News & Media


A new Kyle? No, just a married, more mature one

February 05, 2011, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Kyle Busch told himself not to cry. It started to get difficult when his older brother Kurt walked his parents down the aisle, and he had to look up at the pipe organ to keep himself composed. And then the doors opened, and he saw his bride.

"She came out, and I was like -- oh, man," Busch remembered. "I knew I wouldn't look like a sap, but I was [thinking], man, just don't cry and make the pictures turn out crap. Make the pictures look good."

Busch and Sarcinella at Texas.

"With us, we just need to put the total package together, and be able to go out there to achieve our potential and to reach our potential and be able to win."

--KYLE BUSCH

Much has changed for Kyle Busch since the end of last year, when his latest run at a Sprint Cup title ended with a late-season slide and an eventual eighth-place finish in the points. On New Year's Eve, he married fiancée Samantha Sarcinella in a lavish ceremony at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. He's trimmed down, improved his eating habits, and taken up a fitness regimen. While no one would go as far as to call him a changed man -- this is Kyle Busch, after all -- it seems safe to say he enters the 2011 campaign with a broader perspective, something others have noticed.

"I'm really excited with what I see with Kyle," said Dave Rogers, crew chief on Busch's No. 18 car. "I don't even want to talk about it, because talk is cheap. Kyle has made a lot of changes in his life that are going to make him a better person on and off the race track. I'm excited to be a part of that, I'm excited to see it firsthand. We can talk about it here, but we need to show it throughout the year."

It starts with Busch's wedding, where Kurt broke the tension during the ceremony by writing "help me" on the soles of his little brother's shoes, something that was revealed to everyone when the couple knelt down as part of the traditional Catholic service. "Who looks at the bottom of their shoes on their wedding day?" Kyle lamented. At least it was better than what the groom had in mind -- Kyle had planned to write "Toyota" on the soles, breaking down the barrier between matrimony and sponsorship. Thankfully, in his nervousness, he forgot.

The butterflies before the ceremony? "The worst I've ever felt, but it was also the best feeling I've ever felt," Busch said. His thoughts now that he has a ring on his finger? "You've got to put a lot more in perspective and see what consequences are a little further down the road," he added, "but you also look at life in general a little differently, and family a little bit differently, and relationships with others a little differently, too."

That's the kind of thing that the always even-keeled Rogers, a steadying hand in Busch's professional life, likes to hear. He's trying to strike something of a balance, and preserve the raw aggression that serves his driver so well on the race track, but at the same time foster a more well-rounded personality outside of the car. He's seeing indications that Busch is willing to take the steps to make that happen.

"Last year there was a lot of talk about the new Kyle. I told him, I don't want that. I don't want the new Kyle. I want Rowdy Busch driving my car," Rogers said. "If that hole is open, you take it. But on the other hand, I want a more mature Rowdy Busch. Be smart about things, watch the tongue, get in shape. The kid has lost 15 pounds. Look at him, he's skinny. He's working out, he's eating right. We're sitting there at the Daytona test and we're counting calories together. The kid is making some really good changes in his life. I think it's too premature to talk about all of it. The competition is going to bring out the worst in us. But if he stays on track with what he's doing now, I think he's going to turn a lot of heads. I'm really excited."

Busch said the fitness and dietary regimen stem from his relationship with Samantha, whom he calls a "workout freak." He worked out regularly years ago, he said, but gave it up because he wasn't getting the results he wanted. But in a sport where physical fitness is more and more becoming a factor, and where a punishing training routine has helped Jimmie Johnson win five consecutive NASCAR championships, any little bit helps. "That's probably one [area] that I can get better in right now," said Busch, who won three races last season.

Rogers believes it's one of several little things that can help close the gap between the No. 18 team and the programs at the top of the standings last year -- a group that included Busch's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin. "We're both very motivated, passionate people. We want to win this championship. I don't think it's a secret why we're here," the crew chief said.

"So we sat down this winter and talked about, what's it going to take? What are we going to do? There are things that I can do better, and I have to work on them. There are things that Kyle can do better, and he's got to work on them. There's things that our road crew can do better, they have to work on those. Our pit crew was phenomenal, but now our pit stops have changed because of the lack of a catch-can guy. So they've got to go back and work. ... Everyone has stepped up and said, hey, I can add more to this program, and that includes the driver. He took it upon himself to say, hey, I can lose a little weight, I can get in better shape, I can work out and have a little more stamina at the end of a race. He's taking it upon himself to do it."

Busch finished eighth in the standings last season, Hamlin second, the latter narrowly losing the title to Johnson. "It seems like a long way away," Rogers concedes. But he argues the difference the two programs -- one a championship contender until the final week, the other out of the running -- is much closer than it might appear.

"What they did better than us is, they raced to their potential better than us," Rogers said. "I think if you look at it, we had a really fast car at Kansas and we didn't get the finish. We had a really fast car at Texas and didn't get the finish. Both of us had fast cars at Phoenix and didn't get the finish we wanted. We had a fast car at Homestead and we didn't get the finish we wanted. So I think the performance is there. I think our cars are good enough where we could have run first, second, third. But you have to take care of the potential. You can't let those spots go away, whether that be from incidents on the track, pit calls, motors blowing up, fuel mileage. You've got to capitalize on the potential. We had the potential to run with [Johnson] and [Hamlin] last year. We just didn't capitalize on it."

It's not all on the driver's shoulders -- it never is, not in a sport where parts can break and lug nuts can be left loose and pit strategy can go awry. But through both his ability and his response to pressure, the driver can often mitigate issues that are caused elsewhere. And with a happily married and perhaps more mature Busch behind the wheel, it's clear the No. 18 team likes its chances.

"There's obviously ground to be made up. There's ground to be made up somewhere," Busch said. "With us, we just need to put the total package together, and be able to go out there to achieve our potential and to reach our potential and be able to win."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.