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Paulk: Gibbs, Busch an unlikely union in NASCAR

| Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Frankly, it makes no sense that a cerebral, by-the-book Joe Gibbs would embrace the enigmatic, throw-caution-to-the-wind Kyle Busch.

Yet, they seemingly are joined at the hip. At least until Busch reaches the option year of his recently extended contract.

In bringing Busch aboard in 2008, the former Washington Redskins coach openly accepted the challenge of harnessing the unpredictable emotions of an oft-erratic but talented driver. Of course, Gibbs had seen this movie before. Somehow, he kept a temperamental Tony Stewart from imploding and together they captured two driver's titles.

Ultimately, Gibbs and Busch probably will claim a Cup championship, in part, because the 27-year-old driver realizes his boyish antics on the racetrack and mindless retaliatory strikes on pit road were beginning to agitate a usually patient Gibbs.

There's no way Gibbs would have committed to a contract extension without assurances from Busch that he put behind the behavior that stunted his Cup development and factored significantly in his shortcomings during the Chase in the past several years.

It's hard to imagine a driver with Busch's skills finishing no better than fifth in five playoff appearances. Inexplicably, a driver with more NASCAR victories (Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Truck) than anyone the past five years twice has failed to advance to the Chase the past four seasons.

Yet, Gibbs resisted giving Busch the hook. Instead, he allowed promising but underachieving Joey Logano to wander off to Penske Racing, where he will join defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

Admittedly, Busch considered seeking employment elsewhere. However, he knows Gibbs understands that beneath the raw exterior is a polished driver tarnished only by a raucous persona that has slowed his ascension to the top of the Sprint Cup series.

“I feel like there's a lot more for me to lose maybe going somewhere else than staying here,” Busch said. “But also having the great organization that you have here in Joe Gibbs Racing is plenty competitive to win championships.”

Gibbs understands that talent, passion and controlled chaos are the keys for victory. He stuck with Stewart for that very reason and parted with Logano, who had the audacity to mix it up but lacked the prerequisite skills to navigate a 36-race season to put him into championship contention.

On this Super Bowl Sunday, we should remember that Gibbs won three world championships with three very different quarterbacks: Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. He won with power, then finesse.

Gibbs has fielded arguably one of the most powerful Cup teams this season. In addition to Busch, JGR will seek its fourth Cup championship with 2010 runner-up Denny Hamlin and 2003 points champion Matt Kenseth.

“It's as exciting as I've ever been going into a season,” Gibbs said. “They've been getting along great, but that's going to last until about the first time they get up next to one another for the first time they're running up front. I'll be the one ducking and dodging.”

Gibbs won't have to worry about Busch ducking and dodging. Gibbs would rather Busch exercise the kind of poise, patience and control that enabled Gibbs to win three Super Bowls with three quarterbacks.

Around motorsports

• Kyle Busch would have preferred the Broncos, Bears or Patriots in the Super Bowl. The 49ers and Ravens, he said, haven't sparked the same kind of interest as those teams.

“They are two teams that are almost two forgotten teams,” Busch said. “It's kind of unique that you get those two in a Super Bowl, which is cool and also having the brotherly rivalry going on there — I know what that's like. That's cool, but if I had to pick one — it's a tough one to pick, but I like the 49ers.”

• The Sprint Unlimited, formerly the Budweiser Shootout, is a new format that places an emphasis on fan interactivity with the results of an online poll deciding some of the key competition aspects of the event. The Sprint Unlimited also will include an elimination segment for the first time in race history.

Fans will have the chance to vote on several format factors, including the number of laps in each segment, the type of pit stop a team will make after the first segment and how many cars will be eliminated after the second segment. Votes can be cast on NASCAR's new official mobile app — NASCAR Mobile 2013 — or at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited.

The non-points exhibition race opens the NASCAR season and is 75 laps for 187 12 miles. The 22-driver field includes 2012 pole position winners and previous winners of the race who had qualified for at least one race during the 2012 season.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib. Listen to the Auto Racing Show with Ralph N. Paulk on TribLive Radio from 9 to 10 a.m every Friday.

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