NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Is NASCAR Ready to Dethrone the King?

There has been considerable debate lately about wins: which ones should count toward the record books and which should not. At the center of it all is Kyle Busch, who scored his 91st NASCAR touring victory at Fontana and who has made it a personal goal to try to equal Richard Petty’s storied mark of 200. That pursuit ignites a certain controversy, especially as this march nears the halfway point of his stated goal at just 25 years old – making that pursuit more realistic than it ever has been.

But should all touring series wins be counted when looking at a driver’s career total?

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Kyle Busch continues racking up the victories in all forms of motorsports, from Cup to Nationwide to Trucks (coming just short of another on Saturday afternoon). But does going after that magical 200 number, set by the King, really count when it’s a combination of three different series?

I’m inclined to say no. Why? For the same reason we don’t count Babe Ruth’s minor league home runs when we talk about his career, but also for another, one that doesn’t take other sports into account: if touring series wins were as important in the scheme of NASCAR as Cup wins, Richie Evans would have been a first-round Hall of Fame inductee, and Kyle Busch would have a hell of a long way to go. Evans has 478 known wins in NASCAR’s Modified division, and by some accounts, more than that, as record keeping for the series was not always reliable. He also had nine championships, eight of those coming consecutively.

Take that, Kyle Busch.

There is a certain hypocrisy among the racing media on this subject. While touting Busch’s accomplishments, they overlook those of Evans who, if touring series victories really counted, would be the winningest driver in the history of the sport by more than double Petty’s total. On the other hand, if you want to discount Evans’ wins for being “only” in the Modified ranks, then Busch should be respected for his other accomplishments but the focus should be on his 20 Sprint Cup trophies.

So, which is it?

Nobody disputes Busch’s ability. Love him or despise him, the talent is real. That’s not, nor has it ever been the question. It’s a whole lot more complex than that in truth. How far are we willing to go? That’s the real question. If the new benchmark is going to be wins in any division, are we willing to let Evans supplant Petty as the King of NASCAR? Because if we’re going to talk about Busch possibly approaching Petty’s mark, then we must be willing to talk about Evans in the same sentence, and acknowledge that Busch will likely never come close to the all-time touring win total.

On the other hand, if we’re not willing to put Evans at the top of NASCAR’s pedestal, then we need to treat Busch the way others have been judged. 20 wins at his tender age are hardly a poor total; the majority of Cup racers never attain that number, and Busch is likely to at least double, and more likely to triple that number in his career. But right now, is Busch a better driver than Jeff Gordon? Than Jimmie Johnson? Than Dale Earnhardt? Because that’s what the numbers tell you. If touring series wins count, Busch has surpassed Gordon and Johnson and will likely surpass Earnhardt’s 99 sanctioned touring series wins before this year is out.

If touring series wins count, Richie Evans is more than twice the driver Richard Petty was – he is NASCAR’s winningest driver. And Evans, by the numbers, is more than twice as good as Richard Petty: 2.39 times as good, to be precise. Setting 478 as the benchmark makes the names NASCAR has long touted as the best pale in comparison – so are fans and the media really willing to take that leap and elevate Evans to the top of the heap? And what about Jerry Cook and his 342 Modified wins? Are fans and media ready to make Rome, New York (the hometown of both Evans and Cook, whose rivalry was legendary in its own right) the symbolic home of NASCAR legend instead of Randleman, North Carolina?

Are fans and media really ready to raise Kyle Busch (as well as others like Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick, who also have the bulk of their wins in series other than Cup) so high on the NASCAR pedestal? Because in order to do that and have it be legitimate, the entire face of NASCAR as we know it has to change – and are we really ready to end the reign of The King?

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