of the top five drivers in the Cup garage. He appreciated Stewart calling Reutimann to congratulate him on the victory.
He just didn't appreciate what Stewart said on pit road.
"Remember the days of Earnhardt, Wallace, Martin … you never heard them say somebody was racing them too hard," Bad Butt said. "They either did something about it or just raced. That's what the people loved back then. That's where the sport's fallen back."
He has a point. Perhaps NASCAR should have included him in Tuesday's meeting of drivers and owners in which it sought ways to improve the sport.
Bad Butt represents those the governing body wants to reach – the common man.
"I don't know how many people I've talked to that have said they don't care about the races anymore until the last 10 laps because that's the only time they race," he said. "It's not all the drivers' fault. The cars are so sensitive and you've got to protect your car so much so you don't get damaged … everybody just rides around for three-quarters of the race."
But getting the new car to pass is another story. This is all about Bad Butt standing up for his driver, which was refreshing in what is becoming a vanilla world.
"I don't know if it's good for the sport, but they need to bring the passion back and the loyalty," Bad Butt said. "You don't have that anymore."
He's right again. You don't see crewmen going to another pit stall and getting into fights like you did five years ago. They're too afraid of being fined or suspended.
Bad Butt didn't think twice about defending his driver, something Reutimann greatly appreciated.
"In the end, crew guys stick up for their drivers," Reutimann said. "At least if you've got a good crew, they do. I've had guys stick up for me even when they knew 100 percent I was wrong. They stood right beside me and made sure I didn't get beat up."
Bad Butt was ready to fight if necessary. And he looks much bigger than his 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds. Maybe it's the uniform. Maybe it's the bald head.
But he looked like he could have given Stewart a run for his money.
"It would have been a pretty good battle, probably," Bad Butt said. "I've been with my driver for seven or eight years. I'd seen him pushed around and knocked around enough, you get to a boiling point and you blow up.
"I respect Tony. The thing is he pretty much says what he wants to say and that's the kind of guy he is. That's the kind of guy I am, too. I don't hold back."
You can do that when you're Billy Bad Butt.
KYLE BUSCH APPEARS READY TO LEAD
INDIANAPOLIS – Mark Martin obviously was disappointed that he finished second to teammate Jimmie Johnson on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You could see it in his face. You could hear it in his answers, shorter and more to the point than normal.
But Martin didn't stomp off and leave the track without speaking. He didn't blast his team for not making an adjustment on the final pit stop that would have given him the power to win. He took it like a man, something he didn't do so well early in his career.
"I learned a long, long time ago … people don't like to hear a grown man cry," Martin said.
Kyle Busch finally may understand this.
The 24-year-old was frustrated when a blown right-front tire on Lap 57 not only took him out of contention for one of the most prestigious races of the season but out of the top 12 that will make the Chase in six weeks.
But instead of crying about it, he discussed what happened as his team worked feverishly to get him back on the track. He said he went out of his way to praise his crew and all they had done to help him make up ground on pit road.
Remember the moment. If Busch goes on to win the title this season or any other, it will be significant.
That may have been the moment Busch became a leader. That may have been the day, although it doesn't look that way from 14th place in the points, he became a serious championship contender.
"I've been involved with championship teams and have seen what it takes to win one and what it takes to get close," said ESPN analyst Andy Petree, who won two titles as a crew chief for Dale Earnhardt and one as a tire changer for Darrell Waltrip.
"To win one, you have got to have this kind of maturity about you as a driver and team to get through some hard times without letting it upset your team, without letting it break your momentum."
In other words, without being destructive.
Busch has been destructive much of his career. That's one reason Hendrick Motorsports released him to sign with Joe Gibbs Racing two years ago. He wasn't considered a team player, or at least enough of one worth keeping around despite tremendous talent.
There are times now when that talent is good enough. There also are times, such as last season when mechanical failures in the first two Chase races put him in a huge hole, when he would admit his attitude takes his entire team down.
He won't win a title until he finds a balance between the two.
"I don't like to be chasing," Busch said. "I like to be the guy leading, so it's hard. But sometimes you have to look back at the big picture and realize that you can do a lot more to help and rally the team than really hurting it and dragging it down."
Busch was chugging around Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago in a car that handled like a tractor in a muddy field.
"I got nothing," he radioed. "I don't care what you think. It's junk."
By the time Busch realized he'd lost spring rubbers from his suspension, he'd already lashed out at his team. The damage was done. It was a defining moment.
Busch had a come-to-Jesus moment with his spotter and public relations manager during the off week between Chicagoland and Indianapolis. They discussed how he might better handle situations, how to not wear all of his emotions on his sleeve.
"Maybe that's why I've won some races is because of who I am, but maybe that's a lot of the reason why I've lost some races is because of who I am," Busch admitted before Sunday's race.
"There's a balancing act in everything you do and there's consequences and ultimately repercussions for things, so I'm trying to work on it and make it better so we don't have to look at myself as to why the problem exists."
It could have been all words to get the media, fans and everybody else off of his back. But Busch backed it up by the way he handled himself following Sunday's misfortune that left him with a 38th-place finish and 14th in points, 82 out of the Chase.
So Busch is getting it.
"He'll get it because he wants to win," Petree said.
Greg Zipadelli went through the same thing as Tony Stewart's crew chief early in his career, and knows what Busch's crew chief Steve Addington is going through now.
"Oh, my God!" said the man now charged with teaching 19-year-old rookie Joey Logano the ropes. "[Me and Stewart] went through it for a lot of years. Obviously, it's part of life and a lot of very talented people that have that natural ability put that kind of pressure on themselves to perform.
"But there is a balance there between destruction and pressure."
