During the 2011 Speedweeks, Kyle Busch stopped by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bus at Daytona International Speedway to offer a present even though their long-running feud was still simmering.
The gift? A box of M&Ms.
“Out of nowhere,” Earnhardt recalled during the NASCAR America Debrief podcast Wednesday. “Couple of days later, I text him and was like, ‘You gave me these M&Ms, were you going around to everybody’s bus and giving them away?’ ‘Nope. Just you and one other guy.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I don’t know, thought you might want some M&Ms.’
“(Busch) would do things that were so out of character, but that’s not it. That was his character. That’s also who Kyle is. He’s a guy who hates to lose. He’s a guy who is a jerk sometimes. He’s a guy who reacts the wrong way in certain situations.
“But he’s also a guy who loves his family and puts a lot of effort into his race team. As an owner, he takes a lot of pride in that. He’s thoughtful about people who are part of his life. There’s just a lot of layers to the guy.”
Earnhardt is much more aware of those layers after hosting Busch as a guest on his weekly “Dale Jr. Download” podcast this week. The pair spent 90 minutes reminiscing about the night of their infamous wreck while battling for the lead at Richmond Raceway 10 years ago and about the reasons they harbored ill will in many years since then.
Today’s NASCAR America (6 p.m. on NBCSN) will be fully devoted to the discussion in which Busch and Earnhardt buried the hatchet, and the process was therapeutic in many ways.
“I’d say that the whole thing I took away from it was it made me think about things that I’m doing today, relationships that aren’t great today, and I wonder how many bad assumptions are in that that are causing those relationships to stay bad,” Earnhardt said on the third episode of NASCAR America Debrief. “How many people do I need to go up to and say, ‘Man, I need to talk to you. Is this really how you’re feeling?’ Because I bet you 100 percent of the time, I’ll find out I was completely wrong, and it would have been an easy situation to resolve had I broke the ice.
“When people say things, what you hear is not exactly how they feel. A guy reacts and is lashing out, he’s really looking for you to say, ‘Hey man, it’s OK, it’s fine.’ What you hear makes you angry, and you make an assumption.”
NASCAR America Debrief guest Steve Letarte said he appreciates the ways that Busch expresses his feelings bare. “It’s easier to cheer for people,” Letarte said. “Drivers are people. I like drivers to not be robots. Kyle Busch, like it or don’t like it, it’s straightforward what you’re going to get. I think he’s wonderful for the sport. I don’t care if you’re booing or cheering.”
But it was difficult for Earnhardt to be involved in the drama for years.
“It sucked,” he said. “All those years we were angry with each other, mad and hated each other’s guts, were not fun. I didn’t like it. It bothered me.
“It was like going to work and having to sit next to somebody you could not stand to be in the same room with. I knew if we talked and hashed it out, I would be able to be in the same room with him and be OK. But neither one of us were smart enough to do that for the longest time.”
That was partly the result of “we made so many wrong assumptions about each other through that whole process,” Earnhardt said. “There’s no denying that he didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him.
“And I thought he was a bad person, and he thought I was a bad person, but there were assumptions made about what the other was thinking. He even said at one point, ‘Man I was waiting on you to break the ice. The whole time.’ I’m thinking me, ‘You spun me out. I was waiting on you to come apologize to me.’ He’s like, ‘You were older, your stature in the sport, I’m thinking you would be the guy to say let’s sit down and sort this out.’”