For the second time in his career, Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup Series champion. For some, that gives cause to celebrate. But for those who do not count themselves as fans of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, there may still yet be a bad taste in their mouths as they work to digest the final outcome of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
As is the case virtually every time the driver of the No. 18 Toyota achieves some new milestone, the conversation invariably turns toward Busch’s place in NASCAR history. Here is someone who is almost as well known for what he does outside the NASCAR Cup Series as he is for what he does while racing in the sport’s top division. And for some this is quite a hot button issue.
So where is Kyle Busch’s place in the history of NASCAR racing?
The 34-year-old driver’s record in the Cup Series alone makes him a no-doubt choice for the NASCAR Hall of Fame even if Busch were to retire from the sport right now. Along with his two championships at the top level, he has amassed a total of 56 career victories. That number places him ninth on the all-time win list just ahead of Rusty Wallace and 20 wins behind eighth-place occupant Dale Earnhardt.
If Kyle Busch had never entered any other type of race after breaking into the NASCAR Cup Series his record at the top level alone would be sufficient to qualify him as one of the sport’s greatest ever. However, he has indeed entered other races since becoming a full-time Cup Series driver and that causes some to take exception.
Much is often made about the number of total times Busch has visited victory lane across NASCAR’s top divisions. Some discount the wins he has piled up in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series arguing that those wins amount to the equivalent of a Major League Baseball player adding to his home run totals by playing in AA or AAA minor league games.
But just as his success in the Cup division alone is worthy of Hall of Fame inclusion, so too would be his achievements in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Busch has scored 96 triumphs at that level of racing. That almost doubles the number of the next highest person on the list which is Mark Martin who scored 49 wins. The younger of the two racing Busch brothers also earned a championship in NASCAR’s second division back in 2009 when the sanctioning body still allowed drivers to compete for titles in more than one series during the same season.
So again, just like in the case of his Cup Series record, Busch’s achievements at the Xfinity level would earn him a place of honor in the NASCAR Hall of Fame even if those achievements were to stand alone. Consider that drivers such as Jack Ingram, Richie Evans and Jerry Cook earned the sport’s highest post-career reward with accomplishments that came outside of the Cup Series.
Kyle Busch would be a sure thing for the Hall of Fame if he were to have only raced at the Xfinity Series level.
But that’s not all.
Busch also has a stellar record in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. His 56 wins on that tour outnumber those of any other driver who has competed at that level. Further, the majority of those wins have come in trucks owned and prepared by his own Kyle Busch Motorsports team so he has achieved a number of those victories as an owner as well as a driver.
KBM trucks have taken a total of 75 NGOTS checkered flags with Busch himself scoring 40 wins in his own machines.
Once again, considering that Ron Hornaday, Jr. is already in the NASCAR Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in the truck series, it would seem safe to say that Kyle Busch would be a likely entrant if that form of racing is all he had ever done in NASCAR.
Now that Kyle Busch has secured multiple NASCAR Cup Series championships, is in the top-10 in all-time wins at the elite level, and has accomplished all that he has in the lower divisions there can be little doubt that he is one of the greatest drivers in the history of this sport. And further considering that he is still younger than the age that is often considered to be the prime for stock car racers(late 30’s), his numbers of titles and victories are almost certain to continue climbing upward.
Some may consider Busch’s 2015 Cup Series title to be tainted due to the fact that he missed multiple races after sustaining injuries in a crash at Daytona. This 2019 championship, however, comes with no such asterisk. And while Cup Series wins and championships certainly do outweigh those achieved at lower levels, the accomplishments in the other divisions cannot be completely dismissed.
Besides his arguable 2015 championship, many also take exception to the often volatile driver’s demeanor. While his sometimes abrasive nature may actually attract some enthusiasts to him, others find themselves being rubbed the wrong way by Busch’s behavior.
Regardless of how his championships may be viewed or his attitude judged, there can’t be any doubt that this is one of the all-time greats in NASCAR. And with the possibility of adding even more trophies to his collection, Kyle Busch may very well end his career as the greatest to ever strap on a racing helmet in the NASCAR ranks for those who are able to judge him objectively. However, that number may be somewhat few.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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