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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thompson in Turn 5: Kyle Busch Back On Track to 200 Wins?

Kyle Busch’s guitar-smashing antics in victory lane following his NASCAR Nationwide Series win at Nashville Superspeedway seems to have captured the lion’s share of attention after a busy and newsworthy weekend of NASCAR racing. In fact, his questionable victory celebration overshadowed even the fact that the Federated Auto Parts 300 win was Busch’s 51st NASCAR victory – a number that has him now over a quarter of the way to his goal of 200 NASCAR wins.

In case you missed it, after his Nationwide and Sprint Cup series wins at Richmond International Raceway early last month, the younger of the two racing Busch brothers repeated that he has set a personal goal of 200 NASCAR career wins before it is time to hang up his helmet bag. The Saturday night Sprint Cup win was accomplished on his 24th birthday, making his 15 victories in that division the most for any driver under the age of 25 in the history of NASCAR. Since that win, there have been a few near misses that have evaporated due to a number of unforeseen difficulties when the race outcome had seemed a forgone conclusion. But Nashville put Busch back on the winning track – and perhaps right on course towards a lofty achievement.

The Las Vegas, Nevada native first spoke last year of his 200-win goal, and repeated it again last month when asked if he thought the goal was still be reached. “It could if I can keep this pace up,” he said. “But I know the older I get, I’ll start slowing down some way. You know, hopefully I can achieve that goal. It would be sure nice to get that. I know it’s not 200 Cup victories like Richard Petty has. It will still be a phenomenal mark for me.”

To be clear, the goal Busch has set for himself includes victories in all of NASCAR’s top-three divisions – Sprint, Nationwide and the Camping World Truck series. Of course, “King” Richard Petty scored his record 200 victories exclusively in what today is known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Not only is Busch the youngest driver to reach 15 victories in NASCAR’s elite division, but also is the youngest driver to have won a race in the series.

Now, it is doubtful that Busch has any idea at his young age just how much he will slow down as Father Time marches alongside him through his career. But if Busch truly has the desire and wherewithal to pursue his stated mission, he could accomplish it while there is still plenty of fuel in his tank. An average of 10 wins per year spread out among the three divisions would suffice to have him at the coveted 200-win mark before his 40th birthday. Even a less ambitious yearly winning average could still see Kyle at the 200 career wins total by his mid-40s.

In comparison, Petty posted some truly gaudy win totals in the ’60s and ’70s. Notable were the years of 1967 (27 wins), 1970 (18 wins) and 1971 (21 wins). Though Petty, who began his driving career when he was 21 years old, raced for 35 years, there were 13 of them in which he posted goose eggs in the win column and another seven years of three or less wins. So, the numbers suggest that Busch would not need to race into his mid-50s as Petty did to reach 200.

It is apparent from Kyle’s statement that he knows that such an accomplishment would not be viewed on par with Petty’s numbers simply because the wins were not all recorded in the Cup Series. However, given the competition level during Petty’s heyday and the tough competition faced in any of the three divisions of NASCAR today, there may be an argument that even with crossing over to the other series, Busch will all-and-all face as stiff, if not stiffer competition. Considering the number of well-funded, full-time Nationwide Series and large number of Cup drivers the compete in that series, it may be every bit equal to the type of field that Petty – with his heavily factory-supported team and one of the few nationally recognized sponsors on the circuit – competed against.

What is beyond debate is that today’s Cup racing is very, very different from the days when Petty was dusting the competition. Today there are at least 20 drivers that can win, largely due to the mega-team owners on any given race weekend. The parity in today’s Cup Series is a far cry from the day when drivers could skip events and still win championships.

Critics of Busch will point out that his equipment, especially since moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, has been top-notch as well. That is true, for Busch to pull off 200 wins he will need equipment capable of carrying him to victory lane. But he seems to always find what he needs to run up front – even outside of the mighty Gibbs garage. Included in his 21 wins last season were wins driving for Braun Racing and two different JGR entrants, the Nos. 18 and 20.

Also included in Busch’s 51 wins are 11 victories in the Camping World Truck Series – a rough and tumble division of former Cup drivers, longtime truck campaigners, and young developmental drivers. It’s a tough series to win in… but not for Busch. All of his success in the series has come behind the wheel of the No. 51 for Billy Ballew Motorsports – rarely a winning truck team except when Kyle makes one of his limited appearances.

Perhaps the key to whether Busch has the grit and desire to achieve his 200-win goal can best be found in his participation in that series. Busch drives the No. 51 Toyota for his friend Billy Ballew for no pay – just to compete and help out an owner that helped him early in his career. It’s that kind of commitment that he will need to make his dream a reality.

But I digress. Right now, it is a shame that Busch continues to become embroiled in superfluous and distracting activities such as he did last weekend. It isn’t necessary for him to gain fame and notoriety any other way than by doing what he does best… driving racecars.

Let’s not forget, the young man has set some lofty expectations that are, due to his phenomenal skills, very, very achievable. He can win, win, and win again; and if he doesn’t self-destruct one day, become the only driver besides Petty to have 200 NASCAR victories to his credit.

Would those 200 wins be as significant as The King’s? Maybe, maybe not – but that’s still a lot of wins against some pretty good racers.

And that’s my view from turn 5.