Take a bow, Kyle

DARLINGTON, S.C. – What does an orchestra conductor at the end of an opera and Kyle Busch at the end of a race have in common?

The two virtuosos take a pronounced bow to acknowledge the applause from those in the seats who just watched a masterful performance.

Carl Edwards has his post-victory backflip. Tony Stewart climbs the flag stand in victorious celebration.

And KyBusch now has his bow. But it's not just any bow.

No, this is something special – or annoying. No matter, whether you like him or not, it's impossible to ignore the show Busch puts on after every win.

I know this is Shrub we're talking about, perhaps the most loathed man in NASCAR – well, at least in the Junior Nation, for sure – but there's something genuinely cool about the way he accepts the cheers – and boos – with his distinct bow.

"It's, 'Thank you very much,' " Busch said after winning Saturday night's Dodge Challenger 500, his third victory of the season. "I get out of there, and then I'm up on top (of the car), I hear, 'Yeah,' and then I do the bow. And then I go on and say, 'Have a nice day.' "

Saturday night, looking a bit like the Phantom of the Opera, Busch emerged from a billowing cloud of smoke (remnants of his celebratory burnout), climbed on the door sill of his No. 18 Toyota and gallantly proclaimed victory with a long sweep of his right arm across his body and then a dip that would make an Edwardian gentleman of the early 1900s envious.

"I think it's cool when Kyle gets the smoke going and all of a sudden he jumps out of the car like David Copperfield," said race runner-up Edwards. "It's pretty neat."

After snickering and pulling his cap over his face in laughter listening to Edwards describe Busch's post-race antics, Jeff Gordon, who finished third, added, "Yeah, like Houdini."

Edwards, with his desire to execute a perfect back flip after each win, can understand Busch's desire for a flashy ending to cap off each win.

"I mean, people are going to do whatever they're going to do," Edwards said. "His brother (Kurt Busch) did the snow angel thing (at Bristol in spring 2006), you know.

"But hey, here's the deal: when you win a race, hey you're the winner, you can do whatever you want. It's OK because you won. People can say whatever they want, but you're still a winner."

OK, enough of the facetiousness. Let's get serious about how Busch won Saturday's race:

• He hit Darlington's walls at least five times by his own count, yet each brush with the concrete seemed to actually improve his car.

• His crew had several miscues on pit road due to failed glue that caused lug nuts to keep falling off wheel rims, including one instance where Busch had to come back into the pits for a stop-and-go penalty – which was necessary anyway because his crew had to replace the missing lug.

All this after he started the evening off with a tear in his eye, getting choked up when his mother, Gaye, was introduced during pre-race introductions of drivers' mothers in what has become a heartwarming tradition at Darlington.

With an attitude at times only a mother can love, Busch has gone out of his way to draw the attention of the NASCAR world – both on and off the track. His dust up with Dale Earnhardt Jr. last week at Richmond only further entrenched him into the role of villain. But it's a role he seems to have embraced, at least outwardly.

"I don't care," he said. "I'm here to race. I'm here to win. If I win, it just makes them more upset and crying on their way home."

If anyone understands the love-hate relationship Busch has developed with fans, it's Gordon, who has been on the receiving end of more than enough boos in his career to harden even the softest shell. Gordon's advice? Use it to your advantage.

"Having a love-hate relationship with the fans is not a bad thing," Gordon said. "I heard more noise for him tonight than I've ever heard for him. I remember when I came into this sport, riding around Dale Earnhardt, and he was getting a lot of boos and cheers. All he cared about was how much noise they made. That's what I've always built my philosophy on.

"Right now, the boos might be louder than the cheers, but at least they're making a lot of noise."

Even if they don't want to, fans have to pay attention to Busch. He doesn't really give them a choice. He has, after all, been in one victory circle or another in each of the last six weeks, whether it be in the Cup, Nationwide or Craftsman Trucks Series.

With that kind of success, it's hard to be humble, especially when you're a 23 year old dominating your supposed superiors.

"I wouldn't say I'm not impressed with what I've done," he said. "I'm very grateful and humble that I've been able to win six weeks in a row."

At the same time, Busch has become such a perfectionist that he expects to win every time he climbs behind the wheel.

"I feel like there could have been more (wins this year)," he said. "You go out there every weekend, you have to think you're the best, you have the best guys working on your stuff and you've got the ability to go out there and make the best of it.

"You look at races that you lose and why you lost them, and you also look at races and why you won and what you can do better."

So, go ahead and take a bow, Shrub. You've earned it. And if folks think your post-victory trademark is corny, they'd better get used to it pretty quick.

Because just 11 races into the season and with 25 more still to go, it's a pretty good bet we're going to see a lot more bows in the future.