The redemption of Kurt Busch

Last Sunday, Kurt Busch did more than just win the crown jewel of NASCAR’s top racing series, the Daytona 500.

He did more than just race 500 miles and 200 laps around crash after crash.

He did more than just make a last-minute pass to zip past Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott.

He did more than just survive a wreck in front of him that took out seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

He did more than just hoist the Harley Earl Trophy skyward.

He raced back from oblivion.

I mean, how long ago was it when the former NASCAR champion was driving for a second-rate team, a victim of his own mercurial temper and stupid decisions?  Those moments when he got fired from Jack Roush Racing, only to get fired a few years alter from a prime ride with Penske Racing…

When he became the punchline and punching bag of a thousand bloggers and a million racing fans, who decried him as the NASCAR’s last hothead, a throwback to an era when drivers didn’t give a valance about anything other than driving fast and living loud.

When his personal life became tabloid fodder, his relationship turned into a media nightmare, to the point where a thousand bloggers screamed for him to get out of his ride and stay off the track.

And in those moments, the last driving outlaw in motorsports did something that suprised all his detractors and dissuaders.

He kept driving.  He focused his energy.  He kept his mouth shut and his temper focused.

And yesterday… he achieved the greatest moment a stock car racer can ever achieve.  He won the Daytona 500.

And he shut the mouths of a thousand detractors.

Well, I can’t speak of the other nine hundred ninety-nine detractors…

But I can at least speak of one.

Five years ago, I tore Kurt Busch a new one. And I continued to rip into himOver and over againThrough all his on- and off-track drama.

And you know what?  Either Kurt Busch focused on improving his life and didn’t give a hang about what I said … or he improved his life and decided to shut me up in the process.

And you know what?  I know when I’ve been bested.

So here’s what I’ll do, Kurt Busch.

The next time I visit a NASCAR racetrack, I will purchase a 41 decal at the souvenir stand and I will put it on the bumper of my car.  And when I go to that track, I’ll purchase a 41 T-shirt and wear it in the stands for all to see.

Because you made it all the way back from the fringes of obscurity and you won the Great American Race.  And as a driver, you’ve pulled yourself from nowhere to the top.

I made the mistake of judging your character and your driving skills as one and the same.  And for that, I was wrong.  A driver can be the nicest person in the world and a clown on the track; a driver can be the best racer behind a steering wheel and a bore off the track.

Kurt Busch doesn’t need my apology.  He doesn’t need my mea culpa.  All he needs to do is drive a stock car.  That’s all a race far can ask for.

But if you do want to send me that 41 decal and that T-shirt – size large – you can send it to me care of the Times Union.  Just know that the decal’s going on a Chevy…

You may have redeemed yourself as a driver, but all the NASCAR wins in the world won’t ever make me switch to Ford.