Bruce Martin
Monday June 8th, 2009

MOORESVILLE, North Carolina -- Don't ever call Kyle Busch a Guitar Hero.

The trophy that goes to the winner of races at Nashville Superspeedway is a specially-prepared Les Paul Gibson guitar that is one of the coolest trophies in sports. IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan says the guitar he won at Nashville in 2004 is the prize of his trophy collection, not because of the race that he won but because of the guitar.

So when Busch smashed his guitar trophy after winning Saturday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Nashville, he may have lived up to his word to his crew (more on that later), but he looked like a punk in the process.

Busch thought it would be funny to "act like a rock star" when he got that victory Saturday night in Music City. Trouble is, this is a sport in which trophies should be revered -- not smashed.

There are plenty of us who believe Busch is the best driver in NASCAR, that his ability to win in any type of car -- NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide and Sprint Cup -- sets him in a unique category above other drivers. When things are going Busch's way, he is virtually unstoppable.

He embraces the man in the Black Hat and celebrates his victories by putting his hand to his ear as if to encourage more boos from his critics before taking a big bow. That showmanship has helped make Busch one of NASCAR's biggest stars and a driver worth following throughout the year.

But when things don't go Busch's way, he can be a petulant brat.

Smashing a guitar may sound like a radical thing; it's something that anybody who has listened to rock has thought about before, but most of us outgrow that urge by the time we turn 20. Busch is 24.

Maybe this guy should get his "Guitar Hero" video game taken from him after Saturday night's sad display. Even against mounting criticism, Busch tried to defend his actions before Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Pocono.

"No, that's not controversial, a guy showing true emotion in Victory Lane," Busch said. "It's great to be able to go out and win races. I talked to Sam [Bass, the artist who painted the guitar] and I talked to the Gibson [guitar] people and they all thought it was great, it was fine. What it was to me was to give the pieces to the team. Unfortunately, [the guitar] didn't break on my part, but fortunately for Gibson they have a great product in their guitars and I ordered up two more of them for myself and for my crew chief.

"The one from last night, it will be going to the band saw tomorrow to break it up and distribute it, and I'm to assign the pieces to all the guys on the crew and share it with them. They never get a chance to get a piece of the trophy after we win races; it's the best opportunity for them to get that."

The winner of the Indianapolis 500 doesn't smash the bottle of milk when they get to victory lane or try to mug the Borg-Warner Trophy. And the winner of the Daytona 500 doesn't... well, nobody remembers what that trophy actually is -- something that looks like Sir Malcolm Campbell's Blue Bird speeding down the sands of Daytona Beach in front of grandstands that look like Notre Dame Stadium.

But the point here is Busch could have gotten his yucks by acting like he was going to smash the guitar rather than actually trying to break it.

By destroying it, Busch comes across as being another young punk with disrespect even for winning a race.

"I'll grow up someday," Busch said afterwards. "I just turned 24, so I've got an excuse at least. I'm a sore loser -- always have been. I'll throw the Monopoly board when I lose at Monopoly. It's just that simple -- it's not very fun to lose. My regular Nintendo systems back in the day took a beating from the controllers flying at them. It's just not my style."

A trophy is the most significant thing a race driver can get after winning a race. The money is what keeps these teams going, but the trophy is the everlasting symbol of what inspires a race driver to do what he does.

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon has three guitar trophies from his Nashville wins from 2006 to '08, but smashing one of them was never something he considered.

"It was mentioned to me to smash one of mine before," Dixon told on the phone Monday afternoon. "It's a cool trophy and it may sound cool to do it but I don't think it's the politically correct thing to do. It's something you should treasure, and I'm sure the people that made it don't like seeing it get smashed. I definitely didn't want to smash mine. I have three of them and I guess I could have smashed one of them because I would have two more after that. But it's by far the coolest trophy I have."

To see Busch attempt to destroy his at Nashville may have done more to harm his reputation as anything he's ever said about another driver or done on the race track.

