The Frontstretch: Busch's 75th Win Is Just a Number-And Not a Particularly Meaningful One by Amy Henderson -- Friday August 6, 2010

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Busch's 75th Win Is Just a Number-And Not a Particularly Meaningful One

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday August 6, 2010


Last weekend marked a noteworthy event in NASCAR. On Saturday, in Iowa, Kyle Busch, the ultra-talented 25-year-old from Las Vegas, took home his 75th victory in NASCAR’s three national touring divisions. (The win is actually Busch’s 76th NASCAR win; he has one win in the K&N Pro Series, a regional development series). Busch has 18 Sprint Cup wins, 18 Camping World Truck Series wins, and 39 Nationwide Series victories, a mark good for second-place on the all-time wins list for that series. That’s a lot of hardware.

Color me less than impressed.

It’s not that I’m not impressed with Busch’s talent-that’s pretty hard to ignore. There aren’t many drivers in Sprint Cup, let alone the other two series, who can touch him on raw talent, and the ones that do have a patch on their uniform identifying them as Cup champions. Heck, there are a couple wearing that patch who don’t have his kind of natural ability.

I read a column by former Cup crew chief and current commentator Larry McReynolds this week, and Larry Mac wondered if Busch could reach 200 wins, alluding to the mark set by Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty. Mathematically, it’s an outside possibility. Busch’s first NASCAR wins came in 2004, putting the 75 within just seven seasons to date. That’s just under 11 wins per year. At this same pace, Busch would reach 200 wins at the age of 38, certainly not ancient by NASCAR standards, where it’s not unheard-of for a driver to win at 50. So, yes, it’s an outside possibility-if Busch can keep up the same grueling schedule for another 13 years. That’s a hugely tall order.

Judging by the fan comments to Larry Mac’s piece, many fans aren’t nearly as impressed by the numbers as Larry Mac was-and neither am I. First of all, all of Richard Petty’s 200 wins came at NASCAR’s top division (now Sprint Cup). Sure, the series was different in those years, but the competition was stiff and the schedule was longer. In 1964, Petty raced 61 of 62 events-that’s the length of the entire Sprint Cup and Truck series combined these days-all at the Cup level. Petty won nine times that year, far from his best years, but won the championship. Petty only raced 15 times in another national touring series, the now defunct convertible series. Add in his 1959 win, and his NASCAR total is 201.

Richard Petty’s 200 all-time Cup wins made him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, but all Kyle Busch’s numbers prove is that he can beat the little guy.

On the other hand, the majority of Busch’s wins have come in the Nationwide and Truck series, which are series in which most regulars are either up-and-comers who have not yet made their mark on the Sprint Cup scene, or veterans who call those series home. In the Nationwide Series especially, many of the veterans are running for small-budget teams. It’s relatively easy for a Cup Series driver-especially one with wins at that level-to come in and win. Case in point: through 21 Nationwide races this year, 20 have been won by Cup drivers in superior equipment to most of the series regulars’ stuff. The Camping World Truck Series has seen six Cup regulars in victory lane in 13 races this season.

All of which makes it hard to be impressed by Busch’s numbers. Sure, it takes a combination of equipment and driver to win. That’s been true since the beginning of racing. But the mark of a great driver vs. just a good one is this: A good driver can take a fifth-place car and finish fifth in it, but a great one can take a fifth-place car and find a way to win in it. And for the vast majority of his Nationwide wins, Busch simply hasn’t had to do that. He’s had a winning car almost every week, and he should be winning in them.

That’s the heart of the issue for most of the Cup guys in Nationwide of late-sure they’re winning-in cars that should be winning with a driver of their caliber. In essence, they’re doing what they should. They aren’t exceeding expectations or overcoming any kind of adversity. It’s simply a matter of good drivers in the best equipment, not of some extraordinary gift.

