Is Kyle Busch NASCAR's best all-around driver?
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- No NASCAR driver has been to Victory Lane more often in the last four seasons than Kyle Busch, who continues to rack up Hall of Fame numbers at just 25 years old.
Most of those victories have come in NASCAR's lower divisions, setting up a great debate: Is Busch NASCAR's best all-around driver or is he simply dominating less experienced competition in NASCAR's two lower-rung divisions?
Consider the following numbers after Busch's weekend of racing in Nashville: In the Camping World Truck Series, Busch has 26 wins in 89 races, including two victories (Phoenix and Nashville) in four starts this season. That means he has driven to victory an astounding 29 percent of the time, giving him nearly a 1 in 3 chance of winning any Trucks race he enters.
Those numbers may have been higher except early in his career, Busch was prohibited from racing because of his age. He competed in six Trucks races in 2001, when he was only 16, finishing with two top-10s before California Speedway parked him when a CART team sponsor, Marlboro, objected to having a minor race with tobacco signage. He did not return to the Trucks Series until 2004, when he was 19, one year after driving in seven of 34 Nationwide Series races and claiming two top-5 finishes.
When Busch steps up to the Nationwide Series, he has 47 wins in 210 starts -- just two victories short of the record in that series. But his numbers drop in Sprint Cup. He has an impressive 20 wins, but in 230 starts that means he drives to a Cup victory in a little over eight percent of his races.
Jimmie Johnson may have won the Cup title the last five years, but in some respects Busch is NASCAR's biggest star. To borrow a line I used last year, he's got more Dale Earnhardt in him than Dale Earnhardt Jr. does. He's ruthless on the track and couldn't care less what others think about him. In fact, hearing the crowd boo is music to Busch's ears.
NASCAR is a sport where the fans love the bad boy, and Busch's personality is perfect for that role. Watching him on the track is like watching Michelangelo paint with a mop -- he may not be using a precision brush, but he still turns out a masterpiece.
While Busch's Trucks and Nationwide numbers may be inflated because he isn't competing against the likes of Johnson, Jeff Gordon and others in those two divisions on a regular basis, the numbers remain legitimate. In Nationwide , Busch takes on some of NASCAR's potential up-and-coming stars such as Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Justin Algaier, but he also has to battle fellow Cup interlopers Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and, on occasion, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. Former Cup winner Elliott Sadler is also a full-time Nationwide Series driver after leaving the Cup Series last season to drive for Kevin Harvick, Inc.
The Trucks Series has some solid competition, but for the most part it's a collection of young racers such as Austin Dillon and former Cup drivers who are no longer able to get full-time rides in that series, such as reigning series champion Todd Bodine.
Busch is just two wins behind Mark Martin's 49 victories for the all-time lead in the Nationwide Series. He is young enough to continue his weekly triple-headers for years to come, meaning he could easily top 100 victories in Nationwide before his career is over. Combined, Busch has won 93 races in 529 starts across all three series, which means he wins more than 17 percent of the time.
If Busch continues this pace, he will accumulate 200 NASCAR victories across all three divisions by the time he turns 30. He needs to pick up his pace in the Cup Series, although at the Easter break he was in sixth in the standings, 38 behind leader Carl Edwards.
After Busch's victory at Bristol earlier this year, I asked him if racing savvy rather than displaying his brute aggression would be the final ingredient to making a determined run at the Cup title. Busch agreed that even with NASCAR's new points system, top-5 and top-10 finishes remain the keys to a solid championship run.
But it's obvious that Busch is the true definition of a "Racer's Racer." He'll race anything, any time and chances are he is either going to win or you will be chasing after him in the final laps. Imagine how big Busch would be if he could up his numbers in Cup to those in Trucks and Nationwide? That would be beating the best in the sport on a consistent basis, just as he does in Trucks and Nationwide.
If he could do that in Cup, there would be no debate about his incredible racing talent.