Given the opportunity last week to sum up her husband’s reputation on the racetrack, Samantha Busch smirked, cocked her head and, though she didn’t wink, might as well have.
“A passionate driver,” she called Kyle Busch, who’d just kissed her goodbye on the hospitality bus and gone to suit up for the Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Two days later, he had both a fresh victory – his first Cup win in Charlotte – and a slightly different way to describe himself:
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Of course, Busch can be a bit of a butthead when he’s got that fire suit on. There was the time he intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski in Bristol in 2010. Or the bird he flipped later that season to NASCAR officials in Texas. Or that post-race dust-up with Kevin Harvick at Darlington in 2011. Or that time in 2011 in Charlotte when he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution. (And that’s just one 15-month span in a 15-year-long career.)
I think one of the biggest things is that as life goes on, and as you pick up a wife and then a son, and you have this life outside, you realize that there’s more to life than just what your job is.
But while on the track he’s been notorious for his hardheadedness, off it, the joys and pains and unexpected projectile vomiting associated with fatherhood are turning Busch into something of a softie.
While on the track he’s been known to sneak up on a rival to deliver a surprise right hook, off it, Busch and his wife are making names for themselves by sneaking up on couples dealing with fertility problems and surprising them with grants of $10,000 (or more) for fertility treatments.
“I’m maybe a little bit more relaxed, day to day, than I once was,” said the 32-year-old driver, as he sat in the second-floor lounge of Kyle Busch Motorsports in Mooresville Monday, beneath a life-sized print of him celebrating one of his 173 wins across NASCAR’s three top series. “I think one of the biggest things is that as life goes on, and as you pick up a wife and then a son, and you have this life outside, you realize that there’s more to life than just what your job is.”
Building that family, though, was more difficult than he imagined it would be.
‘Something might be wrong’
Kyle Busch married Samantha Sarcinella on New Year’s Eve, as 2010 turned to 2011, under picture-perfect circumstances.
Samantha’s dress was flown in from Dubai. The wedding cake was as tall as Kyle. Their reception was held in the Chicago Cultural Center, underneath what is arguably the most magnificent Tiffany dome ever created. The Style Network was so enamored with the idea of their nuptials, it turned the celebration into an hour-long TV special.
But the happily-ever-after part would take some work – especially when their efforts to start a family stalled.
“The first few months, you’re like, ‘OK, it takes time,’ ” Samantha Busch said. “Six months, seven months, eight months, nine months, you’re like, ‘OK, this is annoying, but it still hasn’t been a year.’ And then after a year, you’re like, ‘OK, something might be wrong.’ ”
“She was taking pregnancy tests,” Kyle said, “and she was doing all of the planning, the cycle planning, and then it became like G.I. Jane. It was like, ‘OK! Right now! Let’s go! We gotta do this!’ Well, that’s not any fun.”
“Infertility,” Samantha said, “can either strengthen your marriage or completely destroy it, and I think I was on the path to destroy it – because I was just in such a very bad place. And that’s your partner, so you just take it out on them, because they’re there, right? But he was the one who didn’t fight back with me on days that I was really upset about something, and was just supportive and calm.”
Finally, a girlfriend of Samantha’s suggested they schedule a consultation at Reproductive Endocrinology Associates (REACH) of Charlotte, a doctors’ group specializing in fertility problems. Both Kyle and Samantha were tested, and she learned she had polycystic ovary syndrome, which can interfere with fertility.
Doctors recommended in vitro fertilization, which involved retrieving Samantha’s eggs and mixing them with Kyle’s sperm in a laboratory. The resulting embryo was then transferred to Samantha’s uterus, and nine months later – on May 18, 2015 – she birthed a 7-pound, 10-ounce baby boy they named Brexton.
Soon after, in hopes of helping smooth the road for couples undergoing similar struggles, they established the Bundle of Joy Fund, a partnership between their Kyle Busch Foundation and REACH. Since the first round of grants was awarded in September 2015, the fund has distributed a quarter-million dollars to couples experiencing fertility problems. Grant recipients have had two sets of twins and six individual babies, with a seventh due any day now.
‘Can’t pout in front of him’
If anyone was expecting Kyle Busch’s newfound kind-heartedness to carry over onto the racetrack, here’s what we have to say about that: Hahahahaha.