Which is why, in the Cup Series, where there are more cars that should be winning races, winning is that much more impressive, and why it’s that much harder. There is a reason that out of all of the drivers in the history of the series, only a dozen have reached the 50 win mark. In Sprint Cup today, of the 45 or so who show up each week, there are only two with 50 wins under their belts. It’s not coincidental that both have multiple series championships. In fact, of the dozen drivers with 50 or more wins, only one (Junior Johnson, who never ran a complete season) doesn’t have a title. The remaining 11 account for 38 championship titles-more than half of all the championships won in series history. Nine of the 12 have two or more. Those are the greatest drivers in the sport. To date, Kyle Busch is 32 wins short.

Busch is capable of 50 Cup wins. But his excessive racing in other series has often called question to his focus and dedication to his Cup effort. It’s interesting to note that though a few of them may dabble in a few Nationwide races a year, not one past or current active Cup champion runs close to the entire Nationwide Schedule.

Reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson hasn’t run in the series since 2008. The most Nationwide races Johnson has run in a year since going to Cup full time is just eight, and he’s raced in that series 19 times as a Cup regular. Busch, in comparison, ran the entire 35-race NNS schedule last year, and since becoming a full-time Cup driver in 2005, Busch has raced 149 times in Nationwide and another 69 times in trucks. Altogether, that’s more than his career Cup race total.

That can’t be good for Busch’s Cup numbers. The wear and tear of the travel aside, the schedule sometimes means racing on two completely different tracks in a single week-and no matter how good you are, that has to take away focus from at least one, if not both, of those tracks. And when that’s happening multiple times, the Cup numbers suffer. Busch’s Cup numbers are certainly respectable-18 wins in five and a half seasons-but Busch falls short of those who he would join as the sport’s greats.

In his first 207 starts, Richard Petty had 25 wins to Busch’s 18. David Pearson, whose 105 Cup wins are second all time, had 28 through the same number of races. If Busch would like to be compared to the winningest active Cup drivers at the beginnings of their careers, he still falls far short of both Jeff Gordon (33 wins through 207 starts) and Jimmie Johnson (27 wins in that time frame).

Busch could be one of the greats in the sport, no question. But his lack of focus on the Cup Series is, so far, keeping that from happening. And his prowess in the Nationwide and Truck series is, to an extent, bought with better racecars.

New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez also had a career milestone this week-his 600th home run. That number in the past has all but guaranteed players entrance to the Hall of Fame. It puts Rodriguez seventh all time. The number he reached this week is somewhat tainted by allegations of steroid use. Busch’s milestone isn’t marred by performance enhancing drugs, but it is similarly tainted. A baseball player’s home run tally only counts his performance in the majors. Minor league stats simply don’t count once a player reaches the big time. That’s true in other major sports as well-Wayne Gretzky’s goal tally would be higher if you add on his junior league numbers. Emmitt Smith’s rushing yards at Florida aren’t counted in his NFL totals. Hank Aaron and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar don’t have anything to pad their home run and scoring totals. And Richard Petty’s 200-win mark doesn’t include development series.

Strip it all down to the numbers that really count in an athlete’s career, and Kyle Busch’s are respectable. They aren’t spectacular (though I suspect they could be much better had Busch concentrated on the Cup Series), and they’re a far cry from the greatest ever. Some might call 75 wins across three series a great accomplishment, but I just don’t see it.

If Busch chose to make a career of the Nationwide Series, his 39 wins would mean a heck of a lot more-but that’s not the case. If the 75 wins were at the Cup level-and that’s a stretch for Busch at this point-he’d be a certain Hall of Famer. Instead, he’s an ultra-talented Cup driver who, for whatever reason, feels like he needs to prove himself in a lower series when he isn’t getting it done at the Cup level. By doing that, he’s insulting the intelligence of fans-and he’s selling himself short. The win total rings hollow.

