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BROOKLYN, Mich. - On the eve of the Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, a peculiar sour note continues to reverberate through the stock car ranks.
It was strummed a week ago by the sport's straightest shooter - Kyle Busch - who also happens to be NASCAR's sometimes acerbic and unapologetic bad boy.
As the winner of the Nationwide Series race at Nashville, Busch received an elaborately painted custom guitar, which he promptly smashed into less than a million pieces. The spontaneous act has made Busch the target of unfriendly fire from all directions over his post-race imitation of Jimi Hendrix or Pete Townshend of The Who.
Friday, as he readied himself for qualifying at MIS in advance of Sunday's LifeLock 400 race, Busch seemed amused that his brief guitar hero stunt was still on the radar.
"I never thought it would get that much attention," Busch said.
The guitar was a Gibson Les Paul model that had been hand-painted by NASCAR artist Sam Bass, and valued at approximately $25,000. In the moments after the race, Bass sounded like he understood why Busch chose to reduce the piece to frets and splinters.
"When I took a picture with Kyle, the first thing he said to me was that there was no disrespect to me or the trophy or the speedway or any of the sponsors," Bass said. "He just said that he told his guys that he was going to give each one of them a piece of the trophy whenever he won the guitar. That was his way, in the spirit of rock and roll, to break the guitar and share it with all the guys on the team. That made me feel a lot better."
But later, Bass seemed to change his tune and commented that he was "stunned and heartbroken" over the incident. Busch said it was his intention all along to share the trophy with his crew.
"A guy showing true emotion in Victory Lane - it's great to be able to go out there and win races - and what it was for me - to be able to give the pieces to the team," he said. "I'm going to sign the pieces for all the guys on the team."
Busch, who comes into Michigan with a series-high three Cup wins this season, customarily celebrates his victories with a somewhat taunting bow to the crowd, which is often upset over his success.
"That's sort of my way of livening it up," Busch said. "It was in the spirit of rock and roll, with a guitar. That's what it was about. A lot of people hated it, and I guess those are the ones with No. 88 [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] tattooed on their arms. I've got no issues with Junior; it's his fans that are crazy."
Cup veteran Jeff Burton said the seemingly constant swirl of controversy is understandable, considering Busch is NASCAR's most polarizing figure.
"You don't sit on the fence with Kyle, you either love him or hate him," Burton said. "And he seems to relish it, and may, at times, provoke it."
Busch, who qualified second yesterday for tomorrow's race, is doing a NASCAR triple this weekend - Camping World Truck Series race at MIS this afternoon, Nationwide Series race at Kentucky tonight, and then back here for the Cup race tomorrow. He charges ahead, seemingly unfazed by the stir he created with a shattered guitar.
"In the end, I don't regret it. I thought it was fun," Busch said. "As far as the attention goes, I don't need any more, trust me. But it certainly got a lot, that's for sure. Sounds to me like the most popular driver award goes to Kyle Busch this year, right?"
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