DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kyle Busch has made massive strides in maturity since infamously lambasting NASCAR's old race car following a win in its debut race at Bristol in 2007.
He's also showing a significant turnaround since last year's season-ending weekend at Homestead, where a sullen and brooding Busch closed out what he admitted to be "the absolute worst year of my career."
The proof came Thursday after Busch won the second Budweiser Duel at Daytona International Speedway. He was tactful when asked about NASCAR's new Gen-6 car, a stark difference from his negative assessment — on live television — following the first race for the old "Car of Tomorrow."
Similar response from Busch when asked about the crash-filled Whelen Modified Tour race this week in Daytona's Battle at the Beach.
"This is another one of those moments where I've grown up seven years and I'm not going to have anything to say about that race," Busch said.
It was music to team owner Joe Gibbs' ears, who gave an emphatic, "Yes!" when Busch indicated he's learned to think before he speaks.
Sure, it's only one week into the season and he's got 11 months to falter. But after the misery of last season and missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, he'd much prefer to live an easier life.
Only it's not so easy when his mood is so closely tied to his on-track results. Busch, who won 18 races in 2011 across NASCAR's three national series, went winless in Nationwide and Trucks last season and won only one Sprint Cup race.
"You know, your mood's going to be related to how your racing's going," Busch said. "This is my life. This is what I do. I don't do anything else. This is my life, this is my livelihood, my wife's livelihood. To be able to put the food on the table for ourselves, for all of the rest at Joe Gibbs Racing — if we don't come out here and run competitive, we're all going to be looking for something else to do."
Busch, one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR, is probably being too hard on himself. His job security at this stage has nothing to do with performance because most everyone recognizes he's got the ability to win every week and contend for championships.
Where his job could be jeopardized is by his many missteps on and off the track that are almost all tied to Busch snapping following a competitive incident.
Right now, Busch seems to get that. His success will depend on how long he can remember what's important.
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