Kyle Busch could have put himself on pace to win 75 Cup races in his career. He also could have chosen to be one of the best Nationwide or Truck Series drivers ever, had he played it straight. Not only has he jeopardized his career Cup numbers, but he’s damaged his reputation and integrity in the process. Many race fans aren’t impressed with his method of padding his statistics. He may have 75 wins, but by virtue of taking so many of them from less experienced drivers and those with far inferior equipment, he doesn’t come across like much of a winner at all.

Contact Amy Henderson

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
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08/06/2010 06:50 AM

Since when did they start counting every win a driver has in every Nascar series as their ‘win total’? If you took every driver who ever raced in Trucks, Bus…eh, Nationwide, and Cup series and totalled their wins, it would make some impressive numbers for many of them…like, say, Mark Martin? To me it’s just another way of inflating stats to make things sound more impressive than they really are. Like how many passes are made at scoring loops when the only ones that really count are for the lead, or how many cars finish on the lead lap since the Lucky Dog and wave around rule. I don’t deny KB’s talent, but trying to skew the stats so they can pretend he’s the next ‘King’ is just another example of Nascar trying to fudge the numbers.

Bill B
08/06/2010 07:11 AM

What a crock. Who cares that Busch can go down into a lower series and whup on the wanna-bees. He must really need to fuel that ego of his.

Ghost of Curtis Turner
08/06/2010 07:49 AM

Amy, ….Damn Girl Right On!!!!
Who cares about Busch’s total wins. When you the big fish in a the little pond or the biggest bully on the grade school ground, of course your able to beat up the 3rd graders.
If you show up at a race track each week with the most money behind you ,the biggest sponsors, plus the biggest engineering budget sure your going to win.
Plus it also helps when your one of King Brians favorite boy toys. Wouldn’t you love to know what kind of pictures Kyle has of BF????
3 weeks in a row of good articles, keep up the good work.

08/06/2010 08:11 AM

I’m sorry, but I don’t think the Nationwide series wins, as a whole, are meaningful. In it’s present form, the cup drivers have such superior equipment that when a “regular” in the series wins a race, it’s a miracle. Sure a few cup drivers ran in the series in the past, but they didn’t dominate the series. Same with the truck series. Money talk.

08/06/2010 09:36 AM

This column was really only about defending the records of Johnson and Gordon . A pretty typical theme in your columns . I noticed you accidentally left out out Dale Earnhardts win total in his first 207 ( why 207 ? ) starts . Probably just an oversight .
A driver moves up to Cup racing by demonstrating the ability to win in lower classes . The overall win record is far from unimportant . Unless of course it can be manipulated to try to prove that your driver is the best ever .
Kyle is obviously a much bigger talent than Johnson or Gordon . In equal equipment he would far surpass either of them .
McReynolds is not the only NASCAR “ expert “ that feels that way about Kyles record . And since he is a far better judge of driving talent than you or i , i’d have to go with his expertise over yours .

08/06/2010 09:45 AM

Amy, I think you’re starting to get it.

08/06/2010 09:49 AM

Excellent and well-written article, Amy. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a downright shame that NA$CAR has to create “News” stories like this crock. Anyone tempted to compare NA$CAR to the stick’n‘ball sports (are you listening, Brain Farce?) doesn’t have to look very far to see that the comparison is apples to oranges (or maybe pomegranates). I’ll go you one better: Not only do the other sports stars not include their stats from the minor leagues, but none of them, NONE OF THEM, competed in those minor leagues AT THE SAME TIME as competing in the majors! How impressed do you think the fans would have been if Hank Aaron had played in AAA ball at the same time as the Braves just to get more HR stats? I dare say he would definitely not be revered as the great player he is if that had been the case. So go tell LarryMac to give up on this particular shill and ask Brain Farce for another worthless soundbite to inflate. Oh, one more thing: Isn’t it funny how an article like this one brings out all of those PeeWee Herman (Oops, sorry: Kyle Busch) fans and the Gordon/Johnson haters to tell you what your REAL reason for writing the article was? Keep up the good work, Amy

Don Mei
08/06/2010 10:08 AM

Larry Mac is truly completely out of touch with fan attitudes. Why dont we count ARCA wins too?

