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CUP: Kyle Busch Plays Rough But Not Dirty

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Some goofy website recently ran a ranking of the “top 50 dirtiest athletes in sports history” and Kyle Busch was listed 38th.

That put him ahead of notorious boxer/ex-con Mike Tyson who came in 40th. That’s all we need to know about how authentic the whole thing is. It was intended to draw attention, as all such “top-so-and-so” lists are. The more ridiculous and controversial the rankings, the more reaction the site draws.

The “dirtiest athlete” list rated hockey player Marty McSorley No. 1.

Carl Edwards, at No. 48, was the only other driver listed. Again, that’s absurd. Edwards is like Busch – fiercely competitive – but not dirty.

The website explained that some of the antics that earned Busch his spot on the list were flashing an obscene gesture at a NASCAR official after a pit road penalty and smashing the trophy guitar following a victory at Nashville Superspeedway a couple of years ago.

Nobody was tougher on Kyle that I was following the guitar-smashing episode. It was insulting to the track and to artist Sam Bass, and embarrassing to the sport.

Busch came off as juvenile and disrespectful and he compounded it by refusing to apologise and instead tossing a few dollars toward a Nashville charity – making him appear like a typical spoiled pro athlete who thinks he can buy his way out of a bad situation.

But although I sometimes disagree with of his off-track behavior, I’ve never considered Busch a “dirty” racer. Tough, yes. Determined, no question. Rough, rowdy and a bit rascally at times. But not dirty, at least by my definition.

Even when Busch got a finger-wagging lecture from Jeff Burton after a run-in I didn’t think he was vilified by the replays. Looked to me like two drivers elbowing their way through the same patch of asphalt.

I likewise disagreed when Todd Bodine sarcastically “thanked” Busch for racing him dirty in a truck race. I thought Busch was racing him hard, but not dirty.

Looked to me like Busch simply took NASCAR at its word when it said, “Boys, have at it.”

Just because racers bump into each other doesn’t make them dirty drivers. Bumping into each other used to be what stock car racing was all about. If someone couldn’t dish out a little contact – and take some in return – he was in the wrong business. He needed to trade his race car in for a badminton racquet.

Most fans would agree that, love him or loathe him, Kyle Busch is the most electrifying racer in NASCAR. His win-or-wreck style is reminiscent of that of Dale Earnhardt, who didn’t hesitate to nudge a competitor aside if the occasion called.

I never thought Earnhardt was dirty, just tough and determined.

I think the same about Busch. Sure, he can be a bit obnoxious and overbearing at times, but nobody can dispute his racing talent. If he keeps going, he’s destined to be ranked among the best wheelmen in history.

He didn’t get to this point by playing nice, and don’t look for him to change his style – no matter what the critics say.

Larry Woody is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist. Woody began working at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1960s and took over the auto racing beat full time in the early 1970s. Larry can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com