As recently as March, Busch wrecked out of the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and – because he thought Joey Logano had spun him out intentionally – marched over to Logano in the pits and tried to punch him out before being wrestled to the ground. Busch wound up with a bloody forehead.
“Situations where you feel wronged on the racetrack, you obviously want to show whoever wronged you that you felt wronged on that,” Busch said. “So I did that at Vegas... Sometimes you don’t really care about what the consequences or the repercussions are gonna be.”
But nowadays, he’s quicker to master the anger – and there is someone he doesn’t want to show it to.
“Certainly there were days where, before Brexton, you’re just mad,” Busch said. “You’re mad from the time you get out of the car – even if it’s before the race is over, because you crashed or something like that – to going home, (and then you’re) dwelling on it for a couple days.
“Now it’s like, OK, you’re mad, you get out of the car, you get back to the bus, but you calm down as soon as you pick up him and get the family together. ... You can’t be mad in front of him, or pout in front of him, or whatever. He might want to play race cars on the floor, he might want to read a book or something like that, so you’re back to that right away.”
Samantha Busch gave this as an example of how quickly Kyle can flip from fiery driver to diaper-changing dad:
“I will never forget, when Brexton was super-little, one time Kyle came back to the bus after he got wrecked in a race, and he was just mad. He picked up Brex, and Brex looked at him and projectile-vomited on him. So he’s had this bad race, he’s covered in puke, but I just start laughing and then he starts laughing, because it’s like, what are you gonna do?”
And there’s a surprise twist ending to that violent encounter with Joey Logano, one that neatly illustrates the bridge between the big “butthead” and the big softie.
‘Everything is great’
The following weekend, at Phoenix International Raceway, reporters surrounded Busch for the pre-race media session.
“When I came out of there,” Busch said, “I said what I was supposed to say, which was: ‘Keep it light, keep it simple, you’re here at the track, you’re supposed to focus on this week and last week’s behind us, we’re moving on, everything’s fine.’ I did that, for the first question. Then it was supposed to be cut off. PR person never cut it off, so people kept asking questions.”
Everyone, of course, wanted to know how he was feeling about Logano. He, of course, didn’t want to talk about Logano. So (maddeningly, or amusingly, depending on your perspective) he gave virtually the same answer to the next four questions that he gave to the first, which was: “Everything’s great! Looking forward to getting back into my car and being here in Phoenix.”
People immediately began speculating that Busch was pulling a Marshawn Lynch, giving a nod to the Seattle Seahawks running back who famously treated reporters at the Super Bowl in 2015 to the same answer over and over again at Media Day: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”
Lynch has long been an ambassador for Skittles candy, and Busch was driving the Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing at Phoenix. It was a brilliant stunt.
Except Busch said the idea hadn’t even occurred to him. Because he was too busy coming up with another scheme. Why not get Mars, Inc., his primary sponsor, and Joe Gibbs Racing to help him capitalize on the “Everything Is Great” interview?
“I was like, ‘Man, we gotta make a shirt. This would rock. Just do it for the foundation,’ ” Busch said. “The JGR people, they tried to put the kibosh on it. They said, ‘Here, we’ll pay you this amount of money to not make the shirt. Just make this (negative attention) go away.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t think that’s enough money. I think we can raise a hell of a lot more than that.’ ”
Kyle had the idea to elongate the bottom of the “Y” in “EVERYTHING” so it would turn the “IS” into an “18” (his car’s number). Samantha suggested they price the shirt at $22 (22 being Logano’s car’s number). And in two short months, they raised $40,000 for the Bundle of Joy Fund.
Last Saturday, two days after Brexton’s second birthday and hours before Kyle won the All-Star Race, the Busches surprised a local couple with $10,000 of that T-shirt money.
“When bad things happen,” Busch said – and he’s talking here about the silver lining that revealed itself after the Logano fight, but it could just as easily apply to the fund that grew from his and Samantha’s fertility struggle – “now I’m just kind of like, ‘OK, well, let’s flip this. Let’s turn this. Let’s keep going. Let’s do something else.’
“So that’s what we did, and it turned into something awesome.”