FORT WORTH, Texas – In his quest to show fans and fellow competitors his "new" side, Kurt Busch quickly is looking suspiciously like his old self. In four of the first seven Nextel Cup races this season, Busch has been practically a one-man wrecking crew.
He did snow angels after his victory at Bristol and again Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway after winning in his Busch Series debut, but many of his competitors may begin thinking Busch, like the old Elvis Presley song, is the "Devil in Disguise."
The toll thus far this season: Jamie McMurray at Daytona (although McMurray arguably was more at fault for that incident), Matt Kenseth at Bristol, Jeff Burton at Martinsville and Greg Biffle in Sunday's Samsung/RadioShack 500 here at Texas.
That leaves only 37 other series regulars for the 2004 Nextel Cup champ to tangle with – if you don't include Kurt's younger brother Kyle Busch. And with 29 races left on the schedule, Kurt Busch has plenty of time to potentially get most of the rest of his peers ticked off at him.
Actually, he also has angered Kevin Harvick, who has criticized Busch the most this season – and Harvick has tangled on-track with Busch only minimally this year.
But something bigger is coming with those two, mark my word.
Take another look at the drivers Busch has tussled with in 2006 and find a common thread – many have ties to his former boss, Jack Roush: ex-teammates Biffle, Burton (even though he's now with Richard Childress Racing) and Kenseth, and the man who succeeded Busch, McMurray.
One can't help but wonder if Busch has a vendetta going against the man who publicly humiliated him by suspending him for the final two races in '05 after a reckless driving incident in suburban Phoenix.
Maybe Busch is silently saying to Roush the same thing he told the cop in Phoenix: "Don't you know who I am?"
Or is it more like, "Hey, Mr. Cat in the Hat. Remember me?"
I'll give Busch the benefit of the doubt that he's not intentionally wrecking any drivers, whether they're in the Roush camp or not.
And on Sunday, Busch took a decidedly Jimmie Johnson-like analysis of his incident with Biffle. Instead of accepting blame, Busch said he thought Biffle might have suddenly lost a cylinder heading into Turn 3, leaving Busch with nowhere to go but into the rear end of Biffle's Ford. Busch made contact with Biffle, spinning him into the wall and out of the race.
"I don't know what [Biffle] was doing," Busch said. "I was a lapped car trying to get out of the way. He had trouble passing [Ken Schrader] and checked up down the straightaway. I tried not to get into him [but] had nowhere to go.… I don't know why he couldn't pass the 21. I was just trying to get out of the way."
But Biffle did not see it that way, and he definitely did not drop a cylinder. In his mind, Busch intentionally rammed him – or at least made no effort to give him room.
"When you're the guy that all you have to do is lift on the gas pedal a little bit and elect not to and run into the car in front of you on the straightaway, that's pretty unforgivable, I would have to say," Biffle said.
Busch wound up victimizing himself in the Biffle tangle, too. An oil line was ruptured by the resulting damage, knocking Busch out of the race for nearly 50 laps of repairs. Biffle, the defending race winner, ended up 42nd while Busch finished 34th.
Busch isn't doing anything that Dale Earnhardt didn't do during his Cup career. Whether you liked him or not, there's no denying Earnhardt was the most-feared driver on the race track because of his intimidating driving style.
Get in his way and Earnhardt quickly imparted a very clear message to you, one that typically needed to be said just once or twice at the most. And if his words or hand signals didn't catch your attention, his chrome horn usually did the trick.
Busch is a longtime Earnhardt admirer and has patterned his own style after the Man in Black. Just like The Intimidator did, Busch smiles and revels in the fact that he's one of the most despised men in NASCAR – and in light of his run-ins this season, that level of despicableness likely has gone up a few notches.
But Busch isn't Earnhardt, not by the measures of talent, skill or personality – and he never will be. And that's where Busch needs to take pause.
For all intents and purposes, Earnhardt was a loner on the Cup level, doing things his way, opposition be damned. But one thing The Intimidator never lacked on the race track was friends.
When he needed a drafting partner or wanted another driver to block someone behind him, fellow drivers quickly came to the fore, as if excitedly saying, "pick me, Mr. Earnhardt, pick me."
But Busch's manner this season is not winning him more friends. What's worse, all four drivers he has nailed have been good friends of his – well, maybe "used to be" is be a more accurate description.
"You've got to have a little bit of respect for the other drivers you're racing with and Kurt hasn't shown any respect, or that [incident Sunday] surely wasn't showing respect," Biffle said.
Biffle long has been one of Busch's staunchest supporters, but that friendship suddenly may be over – or at the very least damaged – as a result of Sunday.
"We'll just have to race him a little different," Biffle said. "If he's not clear or whatever, then maybe the shoe will be on the other foot."
You know things are bad when Biffle's longtime girlfriend, Nicole Lunders, storms over to Busch's pit box after the wreck and chews out Busch's fiancée, Eva Bryan.
If it has been just a coincidence that Busch has wrecked his former teammates, so be it. But if he intentionally has done so, he has to remember that if he maintains his current pace, he's risking the loss of pretty much every friend he has made on the race track – ex-teammates included.
To have success in Nextel Cup, the key is to have as many friends as possible – not to alienate them.