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Boos An Accurate Barometer Of A Driver's Success

by Cathy Elliott
Thursday, May 15, 2008

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Cathy Elliott

If you attend a NASCAR event in order to get a little peace and quiet, you're in the wrong place.

A particularly appropriate phrase comes to mind, but another Southern writer has already coined it. I'm not quite egomaniacal enough to compare myself to William Faulkner, but I am just brave enough to blatantly "borrow" from him, as NASCAR is the perfect contemporary definition of "The Sound and the Fury."

Faulkner basically stole that line from William Shakespeare's "Macbeth," so I don't feel all that guilty about my own random act of plagiarism.

Much ado has been made lately about the declarations of derision greeting driver Kyle Busch under the following conditions: 1) During driver introductions prior to any race in any series in which he is competing; 2) during victory lane celebrations after every race he wins (this happens a lot); and 3) pretty much anytime Busch is present at a NASCAR venue.

To make a long story short, Kyle Busch generates a lot of noise, not much of it positive.

In ballparks and stadiums all across the country, fans are more than willing to express their opinions of a particular player or team loudly and at great length. Cheers and spirits simultaneously soar in Indianapolis, for example, when Peyton Manning is introduced before a Colts game; galleries erupt each and every time one of Tiger Woods' clubs makes contact with a golf ball.

Conversely, if an athlete is doing badly, spectators are quite prepared to let him know about it by opening up the cage and letting that boo-bird fly. After some of his experiences as a New York Yankee, I'm sure Alex Rodriguez would substantiate this statement.

We can pick and choose our favorites and foes, and hail or hiss them according to our moods and their own professional peaks and valleys, but generally speaking, the guys being booed are the losers. The underachievers. The ones who don't quite deliver the goods.

Kyle Busch does not fall into this category. In fact, he regularly offers same-day delivery in all of NASCAR's top three levels  -- the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and of course, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He finishes what he starts. He is a winner.

This fact is not applauded. Rather, it is acknowledged with the loudest, most vociferous chorus of contempt conceivable from fans at every racetrack, every week. No one else's disapproval rating even makes a blip on the radar screen. Once again, Busch blows away the competition.

Here's the question: If Kyle Busch is an extremely gifted racer, which he is, and if he has the ability to go out on the track and compete for the win each week, which he does, where's the love, people? Why all this negativity?

It hasn't been so very long ago, after all, that a driver by the name of Dale Earnhardt was often criticized for being too brash, for racing too aggressively. The boo-bird flew shotgun with Earnhardt for years (probably because the poor thing was too intimidated to attempt an escape). He represented a villain, of sorts, until some whippersnapper named Jeff Gordon turned up and began taking him regularly to task on the track.

Suddenly, the worm had turned, and the bird flew the coop and followed it. Earnhardt was suddenly (and yes, deservedly) revered as a hero and an icon and the "greatest driver who ever lived", while the guy winning all the trophies became the most reviled racer on the circuit.

You know, sort of a “boo”merang effect.

How time flies. Nowadays, the formerly villainous Gordon is enjoying his own turn at hero status and is the most successful active driver in NASCAR. He has already become a racing legend. His teammate Jimmie Johnson is the defending two-time champion.

Another of Gordon's teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is NASCAR's most popular driver, hands down. Still, a different guy has taken the lion's share of the checkered flags so far this season.

It could almost give you reason to believe that in terms of NASCAR popularity, maybe it's not the fact you're winning that counts. Maybe it's whom you're beating that really matters.

So if Kyle Busch's honorary mascot turns out to be the boo-bird, at least for the time being, is that really such a bad thing?

Nope, because despite much flapping of wings and almost constant squawking, together they're flying high.

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