With his victory at Pocono on Sunday, Tony Stewart became the first owner/driver to win an official Sprint Cup points-paying race since Ricky Rudd won at Martinsville Speedway in September 1998.

The victory solidified Stewart's lead in the standings after race No. 14 of the season. He has a 71-point lead over Jeff Gordon heading into Sunday's race at Michigan.

Stewart also became the latest driver in the series to win a race after starting at the rear of the field following a crash in Saturday morning's practice session.

The victory is significant for the Stewart-Haas Racing team. Prior to Stewart joining the operation at the end of last season, Haas Racing was a back-marker in NASCAR races. But when Stewart moved over as majority partner, the operation was able to hire the right people and improve an alliance it has with Hendrick Motorsports to supply chassis and engines to the team.

"I think from my perspective and probably from Tony's, an owner's perspective, it's been really easy," said team vice president Joe Custer. "Darian [Grubb, Stewart's crew chief] and the guys have worked really hard, prepared well, come together and gelled quicker than probably most teams. I always felt they would, the talent was clearly there, but it's obvious that you give people some time to work things out."

Stewart believes the emergence of his team into a winning operation is because he has put the right people in place.

"It's easy when you've got the tools in place and that's something that Joe has given us from the start," Stewart said. "It's just a matter of finding some key people to help tie up the loose ends so to speak. Then when you've got a car like we had today, I mean, you know that you've got a shot at."

But most importantly, Stewart has instilled a winning pride and attitude into the team just by his presence.

Stewart has always been one of NASCAR's best winners, not by the number of wins and championships he has accumulated, but by his fierce attitude.

"There's something to be said when Tony walks into the shop and he has that confidence. He pats everybody on the back," Grubb said. "They know he's back and putting everything he's got into it. And same thing with Ryan Newman, they know they have two of the best drivers out there and they come through and pat each other on the back, and they know they are part of this team and they are in it for the long haul; that makes everybody want to work that much harder to go out there and give them what they need to win."

But Stewart said transforming the team to a championship contender hasn't been as easy as he's made it look.

"I don't want to downplay it; the hardest part for me was last fall," Stewart said. "That was the most stressful part of it for me. You know, and that was getting these key people in place. That part was not easy and has not been easy from my standpoint this year. Last year was a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of headaches going to bed. It's hard to get it all together but once you get it together and you get a good group like this and you've got a group that's as hungry as this group is, they feed off each other."

Stewart's next goal as an owner/driver is to become the first to win the Cup championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.

In an effort to add more suspense to its races, NASCAR officials decided to implement double-file restarts "Shootout Style" to all of the Sprint Cup races. It puts the first- and second-place drivers side-by-side on restarts. rather than nose-to-tail.

Drivers who are one lap down are waved around to be placed behind the lead-lap drivers, similar to what the IndyCar Series has done for years. Drivers who are penalized are placed behind those drivers who are several laps behind.

Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Pocono was the first time this type of restart has been used in an official Cup series points race. It has been used in NASCAR's All-Star Race every May.

"Pocono is a good place to start because there are 2-1/2 miles to get used to this, not just for drivers, but for crew chiefs too," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "I've never seen a procedural issue that we implemented that has had the most wide-ranging support from the drivers and car owners [as this one], and that is because they know that this is something that the fans will like."

Helton promised more changes in the future to try to make NASCAR a little more exciting after such dramatic changes as the new car and tire combinations used at some of the races have made the product stale.

"It may not be visible to the fans and masses, but certainly it should be visible to the car owners and drivers," Helton said of future changes. "We want to establish a newer, broader, better way of communicating with the stakeholders, and obviously car owners and drivers are a huge part of that."

While it may take some time to sort out in terms of strategy, anything that can help improve the product while protecting the integrity of the sport is probably a good idea for NASCAR.

