Kyle Busch rolls into Daytona as grumpy Cup title contender

NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, right, smiles as he poses for a photograph while walking to the garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., on May 27, 2017. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)
NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, right, smiles as he poses for a photograph while walking to the garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., on May 27, 2017. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

Credit: Jeff Siner

Credit: Jeff Siner

Kyle Busch should be a Happy Man. He is rolling along, with the fourth most points in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings, a reason to celebrate. Or not.

Instead, he is Pouty Face.

Busch has yet to win a points race despite six Top 5 finishes. It's a disappointing look for a driver who has won nine times over the last two seasons, which includes a championship run in 2015.

But there's more negative juju. Busch, a volatile sort over the years, seems to be at war with the world.

He ripped Goodyear tires after crashing at Daytona to start the season. He started a brawl with Joey Logano and his crew members after a wreck in Las Vegas. He threw shade at Talladega by implying it wasn't a real race track. He was then dismissive of Austin Dillon's victory at Charlotte in a video snippet that went viral in the NASCAR community.

These are not highly egregious offenses, but if you stitch them together they reflect badly on a man whose superb driving skills are often overshadowed by temperamental issues. Take the Charlotte example, where he could not pass Dillon in the closing laps.

He was then asked to put Dillon's victory in perspective.

"I'm not surprised about anything," Busch said. "Congratulations."

And then he dropped the microphone. No more questions. Sore loser.

"There are some really funny bounces in life, especially in this motorsports world," said Brad Keselowski, a frequent antagonist with Busch. "But your desire to win is not connected to how angry you get.

"That's one way of expressing it, but it's not the only way to win. So when people go out and write articles or the media comes out and says that's a reflection of him having the most desire to win makes me want to throw up. Not only is that a terrible message to send to anyone who's aspiring to be a part of the sport, it's a terrible message to send to anybody in general in this world — that it's a reflection of your desire to win."

Busch has a chance for a reset at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night. He has a chance to send another message to the world by winning — or at the very least, not coming across as an ungracious loser.

Either or, the hope is that nobody wants to puke afterward.

Junior's puppies

The NASCAR Nation is famous — and sometimes notorious — for giving their stars unique parting gifts. Just ask Jeff Gordon about the two ponies he got from Texas Motor Speedway a few years back.

The folks at Sonoma Raceway also dipped into the Animal Kingdom category when saying adios to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is retiring from full-time NASCAR Cup competition after this season.

Who doesn't love puppies?

Three of them in fact, Labrador Retrievers, with an added human touch:

The puppies — named Dale, Amy and Junior — will be trained as service dogs on Earnhardt's behalf. They will work with children who have disabilities.

"I think it's a great thing that the track did," Earnhardt said. "Amy [Earnhardt, his wife] is going to love this idea and she is going to be a little sad she wasn't here to see the dogs today, but it's nice to know that these types of things are happening and you guys are making a difference in people's lives.

"We really appreciate that and obviously thank the track for their investment to make this happen. It warms my heart. We do love dogs and love making a difference in kids' lives and this is a two-fer. Pretty neat deal."

The track collaborated with Paws As Loving Support Assistance Dogs, a group out of Forestville, Calif. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to enhancing the human/animal bond by providing specially trained dogs to help children with disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and mobility impairments.

Next up: Daytona, where the folks have come up with a unique, interactive experience.

A #Daletona mosaic will be located in the Axalta Injector at the property. Fans will be able to create a piece of artwork to commemorate Earnhardt's final start at Daytona as a full-time driver by posting photos on Instagram and Twitter using #Daletona.

Submitted pictures will be printed out and placed onto the 15-foot wide by 5.5 mosaic wall that will be on display in the Axalta Injector.

All the fan pictures in the mosaic will create a piece of artwork celebrating Earnhardt Jr.'s career at Daytona and will be delivered to him following the event.