As the NASCAR Sprint Cup series comes to Pennsylvania this weekend, you might think it's a hard time for the sport.

Compared to figures from last year, television ratings are down, as is racetrack attendance. General Motors is bankrupt, causing turmoil in the Cup garage and raising questions about the future of Chevrolet in NASCAR.

But things are very, very good for the sanctioning body at the moment, thanks to two very different drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch -- and the budding rivalry between them.

Earnhardt, who has struggled most of the season, lost cousin, Tony Eury Jr., as his crew chief when owner Rick Hendrick announced last week that Eury would be replaced by Lance McGrew.

The trouble began when Busch couldn't resist commenting on the situation, and he wasn't nice. Never one to be shy in front of reporters, Busch made it known at Dover International Speedway last weekend that he believes the problems with Earnhardt's team lie with Earnhardt.

"To be honest with you ... if Jr. doesn't run well, then (McGrew's) going to be the problem again. It's never Junior -- it's always the crew chief."

Busch has been called brash, a brat, a crybaby, a bad boy -- names he's earned. He can be arrogant, condescending and very sarcastic. But can you blame him for being bitter?

Maybe Busch's "personality" developed after he was dumped by Hendrick Motorsports to make room for Earnhardt.


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While Busch hadn't exactly set the world on fire as a driver at Hendrick, he showed promise.
Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing, however, Busch has won 11 Cup races and drawn comparisons to a very famous driver -- ironically, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s famous father. Meanwhile, Junior has won only one race in that same span of time. Also ironically, that victory came in Michigan last year, on Father's Day.

Told about Busch's comments, Earnhardt took it in stride.

"That doesn't really surprise me, what Kyle says," Earnhardt said. "He's always had a chip on his shoulder for me. I expect any time he gets an opportunity to throw a jab in there, he's going to do it. That's just his personality."

It hasn't always been easy for Earnhardt, who has been scrutinized about family relationships and criticized for a perceived lack of talent and commitment. At the same time, he has enjoyed carrying the banner as NASCAR's most popular driver, with more fan support than any other driver, despite his lack of a winning season.

I expect TV ratings and attendance figures at the tracks to climb, thanks to Earnhardt and Busch. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're fun to watch, and that's great for NASCAR.

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at esiska@yorkdispatch.com.