During Sunday's race at Pocono, teams that benefited from the wave-around and were placed back on the lead lap often chose to pit under green-flag conditions rather than during caution to enjoy the benefit of the new rule. But Pocono is one of the few tracks where a driver can pit under green and not lose a lap because of how long it takes for the cars to get around the tricky, 2-1/2-mile triangle-shaped race track.

And by allowing the cars one-lap down to be "waved around" to the rear of the lead lap, it may artificially boost the number of cars running on the lead lap at some tracks.

After criticizing NASCAR for so many of its moves, it's time to applaud the series for realizing that action on the track needs to be improved and the double-file restart may be the first step in creating a more exciting product.

When Jenson Button opened the season by giving Brawn GP Racing its first victory in Formula One, he was hailed for bringing a fresh name back into victory lane in a sport that is always dominated by the big teams.

But in true Formula One fashion, Button and Brawn are now winning all the races -- their latest coming in Sunday's Grand Prix of Turkey.

All that winning, however, has Brawn teammate Rubens Barrichello of Brazil a bit ticked off, and he wants to deny Button a victory in his homeland when the series heads to Silverstone, England.

"I don't want to just win the race. I want a hat-trick there," the 37-year-old Barrichello said. "I want everything. I want fastest lap, I want pole position. It just takes one second [to turn things around]. Right now I am pissed off with the situation but tomorrow is another day, Silverstone is a great track for me and I will go there and try to win the race."

Barrichello has not won a race since 2004 when he was at Ferrari and teammate Michael Schumacher was winning all the races.

Now, he's watching Button run up the score as the 29-year-old is on course to have the most dominant season in F1 history -- already ahead of Schumacher's 2004 form when the German won 13 times in 18 starts after also chalking up six victories from the opening seven races.

Button has dropped only four points from a maximum 65 available.

"It is almost like a Michael kind of thing, because things are opening right in front of him without much of a problem so it's really good for him," Barrichello said. "I cannot see him (Button) running away. I cannot see that because we were so fair and square for all the three years together. One year he was better and the other year I was better. Until mathematically it is (over), it is (open). Tomorrow is another day."

"I'm not telling." -- Pocono race-winner Tony Stewart when asked what he did to save fuel in the closing laps of Sunday's race.

"On Sunday everybody is invited to Andretti Green Racing shop for a barbecue -- we're burning a tub with some ribs on my behalf. For sure, I'm not driving that car again. I'm retiring this car after the race whether they (AGR) want to or not." -- IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan after his eighth-place finish Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway driving a car he dumped before qualifications at the Indy 500 and referring to his rib injuries suffered in a crash in another car during the Indy 500 race.

"The toughest people out there passing me are my teammates, and I don't get that. I think three out of four of us get what the camaraderie of Andretti Green Racing is. We're going to have to talk. There is racing and then there is what you saw out there at the end. I think we have to have a sit-down. I'm just disappointed. I'm totally disappointed with (her). Three out of four of us see the big picture and I'm not sure she does. She wasn't going to win that race." -- IndyCar Series driver Marco Andretti complaining that his AGR teammate, Danica Patrick, had the audacity to race him for position late in Saturday night's race at Texas.

"Tomorrow, I will take the two kids to Six Flags and let them ride some rides and we will all be OK. People make a big deal out of it because of the names. And Marco is a racer. He's just not here to make a number on the grid. That's how he is supposed to race. We're out here racing and not trying to be nice to anybody. It's just racing." -- IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan on the Marco Andretti-Danica Patrick flare-up after the Texas race.

"And [Tony] Stewart claims I'm the numbers guy!" -- Ryan Newman after being told Tony Stewart had calculated that Jeff Gordon would run out of fuel after "199.5 laps" Sunday at Pocono. Newman was able to finish fourth.

A weekend away from the race track, although as a Chicago White Sox fan I'm actually going to a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field for only the second time in my life. Nothing like spending three hours around a bunch of cell-phone calling, yuppie Cubs fans. I'm chalking this one up to "The things a guy will do to impress a lady."

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