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2-Headed Monster: Who Fared Better, Kyle Busch or Hendrick Motorsports?

It has been ten years since Hendrick Motorsports released Kyle Busch and signed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to replace him. Both HMS and Busch have seen a lot of success since the move, but who got the better of it?

Rowdy Unleashed

Busch is by far the winner of that deal. He made out like a gangbuster.

Busch has always been the type of guy who could win in anything he drives — he won four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races and almost won the NASCAR XFINITY Series title during his time with Hendrick. But the team seemed to be holding him back.

From the time HMS expanded to a multi-car team until this past off-season when the team reconfigured its operation, owner Rick Hendrick had his teams split into two different shops. As a result, two of the cars have had great success, while the third and fourth teams struggle. During Busch’s time there, all of the focus was on Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, as seen in the two championships and multiple-race wins from 2005-07.

Meanwhile, Busch and his fellow shop-mates, first Brian Vickers and then Casey Mears, were afterthoughts. Had HMS kept Busch, he would have won races every season and been a top 10 driver, but he would have continued to be a sidenote to Gordon and Johnson.

The entire trajectory of Busch’s career in NASCAR changed when he signed with Joe Gibbs Racing. He quickly surpassed Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin as not only the face of the team, but the leader for Toyota. Busch has become the winningest driver in JGR history, but he will forever be the driver who won Toyota its first race and first championship. He would’ve been just another number at HMS and Chevrolet.

Instead, when NASCAR fans think of Gibbs and Toyota, they think of Busch.

Busch has won 41 races and a MENCS championship since joining Gibbs. Meanwhile, those other two cars at HMS that weren’t the No. 24 and No. 48 have won a combined total of just 20 times.

When Busch joined Gibbs, not only did his performance surge, but his personality was unleashed. One of the keys to Busch’s success at Gibbs has been that the team and his sponsors typically let Rowdy be Rowdy; he can be himself there. Busch had already taken on the nickname “Rowdy” while he was at Hendrick, but after he joined JGR, he truly embraced it. Since then, he has become the ultimate villain that every story needs. Not too many drivers have fed off of a crowd’s boo chants quite like Busch. He’s shown anger and grumpiness when he loses and had displays of violence when he felt he was wronged.

Think how boring NASCAR would be without Busch. In an era where fans complained about how corporate all of the drivers sounded, Busch was real and did his own thing. I doubt Hendrick wouldn’t have let Busch be himself to that extent, and he never would’ve reached legendary status because of that.

Earnhardt told Jeff Gluck that Hendrick should’ve kept Busch and put Earnhardt in Mears’ car instead. Had that happened, then not only would Busch have been overshadowed by yet another Hendrick driver, but he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to become a NASCAR owner. When Earnhardt joined the team, a part of the deal was that HMS would pour resources into JR Motorsports.

There is no way that Hendrick would’ve supported Busch’s team as well.

Gibbs and Toyota have helped Busch a lot on the ownership side, and it’s likely that Kyle Busch Motorsports would never have come into existence without them. Now Busch has the premier team in the Camping World Truck Series, having won two of the past three championships. He even fielded an NXS entry for a few seasons, with his brother Kurt Busch winning in it.

KBM has transformed into one of the best driver development systems in NASCAR. Erik Jones, Darrell Wallace Jr., William Byron and Christopher Bell all made their names known with the team. So not only was Busch’s move to Gibbs beneficial for his own career, but for the careers of the future generation of NASCAR.

Fans love to hate Busch, but there is no denying he is one of the greatest drivers ever, and none of that would’ve been possible had Hendrick kept him. -Michael Massie

It’s all about the right people

Much has been made lately about the ten year anniversary of the “wreck heard round the world.” Regardless of what you thought of the contact between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr at Richmond in 2008, it had a huge impact on the public perception of Busch.

What many people are just now learning is that the two drivers were one decision away from being teammates. With Earnhardt making the move to Hendrick Motorsports for 2008, the limit of four cars per team meant that one of the drivers already at Hendrick had to go. Busch was shown the door and his success since has been phenomenal.

But was he the big winner in the move? No.

Rick Hendrick made the right decision.

That may sound ridiculous at first. But Hendrick had his reasons for letting Kyle go and they’re good ones.

First, the opportunity was there to bring aboard the most popular driver in NASCAR. Nearly any driver is going to be expendable with that possibility. The attention that Hendrick Motorsports gained from adding Earnhardt was nearly immeasurable.

