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What Was The Drama Between Kyle Busch And His Pit Crew From ‘Race for the Championship’ About?

Kyle Busch offered up his blunt perspective on the internal dynamics between a NASCAR driver and his crew after a costly mistake in Richmond. 

By Andrew Woodin
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“When people hear the name Kyle Busch, what is the first thing that comes across their mind?” Busch himself asks, beaming his bad-boy sarcastic smirk on episode three of USA Network’s
"Race for the Championship." “Damn, he’s one hell of a talent, but I hate that guy!”

In the high-octane sport of NASCAR racing, the difference between heroes and villains is sometimes judged in a razor-thin one-thousandth of a second, and for Kyle Busch, who’s spent his entire career either galvanizing or alienating race world USA, walking that tightrope is part of what fuels him to compete.

It's a delicate path to walk. The same edge one needs to be victorious can also undoubtedly rub some people the wrong way. But racing isn't about making friends. Just ask Busch's pit crew, who were under the microscope in the latest "Race for the Championship" episode as the show delved into the sometimes tense internal dynamics of a NASCAR team.   

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As Steve LeTarte of NBC Sports, who has years of experience as a NASCAR crew chief, explained, “A NASCAR pit crew is football special teams. You sit around for 35 minutes and are expected to be ready to do a job, and you have 9.5 seconds to do it, and that’s it.”

“You also have to understand that they’re human, and they will make mistakes.”

For Busch, cultivating that understanding is easier said than done, as Nate Ryan of NBC Sports said.

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“Kyle Busch’s relationships with crew chiefs usually come with an expiration date. The only thing he cares about are results.”

The firebrand in the cockpit of the No.18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing alluded to the modern-day makeup of teams as potentially one of the catalysts elevating his frustration.

Image of Kyle Busch

“Years ago, you picked whoever could do the best possible job on pit road,” Busch noted. “Nowadays, they’re literally scouting talent for those positions. They’re guys from outside of our sport – they’re not racers, they’re just athletes.”

“You’re not gonna touch a wrench, you’re only job is strictly to pitstop that car when it comes down pit road,” Busch continued.

A pit crew's job is a dangerous ballet, having to do a precise job under intense time pressure, to say nothing of the risks inherent with scurrying around while cars pit at high speeds. The episode showed the physical training and game-planning that have become part and parcel of life on aa modern-day NASCAR crew.

But inevitably, miscues happen. As the episode showed, in the final pit stop at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin this year, Chase Elliott, who was in fourth place going into pit road, came out in 11th place due to an error by the jackman who didn’t get the car high enough to hang the tire on the right rear wheel. Subsequently, Elliott let his anger be known to his crew chief over the radio.

“How many more times this year am I gonna get f****ed on pit road, for the last f***ing time,” Elliott vented to his crew chief Alan Gustafson as he came around a turn. “F*** me, man.”

Despite however frustrating errors like this are, as Nate Ryan said, there must be some consideration for the high stakes these pit crew teams are up against.

“All of this comes with an element of danger,” Ryan detailed. “Not only does it require a lot of choreography, and grace, and athleticism, you’re also doing this with cars zipping past you – these guys literally jump out in front of 4,400-pound race cars, traveling at high rates of speed to change tires.”

Kyle Busch's team changing his car's tires

Busch, who tries to reset and move on after each disappointing finish, was hoping for a rebound in Richmond where he historically does well; however, the track and his team didn't exactly cooperate. In lap 345, Busch received an odd penalty after his team put a piece of brake tape on his grill instead of putting it on his brake duct 200 laps earlier – a costly, infuriating error that derailed Busch’s plans for a top-place finish.

“The tape penalty was pretty frustrating,” Busch outlined. “It was not even close to where it needed to be placed. I think that comes to sometimes the pit crew guys not having a complete understand to all the rules.”

Instead of rolling into victory lane, Busch had to settle for ninth place while also watching his teammate Denny Hamlin take the win.

Martinsville also provided a painful lesson for both Busch and his pit crew after No.18, whose mid-race radio calls were filled with profanity, finished seventh.

“It’s maddening at times because you can’t put the car on your back and carry it,” Busch says. “You have to drive it for what it is, and sometimes it’s not good enough.”

When pressed if his team knowing him better would allow them to understand his frustrations, Busch, who never strays too far from controversy, gave a typically blunt response.

“I don’t think they give two sh**s,” Busch said. “They’re told what to do and do it. It’s a job. I don’t think they care whether I’m mad or sad or crying or happy – they do their job.”

In clarifying his response, Busch had this to say.

“The biggest thing is that if I’m mad or I’m yelling or whatever – it’s at the car,” Busch explained. “It’s not me versus the crew or the crew chief. It’s us trying to tame that beast.”

Busch will take that fire to Richard Childress Racing next year, confirming this week that he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing. Whether he brings along any of his crew members remains to be seen. Despite the drama on display in the most recent "Race for the Championship" episode, Busch has his own perspective on his bad boy image among NASCAR fans and many of his peers.

“I’m misunderstood my whole life,” he jokes sarcastically.

Can't get enough NASCAR action? Watch “Race For The Championship,” which follows the lives of NASCAR's biggest stars on and off the track, Thursdays at 10/9c on USA Network. And catch up on all race action on Peacock.

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