Busch, in the post-race media conference, hoped that he'd gained fans and respect for earning his place in history. "The fans are entitled to root and to pull against anybody they want to," he said. "And to be in a situation such as mine, the underdog, somebody that came up in this new format, new system, to be able to come up to the top, maybe too quickly, through my career as well, relatively unknown, just a different look, I guess, from the West Coast. And to race too hard too early, wrinkle those fenders and to crumble the spirits of some of those fans, this is definitely a bullet point in my career that will help some of them realize that I'm not such a bad guy, I guess.
"It's been fun to go up against the likes of
Busch deserved to gain fans and respect for that drive at Homestead-Miami, accomplished under bone-crunching pressure, but the reality is that it has been a long, slow process in both departments. Busch celebrated his 10-year anniversary in Cup last weekend by finishing fourth despite a speeding penalty that put him 18th at the halfway point. He's never endeared himself to the NASCAR Nation, but they don't boo him like they once did, either.
The issue of respect is a different situation. Yes, Busch is a Cup champion and he has 22 career victories. But many still view his championship as a fluke. He was a good driver with the championship team -- Roush Fenway won in the final year of the old system with
Busch's season stats didn't compare to Johnson's or the third place Jeff Gordon, who was 16 points behind. Busch had three wins, 10 top-fives and 21 top-10s in 2004; Johnson had eight wins, 20 top-fives and 23 top-10s, and Gordon had five wins, 16 top-fives and 25 top-10s. Certainly, even Busch's detractors had to admit that he did the job when it counted, but more people were talking about how Johnson had lost the championship than how Busch had won it.
Busch remains a controversial figure in NASCAR. His run-ins with
After moving to Penske Racing in 2005, Busch has matured personally under the guidance of team owner
Busch was fourth in the points last season, his highest ranking since 2004. He's fourth this season, 59 points behind leader
Every driver in the Chase has multiple reasons for wanting to win it more than anything he's ever done. Johnson is going for five in a row, further establishing himself in the record books. Jeff Gordon is going for his fifth Cup championship, which puts him behind only