Kyle Busch has achieved more as a NASCAR driver in the last five years than most drivers have in decades-long careers. Just shy of 24 years-old, the brash, sometimes cocky driver has 13 Sprint Cup victories at 13 different tracks, 22 Nationwide Series wins and 11 Camping World Truck Series trophies to his credit. He has qualified for the Chase three times and led the Cup Series with eight wins in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing last year. Accomplishments aside, most fans view Busch as an ungrateful, arrogant youngster who is solely concerned with his own success – and their opinions are displayed in the showering of boos that fall upon Busch during his victory celebrations and during every round of driver’s introductions. This reputation might have made owner Joe Gibbs, his son JD and others anxious as they prepared to place 18-year-old Joey Logano in the famed No. 20 Home Depot ride. Instead, both Busch and Logano seem to appreciate their newfound mentor-pupil role.
“He’s coming along a lot. He’s doing well, you know. It’s gonna take a little bit of time. It does for any young driver, especially him. He’s barely had time in the Nationwide Series, let alone driving this weird Cup car that we’ve got to drive. He will get better,” said Busch, when asked recently at Atlanta Motor Speedway about Logano’s progress in Cup Series in 2009.
Logano did not hesitate to pass accolades to both Busch and teammate Denny Hamlin, for the help the two lent him during his first race weekend in the No. 20 at Daytona back in February when he spoke to Frontstretch just over a week after the Great American Race.
“They’ve helped me out a ton. Especially to start… coming into Daytona, you don’t know what you want your car to do in the draft. Do you want your car to be tight? Do you want your car to be loose? You don’t know that until the race starts, really, where you’re going to be. It’s something that just takes time, takes laps. And having those guys help me out a lot, answer all those questions, it expedited my learning curve and will help me do better next time.”
Though the youngster has not posted the numbers that fans of the No. 20 are used to seeing, but Busch warns to not judge the Rookie of the Year contender too quickly.
“He did a good job [at Las Vegas Motor Speedway]. He finished 13th. I mean, that’s more than you can ask for in a guy. Instead of running 25th and struggling and not looking good, he ran top 15. He passed me and drove away at one point.”
Turning a bad or mediocre racecar into a contending ride is a practice that Busch employs in the Truck Series, where he is a threat to win in nearly every race he enters in Billy Ballew Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota Truck.
Busch has elevated the competitiveness of BBM, an operation that he has talked on and off again about possibly owning, despite the team not having the same resources as others they compete against. Busch says that his experience helps to bridge that gap.
“We don’t have a lot of research and development going on. Pretty much, what I have in my truck is what I know and what I have learned from the Nationwide cars and the old Cup cars. That’s where all our stuff has come from.”
He continues, explaining how his contributions translate into success for his companion team, the No. 15. “We do the same thing with the No. 15, but it’s how you drive that setup, that’s how you have to do it. With the track time I get, it [the speed from the No. 51 truck] is so much more than those guys.”
And that experience is something his teammate Shane Sieg grossly lacks. Though three years senior in age to Busch, Sieg has only 39 career Truck Series starts, dating back to 2003. The 26 year-old made 19 starts in 2004, started zero races in 2005 and 2006, and has made no more than nine in a season since. His three career Truck Series top 10s match Busch’s total so far in three 2009 races. Sieg’s chance to drive for Billy Ballew Motorsports has been arguably the biggest break of his racing career. Nevertheless, Sieg needs more than decent equipment to make his No. 15 truck run as well as the No. 51, according to Busch.
“Shane’s coming along. It’s hard. Anyone that ever gets into my trucks, they just can’t drive the way I drive them. It’s hard for those guys to find the same feel as me.”
Regardless of that fact, Busch says that he and his team still try to lend Sieg a helping hand.
“We help them out as much as we can. I try to talk to him as much as I can to try to bring him along. With limited testing, with no testing, as a matter of fact, there is just nowhere to go in the trucks. We have two hours of practice and that’s all we have. He gets just one set of tires during the whole practice session, so it’s not like you can go out there and teach him a lot.”
A mentor, a team builder, and one of the top performers in his profession – Busch is at the age where most are just graduating college and beginning their careers. Those people are being trained, while Kyle Busch is doing the training. Add the prospects of NASCAR team ownership to the equation and fans will have to begin noticing that this green, hot rod wielding upstart from Las Vegas is years ahead of many… and he may end up ahead of many in the record books as well.
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