After Kyle Busch slid out of his Chevy Monte Carlo on July 26 in
the Pocono Raceway garage, he walked to the rear of the car to
inspect the damage. On Lap 57 of that afternoon's 80-lap ARCA
event, Kyle, the 18-year-old younger brother of Winston Cup
driver Kurt Busch, had been bumped hard into the
front-straightaway wall while trying to pass ARCA veteran Ron Cox
and had been knocked out of the race. As Busch and his crew
looked at the disabled vehicle's crumpled right bumper, Busch
mumbled a few words to himself. Then he stormed off.
This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue
He strode quickly past fans, some of whom snapped his picture. He
cruised by Robbie Loomis, crew chief for Jeff Gordon, one of
Busch's Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Then Busch started to
jog. By the time he reached the pits, he was furious. He intended
to have a few choice words with Cox's crew chief, Jim Freye. But
before Busch reached Freye, Loomis caught up to Busch and wrapped
his arms around him. "Calm down," Loomis said as they walked back
to the garage. "Let it go."
"Ron Cox wrecked me for no reason," Busch said later. "I had the
fastest car on the track, and he couldn't deal with it. But
someday I'll be up in Winston Cup, and he'll still be a nobody."
Racing fans, meet Kyle Busch. Though he may seem cocky, he's got
reason to believe he's going places. After all, many of the
heavies in the sport have already anointed him as the next NASCAR
superstar. Team owner Rick Hendrick, for one, compares Busch with
a young Gordon. Another owner, Jack Roush, says that Kyle has
more natural ability than his brother, an assertion with which
Kurt agrees. When Kyle joins the Busch Series full time next
year, he'll be the most eagerly anticipated rookie since Dale
Earnhardt Jr. in 1997.
"Kyle drives like he's 28, not 18," says Hendrick. "I'm glad I
got him because when it comes to racing, he's as good as anybody
I've seen at his age."
Busch first got behind the wheel at four, when he and Kurt, who
is seven years older, would race around the cul-de-sac in their
Las Vegas neighborhood in a homemade go-kart built by their
father, Tom. At 16 Kyle was hired by Kurt's employer, Roush
Racing, to drive in the Craftsman Truck Series. But after Kyle
ran in six races in 2001, twice finishing in the top 10, NASCAR
passed a rule requiring that competitors in its top three series
be 18 or older. The rule nullified Busch's contract with Roush
and opened the door for Hendrick Motorsports, which offered Kyle
a ride in 14 ARCA and Busch races this year and a full-time ride
in the Busch Series in 2004. Roush countered with a nine-year
contract offer. Kyle, who graduated from high school a year early
to focus on racing, signed with Hendrick. "If Kyle had stayed
with Roush, he would have been in Kurt's shadow," says Tom Busch.
So far this year Kyle has exceeded expectations. He won his first
two ARCA races and finished second to Winston Cup front-runner
Matt Kenseth in his initial Busch Series event, on May 24 in
Charlotte. At Pocono, Kyle qualified on the pole for the ARCA
race with a lap speed of 170.849 mph, faster than Ryan Newman's
pole-earning qualifying speed (170.358) in the Winston Cup event
"It's been exciting to run with some of the Winston Cup guys,"
says Kyle. "I just need to get more seat time and continue to
improve. But the sky's the limit."
In the Fast Lane
Besides Kyle Busch, here are three other young NASCAR drivers who
are potential stars.
Driver Age Skinny
Brian Vickers 19 The youngest full-time Busch racer is fifth
in the standings in that series
Bobby Hamilton Jr. 25 The son of former Winston Cup star Bobby
Sr. has won two of the last eight Busch races
Shane Hmiel 23 Set Busch rookie record in 2002 by winning
two Bud Pole awards; has eight top 10
finishes in the Busch Series this year
Results and standings through Sunday