Wearing the metaphorical black hat, they have swerved and smashed before Kyle Busch did. Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Tony Stewart and older brother Kurt Busch all were regarded once as NASCAR's high-speed villains. All grew out of the bad-guy role and were accepted as champion racers.
Now it's Kyle Busch's turn to draw the most boos during driver introductions and after winning races.
The hostility toward Busch primarily is the result of the late-race incident at Richmond on May 3 when Busch's Toyota made contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevrolet. Earnhardt was leading at the time, on his way to ending his 2-year winless slump.
Junior Nation immediately proclaimed Busch racing enemy No. 1. If his reviled status among some fans bothers Busch, he doesn't show it.
"As far as being the most hated guy in NASCAR, I don't think that's necessarily fair," Busch said on a conference call yesterday promoting the May 30-June 1 NASCAR race weekend at Dover International Speedway. "I'm out there to do a job, and my job is to win races."
When some Earnhardt fans yelled derogatory comments at Busch following the Richmond race, he said he told them, "Grow up; that's racing."
Referring to Earnhardt, Busch said, "We race each other at the top level of NASCAR racing, and we know that it was a racing incident."
Busch insists he doesn't care what fans think of him. He smiles all the way to victory lane.
Busch, 23, is focused on winning, which he is doing more than any other NASCAR driver this season. He leads the Sprint Cup series points standings. He and Carl Edwards already have won three Cup races. Busch also has three Nationwide Series wins and two Craftsman Truck Series W's.
Busch is riding the wave, because he knows there are more disappointing days in racing than winning days.
"I wouldn't say it's surprising," he said. "I'm grateful that we've been as fast as we've been in all three series. But anything can change at any time. We've had some good luck so far."
Said rookie Marc Mitchell, Busch's teammate in the truck series: "All he does is think about winning. Not racing, not driving, but winning."
Right now, Kyle is winning, while brother Kurt is 22nd in points. Kurt has only one top-10 finish: second place in the season-opening Daytona 500, when he helped push teammate Ryan Newman to victory.
"Last year, they sort of picked up with their mile-and-a-half stuff," Kyle said. "This year, with the [Car of Tomorrow] full time, they're just struggling. I'd say it's not necessarily the driver. It's a lot to do with the team and the engineers.
"Kurt is a champion and a great driver. For him to be struggling, it's kind of sad. I don't know what to tell him in order to fix it."
Busch will race in all three series at Dover, where his only victory was in a truck race in June 2005.
"I feel I'm at my best when I run the three different series, just getting as much track time as I can," he said.
Master promoter retiring
Yesterday's announcement that H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway, is retiring after Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 was a surprise.
Wheeler, 69 (going on 39), has been the master promoter in NASCAR for decades. No one has a better feel for the drama in racing and its personalities than Wheeler.
He's also the chief operating officer and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc. Fortunately for racing, Wheeler plans to remain involved in the sport.
Marcus Smith, 34, SMI's executive vice president of national sales and marketing, is expected to succeed Wheeler. Smith's father, Bruton, is SMI's chairman and owner of several speedways, including Lowe's.
Sprint Cup teams are scheduled to test at Pocono Raceway on Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission is free for fans who have purchased tickets to the June 8 and Aug. 3 Sprint Cup races at Pocono. Others must pay $5 per person. Children under 12, attending with a paying adult, are free.
This week's race
Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.
When: Sunday, 5:45 p.m.
TV/Radio: Fox/WXTU (92.5-FM), WNPV (1440-AM)
Race course: 1.5-mile oval
Race distance: 400 laps/600 miles
Last year's race winner: Casey Mears
Last year's pole winner: Ryan Newman, 185.312 mph
Track qualifying record: Elliot Sadler, 193.216 mph (October 2005)
Track facts: J.J. Yeley was runner-up in last year's race; Kyle Petty was third ... Jeff Gordon won the fall race at Lowe's ... Kasey Kahne swept LMS' two Cup races in 2006 ... Jimmie Johnson won four in a row at LMS in 2004 and '05. Teammates Johnson and Gordon have the most wins at the track among active drivers (five) ... Two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte is returning from retirement to drive the No. 45 Dodge in five of seven races Kyle Petty will miss (daughter's wedding, six TNT analyst assignments). Labonte's first race will be at Dover on June 1.
Wins: Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, 3 each; Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, 1 each.
SPRINT CUP STANDINGS
1. Kyle Busch (1 last week), 1,690 -
2. Jeff Burton (2), 1,611, -79
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3), 1,556, -134
4. Denny Hamlin (6), 1,500, -190
5. Clint Bowyer (4), 1,490, -200
6. Jimmie Johnson (7), 1,442, -248
7. Carl Edwards (10), 1,400, -290
8. Tony Stewart (8), 1,397, -293
9. Kevin Harvick (5), 1,396, -294
10. Jeff Gordon (13), 1,326, -364
11. Greg Biffle (9), 1,308, -382
12. David Ragan (14), 1,266, -424
13. Ryan Newman (11), 1,264, -426
14. Kasey Kahne (12), 1,264, -426
15. Martin Truex Jr. (15), 1,230, -460
16. Juan Montoya (16), 1,190, -500
17. Brian Vickers (17), 1,161, -529
18. Travis Kvapil (19), 1,155, -535
19. Bobby Labonte (18), 1,128, -562
20. Matt Kenseth (22), 1,113, -577
Up next: Best Buy 400 Benefiting Student Clubs for Autism Speaks, June 1, Dover International Speedway, Dover, Del., 2 p.m.; TV: Fox.