Bill B
08/06/2010 10:10 AM

sounds like you are doing the same thing in your comment that you are accusing Amy of; trying to bolster your driver Kyle’s significance to the sport and how great he is.

08/06/2010 10:46 AM

Looks like I’m by myself on this, as I am a Kyle Busch fan. I do not know if he could reach 200 wins in the “big three”, probably not with the changes coming to the nationwide series. But he would need at least 100 more wins to start to make this a legit conversation, with 30+ in the cup series.

I will agree with some of Amy’s comment’s along with some of the previous poster’s.
When you show up with the most money and best sponsers you will win, THAT WAS RICHARD PETTY alot of the time in the 60’s and 70’s, most money and best sponser. I have also read many accounts from drivers and crews from that time and the drivers got together and agreed on what races they would race at and what races the other drivers would races at(kind of stacking the deck when some of your competition stays home), you also need to go back and look at alot of the races from this time they were more in line with the Busch and Truck series in length then the Cup series (less then 300 laps on short tracks), with only about 10 drivers who may have had a chance at the win.

If I remeber correctly one reason the points were changed in the early 70’s to make all races equal was because some drivers only raced the big money races, (Not Richard he raced all he could make) kind of like Kyle who loves to race.

Yes I know MOST will disagree with my comments. I believe you need to take your rose colored glasses off and read up on the history of racing and see that alot of what you say is wrong with Cup drivers in Busch series was The King back in the 60’s & 70’s most money and best sponser.

08/06/2010 11:20 AM

wcfan is right on the money . The Richard Petty stats have always been a little mis-leading . When Richard started out , NASCAR often had 2 or even 3 sanctioned races on a given night within towing distance . Lee Petty always insisted that they scour the entries for each event and then go to the least well attended one . Makes sense . If most of the heavy hitters are going to one particular race , and each race pays roughly the same prize money and exactly the same points , well…its a no brainer . And Richard had the inside track on ALL parts and developments from MOPAR . He always got the best parts , usually long before they were available to the other MOPAR teams . Thats not to diminish Richards’ accomplishments , winning 200 times in any sport is damned impressive .
In fact , i’ve always believed that David Pearsons’ stats were much more impressive . For a large chunk of his career David only ran a limited schedule , so 105 wins is pretty impressive .
As to being a Kyle fan , yes i am as far as appreciating driving ability . But i’m a solid Tony Stewart fan .

Carl D.
08/06/2010 11:28 AM

Kyle Busch is the poster boy for whats wrong with the Nationwide series. I know that these guys are racers and they want to race as often as possible, but watching Busch and Edwards race in the NNS is like watching NFL linebackers tackle little league football players. It’s ugly.

I’m okay with a small, rotating group of Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide series to help developing drivers learn how to get around the tracks. However, what Busch, Edwards, and a few other cup drivers do is nothing more than feeding their egos at the expense of the true NNS teams.

08/06/2010 11:42 AM

I didn’t realize Busch getting 75 wins across three series was a story. Is anyone other than ESPN reporting this? Or is it just that network trying to hype the NNS which, I’m guessing, is not their most popular programming right now?

08/06/2010 12:49 PM

I have said for years that the Busch and Truck series need to have more companion events with each other and less with the Cup series. If you go back and look there have ALWAYS been Cup drivers in the lower series at these companion events, don’t remember this outrage when Mark Martin was winning the Busch races (Best car, Best sponsers , Most money) but now that Busch, Edwards and Harvick are winning we have a problem. I will agree the Busch series has MAJOR PROBLEMS and the Cup drivers are part of this problem. But a Bigger part is the LOW PURSES start up teams can not afford to enter and build the cars they need to be competitve,(when a start and park can make more money then a driver that runs ALL DAY and (finishes in the top 20) has to pay the crew and risk the car, YOU HAVE A MAJOR PROBLEM. When you have only 8-10 teams with any chance at the win, this is not a Cup driver “Buschwacking” only problem.

