Get used to it: Roush sees more NASCAR titles in Busch's future

Posted: Thursday, December 02, 2004

Busch has built a reputation during his four years in NASCAR's top series as a driver who would run over anyone else to get to the winner's circle. That has brought boos from the fans and anger from competitors.

Now, the 26-year-old Busch is the champion, having overcome all kinds of roadblocks during the new 10-race playoff-style Chase for the championship to win the closest points battle in NASCAR history.

This week, Busch is in town reaping the benefits of that championship. He is making numerous TV appearances, visiting with New York firefighters and preparing to collect about $10 million at Friday night's awards ceremony.

''It would be hard for anyone to wipe the smile off my face,'' Busch said Wednesday after being honored by series sponsor Nextel at a midtown restaurant.

Team owner Roush, who won his first Cup title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth after going 16 years without one, now has two in a row and is one of Busch's biggest fans.

Roush said the raw talent was always there.

''You know, going back to when Kurt first drove for our team, his first six or seven races, I think he spun out every race,'' Roush said. ''But each time he saved the car. He had an innate instinct to survive, and I don't think that's a learned thing.''

Roush said the young driver, who spent just one year in the Craftsman Truck Series before moving up, needed to learn a lot and to gain considerable maturity before he could accomplish what he did this year. But Roush added that it was only a matter of time.

''If something good happens to Kurt, he writes it down and he has it forever,'' Roush said. ''If something bad happens, he puts it behind him and doesn't do it again. He's not getting caught up in things that happened before that were disruptive.''

Busch knows he doesn't enjoy the popularity of rivals Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, but says he'd like people to figure out that he is really a good guy and a good racer.

''I'm going to represent NASCAR and Nextel and Roush Racing the best way I know how as a champion,'' Busch said. ''I think we certainly earned the honor by winning a very difficult championship and I'm proud of what we accomplished.

''I can't really worry about how people perceive me, but I hope that the way I'm handling all of this will show people who I am and who this whole team is.''

A year ago, people criticized Kenseth for taking the championship with almost boring consistency, winning just one race but leading the points for nearly the entire year.

That ho-hum season was the final straw for NASCAR, which had seen a series of championship runaways. They went to the new points system, breaking the year into two parts, with the first 26 races used for qualifying the 10 championship contenders and the final 10 races a title shootout.

Busch and his No. 97 crew responded to the challenge. He was the only contender to finish among the top 10 in nine of the 10 Chase events. To do it, he came back from spinouts, crashes, pit mistakes and, finally, a tire that broke and fell off his car early in the season finale.

Asked if he could have overcome all that in previous years, Busch shook his head no.

''I think it took until this year to put a championship driver with a championship car and a championship team,'' Busch said. ''The other elements were there in my second year when he won three of the last five races. But it took until this year for me to reach the level where I knew enough to take advantage of what was given to me by (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig and by Jack Roush.''

Roush sat proudly alongside his driver Wednesday, nodding as Busch spoke.

''Is the world ready to accept Kurt Busch as champion?'' Roush asked. ''I don't know. But they better get used to it. There's going to be more coming.''

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