At some point, Kyle Busch will thank Rick Hendrick for creating the monster that drives the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
There is nothing ordinary about Kyle Busch, and there never has been. There’s a different drummer in Busch’s brain. At driver introductions before Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch strode down the gangway to his own music, “Rowdy Busch,” a song written for him by Raytona500.
“Why can’t we all just be friends?” Busch asked the crowd with just the right amount of sass, and elicited a derisive chorus from the grandstand.
Afterward, he proceeded to spank all comers for the fifth straight time at the world’s fastest half-mile.
Busch, 25, is on pace this season to move into second place all time in victories across NASCAR’s three national series. Sunday’s victory was his 20th in the Sprint Cup Series, to go with 45 in Nationwide and 25 in the Camping World Truck Series.
With 90 aggregate wins, Busch is 16 behind David Pearson, who is second all-time with 106, all but one coming in the Cup series. Given that Busch has won at least 20 races in each of the past three seasons, second place is firmly in his sights.
So is the career lead in the Nationwide Series. It’s all but a certainty Busch will eclipse Mark Martin for that distinction by the end of the summer, if not before. Martin won March 5 at Las Vegas to extend his career record to 49 victories. Busch countered by notching his 45th win Saturday at Bristol.
Busch has collected the vast majority of his victories in all three series since leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the 2007 season – a move that was Hendrick’s choice, not Busch’s. In the three-plus years that followed, Busch has won 16 races in Cup, 34 in Nationwide and 19 in the truck series.
You could argue that those prodigious totals are part of a natural progression as Busch has grown older and more experienced, but it’s equally valid to say that being jettisoned by Hendrick in favor of Dale Earnhardt Jr. fostered a sharper focus and an “I’ll-show-him” mentality that has propelled Busch to a higher level of accomplishment.
There are those who would argue, too, that winning across all three series pales in comparison to the records of Richard Petty (200 Cup wins) and Pearson. On the other hand, winning in the Cup series is exponentially more difficult than it was four or five decades ago, given the current depth of field and constraints on equipment.
The Nationwide Series isn’t a picnic, either. A typical Nationwide race is populated with elite drivers and former champions, among them Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and, occasionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin.
Busch fields his own truck team in a series that has seen very little change in equipment during a period that has brought radical revisions to the cars used in Cup and Nationwide. Given the level of refinement in truck equipment, it’s fair to say that success in that series is in the hands of the drivers, and it’s no coincidence that Busch has accounted for nine of the 10 wins his organization has posted since its debut last year, despite accounting for just 18 of the team’s 35 starts.
Perhaps former Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson is right when he speculates that team ownership has mellowed Busch.
“You can see, especially now that he is a car owner, has sponsors to worry about, you can just tell in his interviews, the way he speaks,” Johnson said. “He’s very aware of series sponsor, track sponsor, his sponsors.
“We’ve also probably seen that same transformation with (Tony) Stewart over the years. Once you’re an owner – and I haven’t been in that role – you understand how fragile this environment and sport is. It certainly has matured him a lot.”
Outwardly, Busch has learned to accept defeat with grace, but without sacrificing the passion for competition and the desire to win.
That’s what makes him doubly dangerous.