Lets go to Iowa, Irvindale, Nashville Fairgrounds, Myrtle Beach, and South Boston just to name a few. And watch this series take off again. These tracks have PLENTY of seats for the measly crowds that have been supporting this series the last couple of years.

08/06/2010 01:04 PM

Amy, if that were Dale Jr. getting his 75th win, you’d be ecstatic about it, and proclaiming Junior the best ever. (Come to think of it, you DO think he’s the best ever.) I am sure it is a requirement of getting a blog or column or whatever the heck this is, on Frontstretch, that you hate Kyle and announce that fact every week or so. I am not a huge fan of Cup drivers slumming it in the lower series, but your beloved Mark Martin did it for most of his career. My point is not whether 75 wins is meaningful, but whether media and Kyle-haters would think differently if it were another driver accomplishing it.

Kyle is the probably the most talented driver in NASCAR. He is not the company man that Gordon or Johnson are. He annoys the heck out of people. For all these reasons, he is NASCAR’s most valuable commodity right now.

And wcfan and Martin are both right. Petty’s 200 victories were also just a number, and not as meaningful a number as David Pearson’s 105.

Carl D.
08/06/2010 01:13 PM

To be fair, I didn’t like it when Mark Martin raced the #60 in so many Busch series races back in his heyday. There just wasn’t a vast internet forum where fans could make their opinions known back then.

I agree that money is the biggest problem facing startup teams and NNS teams in in general, but when the Cup guys win the purse money for the top five or six finishing postions race after race, that leaves even less for the teams that truly need the money.

08/06/2010 01:49 PM

I don’t believe you and me are that far apart in our nascar believes, but if we took out the Cup drivers and moved the rest up 6-8 places that would still not fix the Problems in the Busch and Truck series.

The money is not in the series to travel across the country 4 or 5 times for the $15,000 to $60,000 purse, it takes BIG MONEY to do that and this series is not a good investment for the sponsers without Cup drivers. I believe if the Cup drivers left so would alot of the money, until nascar takes these series back to the basics, the small tracks with less traveling.

08/06/2010 01:56 PM

I lost alot of respect for “The King” after hearing David Pearson say one of the best complements he ever recieved was from Richard Petty who said (That if Pearson had raced full time Earnhardt would never have won 7 championship’s) I believe Pearson raced more against Petty in his prime then Earnhardt and if anyone would have lost championship’s it would have been “The King”

Carl D.
08/06/2010 03:20 PM

wcfan… You make a very good point. Not much return on investment for current NNS teams and sponsors.

08/06/2010 05:16 PM

First off, I thought this was a well written and well thought out article.

In regards to some comments: It’s true that eliminating the Cup drivers would not suddenly solve the problem, but the Cup drivers are the reason the other teams are failing in the first place.

The Cup teams already have the money, resources, and technology far above a standard Nationwide team, and when they take all the sponsors it only widens the gap.

I understand about competition and letting the best team and drivers win, but these Cup teams came in with the decks stacked way, way in their favor. I don’t see how a Nationwide team with 9 employees, limited funds, and an inexperienced driver is supposed to compete with a Cup driver driving for a Cup team with 400 employees and engineers, and the best technology their $100 million combined budget can buy. With these factors, it’s beyond a top level athlete playing in the minor leagues just for the fun of it. It’s more like having an NFL team play against a high school football team.

I think every one else has pretty much said all that needs to be said, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m participating in a Karate Tournament tonight. Sure, I’m a black belt and yes, I am fighting individuals in beginner Karate class for children, but what else am I gonna do on a Friday night??

08/06/2010 09:03 PM

For those who asked-207 is the number of starts Kyle Busch currently has in the Cup Series, so I couldn’t compare entire careers as it wouldn’t be fair.