Winning a championship isn't all about being the most talented. It's about being able to make the most out of a bad day.
"There's a lot of talented guys out there that run fast," Zipadelli said. "It's not about just today, going out and hauling ass."
Zipadelli didn't care how many times Stewart said or did something stupid around the media. As long as the driver gave 100 percent on the track, he left satisfied.
"But if you gave 80 percent and 20 percent of frustration, and you think you're driving your ass off but all you're doing is tearing s--- up, you don't have anything to build off of or talk about or figure out, or a car to build on for the following week," he said.
"It does a lot of things when you tear stuff up or tear your team apart."
Busch has a lot of the young Stewart in him. He gets ridiculed as much for what he does off the track as what he does on it.
What Busch doesn't have is Stewart's two titles, and he's starting to understand why.
"We've had a lot of heart-to-hearts with Kyle just like we had with Tony," Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said. "Over the long haul he's going to be better off seeing the big picture."
All champions get it
Martin was laughing as a group of reporters hung on his every word in the bullpen during last Saturday's qualifying.
"Listen, I know you guys think a lot of me, but I'll tell you right now, ain't nothing Tony Stewart has ever said or Kyle Busch has ever said that I haven't thought," he said. "I am an intense guy, too. I've learned over the years that to make your team love you, you will get much better results than if you grind them."
Most of the great ones do. Just ask Richard Petty, who along with Earnhardt has won more titles (seven) than anyone else in the sport.
"I couldn't take my team down," Martin said. "Anything I took down, I took down myself."
That is not to suggest that Busch either should temper his desire to win or his aggressive style. That's important, as he showed winning eight of the first 26 races a year ago.
"You want to have an emotional guy, you want to have a guy that wants to win really bad," Petree said. "But you have to be able to control that emotion.
"He can't be spouting off when he's got a problem with a pit stop or say the car is junk here and there. Suck it up. Have a bad day and go back and regroup."
It takes character and poise to win a championship. All the great ones will tell you that.
"That is why I say experience is key," four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said. "One of my strengths has always been is that I am pretty level-headed in the car. … Once I did get the experience, I felt like those types of personality traits really paid off."
Nobody in the garage is more level-headed than Johnson. Seldom do you hear him go off on another driver or his crew. When he was 156 points out with six races left in the 2006 Chase, he didn't get frustrated. He got better, running off five straight top-two finishes en route to his first title.
"If I lose my cool, I make bad decisions on the track, it tears down the team and the energy on pit road and it could lead to slower pit stops or an issue on pit road," Johnson said.
Don't write Busch off
On Sunday, while sitting in the garage stall while is crew repaired his car, Busch looked as though he'd lost his best friend. The fear that somebody of his talent could miss the Chase was becoming a reality.
"The thing that's dangerous with Kyle is that he can go onto a run," Johnson said. "We all kind of frame in what we think of Kyle and what his shortcomings would be, and then he knocks it down and does something that impresses all of us.
"He can really step up and deliver when he needs to."
Busch needs to now more than ever. He's on a 10-race stretch of looking like Superman with kryptonite, posting an average finish of 21.2.
But we all know that he's capable of being a super hero again. He's led 809 laps, more than any driver save for Johnson. Only Martin has more wins (four) than Busch (three).
"I've tried to encourage my team instead of grinding them, encourage them to be more than they were before I came along, better than they were before, and try to help them realize their dreams," said Martin, trying to achieve his dream of a title at the age of 50. "It's not always easy."
Busch seems to get that now. He understands so much so that he made light of team owner Joe Gibbs' new book, "Game Plan for Life: Your Personal Playbook for Success"
"Apparently, it's a game plan of life, so maybe that's what I need," he said.
What Busch needs is some consistency mixed in with his moments of brilliance, an understanding that he can't win every race, that there are times when 10th is as good as a win.
"I'm not very good at that and I don't think our team is very good at that," Busch said. "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."
He won't win one until that happens.
THE KING IN FRONT OF THE DESK, NOT BEHIND IT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s 5:57 p.m. ET Monday and I'm sitting outside of what soon no longer will be Petty Enterprises, hoping for a few moments with the King.
I've been here for almost seven hours. I've seen what few employees remain carry off their personal belongings and drive away, not knowing what they will do when the Sprint Cup season opens in February.
I've seen people who had been laid off by other teams come to the locked front door with a résumé in hand, not realizing NASCAR's most storied organization no longer will exist when it completes the expected merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
Now it's dark.
Two office lights remain on in the front of this cavernous building that the Pettys left their Level Cross, N.C., shop for a year ago in hopes that being closer to the racing community would bring them better talent and return them to their glory.
Through one window you can see a tall, thin man in a white cowboy hat sitting in front of a desk, nodding every so often to the man behind the desk.
The man in the hat is Richard Petty, the King.
That he isn't behind the desk – the throne, so to speak – speaks volumes to the lack of control he has over the organization. He lost that power when he sold majority interest to Boston Ventures last year.
When the merger with GEM is announced, all that likely will remain of the organization that has won 10 titles will be the famous No. 43 car that apparently will be driven by Reed Sorenson and the name on the door, Richard Petty Motorsports, if everything I've been told comes to fruition.
Watching the King, who won seven titles in the 43, through the window is sad.
If I had gotten those minutes with him he probably would have said he's doing everything he can to keep the No. 43 on the track and the Petty name alive in racing.
He always seems to put a positive spin on things.
But it really is sad. The man that brought major sponsorship to the sport is being run out of it because he can't get sponsorship. The man that sat atop the sport for decades is sitting in front of the desk, not behind it.
It's 6:11 p.m. and the King has disappeared from sight.
So has Petty Enterprises.