Kyle Busch: family man, candy salesman, NASCAR bad guy.
Take your pick. He’s not one to bandy words. He has a job to do, and he needs you to step out of the way. Or move your car from his lane.
Or he’ll do it for you, sometimes with a smile on his face. Need some M&Ms? He has tons back home.
Halloween has come and gone for Busch. The man with access to more candy than any dad on earth will be in Martinsville this weekend. He’ll be in no mood for small talk. He’d prefer you eat hot dogs this weekend and give him room.
There was a time when no place was safe here with Busch on the half-mile track.
“It did take me a little bit to get going at Martinsville,” he admitted this week. “I was out to lunch there for a long time. I ran into everything except the hot dog stand.”
Now he bides his time, maybe taps a bumper or two, and lets the race come to him.
Imagine that: Busch has learned to be patient.
You have to be patient at Martinsville. The race is long and sometimes interrupted by caution flags. Lots of caution flags.
And there was a time when Busch brought out his share.
That was when he was just wandering around the place, trying to find a line, trying to figure out why you can’t just stomp on the gas and zip around the little bullring like you own it, the way he races every other track on the NASCAR schedule.
“For the longest time I never could figure out how to be one the fastest guys, but once we figured it out we’ve been running up front ever since,” he said.
But he still hasn’t won here the way he wants. Twice, he went home with grandfather clocks, but he’s also finished in the top five in every Martinsville race since he came back from his Daytona crash in 2015. Every single race here.
“I finally figured it out, I guess,” he said. “I got to where I finished in the top five a few times, you know, third and a second, a fifth, a third. And then in 2016, I think it was, we won the spring race and then came back and won the fall race in 2017.”
Nobody runs as well at Martinsville now. No one is close.
But he’s still only won twice, a far cry from Jimmy Johnson’s nine wins or even Denny Hamlin’s five wins.
Busch figures he’ll win a few more times at Martinsville as long as he stays, you know, patient.
“I think it's just experience and getting used to everything,” he said. “When you first start racing you learn to go hard into the corners, come out fast and go as hard as you can down the straightaways. That’s not how you drive Martinsville. Martinsville is all about rhythm.”
He said it’s about the flow of the track, easing into the first and third turns then accelerating at just the right moment, full to the floor with no slipping. Over and over and over again. Racing for 500 laps around Martinsville isn’t something that a lot of drivers will admit to liking.
“I like it,” Busch said. “Sometimes it gets frustrating with all the late-race restarts. But that’s Martinsville.”
Busch the candy salesman is here to race. He and the rest of the circuit got Halloween out of the way at Talladega in the RV neighborhood. His trailer was the most popular.
His son Brexton, who has more candy than any kid on earth, only likes it in moderation.
“Our pantry has a candy section,” Busch said. “M&M Tablets, bags and bags of M&Ms, chocolate candy, Milky Ways, Snickers. We have it all.”
Admit it, you didn’t know he had a sweet side.
It’s only in moderation.
Sunday, he’ll have the M&M’s Halloween Candy Camry in somebody’s rear-view mirror, trying to save his tires at the expense of somebody else’s bumper. Patience, it turns out, only gets you so far at Martinsville. He’s learned that, too.
“You beat and bang and knock people out of the way, and I finally figured out that part of it,” he said. “And now I do it, too. It’s all condensed into a small space and time frame. Martinsville’s a little different in that it’s a two-day weekend. You do everything in just two days, so it makes for an action-packed weekend.”
And it makes for tempers and crashing and threats and payback from the last race or from any race for that matter. Martinsville brings out the worst in most drivers.
Somehow, it brings out the best in the most ornery driver in NASCAR. Or it has in recent years anyway.
For all his consistency here, he’s getting a little tired of top fives.
He’s not here to hand out candy this weekend. He’s here to move somebody out of the way and take home a clock.
Kyle Busch can be patient for only so long.