Kyle Busch is too young to have watched the drivers whose styles he evokes - legendary hard-chargers such as Curtis Turner, Cale Yarborough and Tim Richmond.
But put Busch, 23, behind the wheel of his No. 18 Toyota and suddenly racing is as much about willpower as horsepower, the way it seemed to be in the years when NASCAR was thundering to life.
Skinny as a camshaft, Busch is all muscle on the race track, driving with a passion that carries him to racing's ragged edge, where tires smoke and tempers flare. Whether tucked into his car or hidden behind his wraparound shades, Busch races one way - to win.
And when the green flag drops on the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Busch will be on the pole and among the main characters in the day-to-night story.
"He's driving his heart out, and it's working," said Buddy Baker, a retired driver known for his aggressive style in the 1970s and '80s. "It'll tick some guys off, but not many guys have been that good. Like him or not, he's at a place in the sport that had to be filled."
Busch, a Las Vegas native, has been coming like a comet for years.
Six years younger than brother Kurt, the 2004 points champion, Kyle has been driving competitively in a racing family since childhood.
He made six NASCAR Truck series starts as a high school junior, graduated early from high school to speed his career along, then finished second at Charlotte in his first start in what is now the Nationwide Series, in 2003.
Three years ago, Busch became the youngest race winner at NASCAR's highest level.
But he truly arrived this year, his first with Joe Gibbs Racing. In 11 races, Busch has seven top-five finishes, three victories, $2,474,860 in earnings - and a reputation.
He is not subtle, whether he is bowing as the crowd boos him or bumping the cars around him. If he's behind, he wants to catch up. If he's ahead, he wants a bigger lead.
"My favorite part is being out front and checking out on everybody," Busch said, sitting outside his motor home in the Lowe's Motor Speedway infield before the all-star race last Saturday. "Yeah, it's cool to come through traffic and get through there so fast but ultimately, (the best) is when you're checked out and gone."
Gone perhaps, but never forgotten.
Any chance Busch had of being accepted by NASCAR's mainstream fans probably disappeared last month when he bumped the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., with three laps left in the race in Richmond, Va., keeping Earnhardt from ending a 73-race winless streak.
While both sides explained it away as a natural part of racing, the incident has stuck to Busch like a scar, reinforcing his image among fans as a NASCAR villain, jeered at every track.
It's a place Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, among others, have found themselves during their careers.
"I don't think anybody sets out to be a villain," Gordon said. "I think that nobody wants boos. But what you do want to do is stand out. And you want to do it by winning races, being competitive out there, and sometimes you might ruffle some feathers along the way.
"He definitely has that personality that could be the villain.
"Sometimes he says things that don't always go over well, and sometimes on the race track, his aggressiveness can get him in trouble.
"But those same things allow him to have great success."
Busch, like Waltrip, Earnhardt and Gordon, is seen as a rare talent.
"It's amazing to watch the boy," said Waddell Wilson, who worked with top NASCAR drivers Fred Lorenzen, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Junior Johnson and Buddy Baker, among others in his long career as a crew chief and engine builder. "He's in a class by himself right now. He's brave as Superman."
But the contemporary nature of the sport fosters a different approach.
Winning the season-long points race is the ultimate goal and it has created a culture in which drivers often accept high finishes rather than risk calamity by racing for wins. Like cautious investors, drivers often take the long view rather than a short-term risk with a big payoff.
Not Kyle Busch.
"Sometimes I think his big picture is only four inches tall," Baker said.
Busch's competitiveness came out a year ago, when he and his brother were involved in a crash during the final segment of the all-star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, costing both a shot at winning.
Kurt blamed Kyle for being too aggressive. Kyle blamed his brother for blocking him. The animosity lingered through the year.
"Grandma asked for a Christmas present that we both get along and go to Christmas dinner together, so that was her present," Kyle said.
"It was a little edgy to begin with because that was the first time we'd sat down together. The more it kind of went, the more it kinda got back to friendly and normal."
By the end of the evening, the brothers had won a family Pictionary game as teammates.
"I think it took him a while longer (to get over it) just because he felt that was taken away from him, that he was supposed to win that race," Kurt Busch said. "I think he's come full circle and realized that two brothers can make a mistake and blood is thicker than anything else out there."
Ask Kyle Busch which drivers he admired watching and Gordon is the first one he mentions, followed by Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace. All three are known for their clean racing style.
Busch also acknowledges the late Earnhardt, who came to exemplify hard racing.
Ask the old-timers who Busch reminds them of and one name keeps popping up - Tim Richmond.
Like Busch, Richmond arrived trailing sparks. He died of complications from AIDS at age 34 in 1989 but in his six full seasons at NASCAR's highest level, Richmond won 13 times with a dynamic, charging style on the track.
"Tim was the only guy I thought Earnhardt wasn't of a mind to try to intimidate on the track," said Max Muhleman, who has been around the sport for more than 50 years as a writer and marketing executive.
"There have only been a few of those guys with that God-given talent. It's not daring. It's car control. Curtis Turner had it. Tim had it. Earnhardt had it.
"Kyle is starting to show it, but you have to do it over a sustained period of time."
There are moments when Busch's style - entertaining as it is - raises questions.
Baker said he shook his head watching Busch move Dale Jarrett out of the way near the end of his victory in Atlanta this year, wondering why he didn't show more patience.
NASCAR legend Junior Johnson said he watched Busch in the final laps of his victory at Darlington this year, still putting the right side of his car dangerously close to the track's concrete wall, taking the fastest way around despite having a comfortable lead.
"What made the sport was the kind of drivers like Kyle is," Johnson said. "They didn't name it racing just to ride around all day.
"He's kinda crazy," Johnson said. "He reminds me of (the late) Lee Roy Yarbrough. He's going to the front whatever it takes.
"If I was looking for a driver, I'd want him."