Also, I left Earnhardt off the list only because I didn’t want to overrun readers with stats, so I went with the four drivers most relevant to this discussion-Petty and Pearson as they are the two winningest Cup drivers of all time, and the ones Larry Mac was talking of Busch “eclipsing.” I chose Gordon and Johnson as they are the winningest active drivers and Busch’s peers and therefore relevant for comparison.

Finally, while I don’t love that Mark Martin got his Nationwide wins as a Cup driver, he at least wasn’t also running for the series championship-and in the days when he was winning, while the Cup guys still won a rather pathetic number of races, the real NNS guys still got their share. Not so anymore. For the record, Jack Ingram’s 31 wins are the most for a real Nationwide driver who was not a Cup regular. Ingram was never a full time Cup driver, for that matter. I fing his 31 wins much more impressive than any Cup driver’s in that series.

08/06/2010 09:32 PM

Thank you for answering the 207 question. I did not ask, but figured you had a reason behind it.

While I agree the Cup drivers are winning to many of the Busch races (I’m a Rowdy fan), I do not see alot of talent in the series (maybe 4-5 future Cup drivers) and alot of recycled mid pack drivers, who are also taking rides away from up and coming drivers.

08/06/2010 11:39 PM

@Susan- Finally, someone besides me sees that KB is the most talented driver out there today. Name one driver that is more fun to watch.

Stephen HOOD
08/07/2010 08:47 AM

I think the article hits on a problem for KB’s career which is his talent is not matched by wins in the series that counts, Sprint Cup. Jimmy Johnson has won 16.6% of his races in Sprint Cup. Kyle has won 8% of his races in Sprint Cup. Petty won 16.9% of his races in NASCAR’s top series. Jeff Gordon has won 13% of his races in Cup. Earnhardt won 11.2% of his races. Even when you take Kyle’s 75 wins across his 473 starts in all three series, his winning percentage of 15.8% is still less than Johnson’s Cup series winning percentage. Kyle needs a title and to move his move his Sprint Cup winning percentage into the double digits to match his contemporaries.

Until KB has a Sprint Cup winning percentage like Johnson or Petty, I don’t see how you can make an argument that KB is the best driver in Sprint Cup. Yes, he’s exciting. Yes, he is talented. But, he needs to win in Sprint Cup. He needs a title in Sprint Cup. He needs to stand up and tell Jimmy Johnson, “I’m coming after you.”

18 wins puts Kyle in a league with Junior and Kenseth and Biffle. If he wants to get in a league with Johnson and Gordon, he needs to start winning like Johnson and the young Jeff Gordon.

08/07/2010 11:59 AM

I also hate how everyone is making a big deal about Kyle Busch’s numbers in all three series. Get back to me when he wins 200 CUP races. The Truck series has only been around since 1995, so ya i guess there is a reason many other drivers haven’t put up big numbers in all three series. Plus when he has the equipment he has, plus those Toyota motors that seem to have about 5,000 more horsepower than anyone else, ya i guess it’s wasy to win all the time in the busch and truck series

08/07/2010 01:46 PM

Actually Kyle Busch is winning races that are longer in length than the races Richard Petty won, a large number of Richard Petty’s wins were in races that were 100 miles or less, talk about hollow numbers? K&N East+West races are longer than that. And Richard Petty only had to usually outrun one or two other competitors to know he had it in the bag, even in the Nationwide+Truck series, there are at least 6 to 8 serious challengers for the win. Since 2008 Kyle Busch has won over 25% of all races he has competed in, and for those who claim he is beating up on nobodies, he has the second most wins in the Cup series since 2008, I guess they are a bunch of nobodies too? Get real, the research for this lacks attention to detail, a Nationwide or Truck series win is far more impressive than a 200 lap, 50 mile win on a 1/4 mile track over a bunch of cars that were completely over matched by the quality of the Petty equipment.

08/07/2010 03:40 PM

So it’s settled then. A lot of Richard Petty’s wins were with superior equipment and inferior competitors and shorter races, therefore proving Kyle Busch is the greatest today, if not all time!!


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.