Kyle Busch admits he sometimes makes bad decisions on the track. But the youngster says, instead of criticism, some good advice would be appreciated -- and far more constructive.
It was natural for Busch to wind up in the spotlight Friday at California Speedway. He won his first Nextel Cup pole here a year ago, then became the youngest driver in NASCAR history to win a race in its top stock car division when he took the checkered flag in the September event on the 2-mile oval.
But the 20-year-old racer, last year's top Cup rookie, wasn't particularly happy that the questions kept going back to last week at Daytona, where Busch's driving was blasted by reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart after the two tangled during the Daytona 500.
"He's the one guy that's probably going to hurt somebody out here," Stewart said of Busch in the heated aftermath of the race. "He's all over the place. He's what we call a bird with no feathers. He just doesn't know where he's going."
Busch pointed out that Stewart, also penalized for rough driving during that race, has not called or approached the youngster to talk about the situation.
"That's how a lot of stuff gets started," said Busch, younger brother of NASCAR's sometime bad boy, Kurt Busch, the 2004 series champion who Friday night won the pole for Sunday's Auto Club 500 (Kyle was eighth). "People run their mouths with the media instead of actually confronting the driver.
"Help me out. I'm a young guy and I'm trying to learn. If you want to teach me something, come up and discuss it with me and tell me what I need to do differently. I'm out there doing the same stuff that he's doing, or Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson or anybody else -- not thinking that it's anything wrong.
"But I'm inside my car. I'm not inside anybody else's car watching my car go around the racetrack. I could use any kind of help out there."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Busch is pretty wild.
"But most rookies are," Junior added Friday. "I can't say I did any better when I was in his position. But he could turn it down a notch. . . . You make mistakes and he hasn't made any real big ones. But he just needs to realize that he's right on the brink of really ticking off somebody he doesn't want to tick off.
"I think he'll figure it out. A lot of rookies come in here pretty wild."
Brian Vickers, Busch's 21-year-old Hendrick Motorsports teammate, starting his third season in Cup, said it's true that young drivers often make mistakes, adding "and I've made my share."
"Guys under 25 are young and wide open and full of energy and inexperienced," Vickers said. "That's part of the sport, part of growing up. Every veteran out here has been young at one time, and they were probably aggressive and sometimes over their heads.
"I've never seen a 20-year-old in a car with 800 horsepower doing 200 miles an hour that wasn't (over his head) a little bit. You know, the older you get, the calmer you get, the more patience you get, the more experience you get."
But Vickers also would like to see the veterans be more understanding.
"If you go to a rookie like you never made a mistake or did anything wrong, you're coming across the wrong way," he said.
"I think there's a fine line, a matter of responsibility of going up to a rookie and saying, 'Hey, watch out. You've got to be careful, you need to be doing this.' They've got to remember that they were a rookie once, too."
Despite their youth and relative inexperience, both of the young Hendrick Motorsports drivers, teammates of four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon and Johnson, are expected to battle for spots in this year's Chase for the championship.
"We're just trying to become a little more consistent this year," Busch said. "We want to try to win races, but it's really all about being able to build more chemistry with the team and just being able to build on consistency and be front-runners."
Daytona 500 winner Johnson was a solid third in Friday night's qualifying. Stewart, the two-time and defending Cup champion and the third Gibbs driver, was 12th.
NASCAR expels Hmiel
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Driver Shane Hmiel has been suspended from competition for life by NASCAR after failing a third substance abuse test.
"Shane failed to fulfill the prescribed rehabilitation program scheduled by NASCAR," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. "As a result, Shane has forfeited his opportunity to compete in any NASCAR-sanctioned events."
Asked if there is any possibility of Hmiel racing in NASCAR sometime in the future, he said, "No, it is a lifetime ban."
Hmiel, the 26-year-old son of longtime crew chief and team official Steve Hmiel, was first suspended in September 2003 after failing a test.
He completed a required rehabilitation program and was reinstated for NASCAR competition in February 2004.
But he was suspended again last June after failing a second substance abuse test.
NASCAR had laid out a road map for Hmiel's possible reinstatement in 2007 that included medical and psychological reviews and frequent testing.
NASCAR said Hmiel failed one of those tests.