On paper, it seemed to be a NASCAR Dream Team. Johnson, the winning machine, with a legend like Gordon, and then add in the man of the people. No race team owner would turn that down even if they had a crystal ball that told them to.

There is something important to race teams that popular drivers seem to have more of: sponsors. The lifeline of every race team is much easier to attract with a household name. Even a sponsor-loaded organization such as HMS can’t overlook that type of upside. Busch hadn’t exactly impressed primary sponsor Kellogg’s with his antics during his three seasons driving the No. 5 Chevrolet. Busch putting a strain on a relationship that had been in place for over a decade was probably not worth the pitfalls.

There was also the possibility of retaining Busch and letting go of Casey Mears. But Mears had just joined the team in 2007, not to mention he broke through for his first career win in 2007 and it was largely thought of as the first of many wins to come. Busch and Mears’ careers aren’t even remotely close in terms of their success, but in 2007, it was a bit less obvious.

Mears had one win while Busch had four. However, Mears was thought to be on the verge of breaking out as a title contender. It simply never happened.

Additionally, Busch didn’t really fit in at Hendrick Motorsports. He was brash, brutally candid, and rarely filtered his comments. He won the first race with NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow” and promptly blurted out during his Victory Lane TV interview that the car “sucks.” Not exactly thanking the sponsor or the guys at the shop, that’s for sure. He seemed to be constantly bickering with other drivers, even feuding with members of his own team.

It’s impossible to say whether or not Busch’s hot-headed manner would have caused additional friction had he remained at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that his temper may have ended being a huge distraction, especially in the politically correct buildings lining Papa Joe Hendrick Boulevard. But that is all pure speculation. What is rooted in fact is that Rick Hendrick is a firm believer in the importance of putting the right people in the right place. Someone like that isn’t going to just leave a negative voice in place if he feels that it’s going to poison the well.

There may be a multitude of victory banners in the rafters at Joe Gibbs Racing with Busch’s name on them. But when Rick Hendrick watches Earnhardt, Gordon and Johnson interact with each other like they’ve been friends for life, he probably feels like he made the best decision for his team.

Which he most certainly did. – Frank Velat

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Jer

Being shown the door at HMS was the best thing to happen to Kyle Bush. Hendrick saw a cash cow in Junior he could not passup. Plus Bush was a pain in the butt that Hendrick didn’t want and didn’t know how to deal with. Joe Gibbs thanks to his NFL days had dealt with young egotistical football players successfully by winning multiple Superbowls.

richard

I would rather have Kyle Busch than three “most populars”. I don’t understand all the love for “most popular”. Bumps his head and has everyone feeling sorry for him. Definitely not hall of fame material but will get voted in because of his “daddy”. “most popular” kisses more butt than anybody except maybe Bill Elliott who buttsucked Hendrick to get his boy a ride.

SmarterThanYo

Don’t worry Richard. Bill knows now he made a mistake kissing Rick’s butt. And when Chase leaves the “Black Hole of Futility” to run with SHR or another team that knows how to win, he may blossom just like Kyle did with JGR.

And nowadays, anybody who ever won a race gets into the HOF, so Junior would probably get there even without his MPD awards on the basis of his success with DEI before the witch took over.

John

Right or wrong, Busch did not fit in with the Hendrick culture. If I remember correctly, Mr. H said that Busch would never win a championship because he could never keep his cool for the entire season. Until Busch got married, that was true. Marriage seems to have brought him additional focus. Personally, I would not have let him go…not for Earnhardt or Mears, but just like Mr. Gibbs, both believe in having the right people in the right jobs. It doesn’t mean the people are bad, but if they don’t fit in, you need to change the people. I’d say he did everyone a favor by letting Kyle go…including Kyle. The biggest problem with HMS today is the annual raiding of personnel and the complacency of high seniority members of the team back at the shop. That too, has been shaken up a bit. With money becoming tight, expect everyone to lose some expertise ‘back at the shop’ because there simply is not as much money flowing in.

Bill B

In the short run, HMS benefited. In the long run, JGR will benefit.
Basically, JGR absorbed the cost of dealing with the immature KB and now he has a less immature veteran to show for it.

SmarterThanYo

It was a situation that turned into a win on paper for both Busch and Hendrick. Rick got his cash-cow marketing machine and Busch got a team owner who didn’t require his drivers to be Stepford Wives and now has 41 post-HMS Cup wins, a championship and a sure entry to the Hall of Fame.

But…hiring Junior was probably the start of the demise of HMS. Hendrick picked well with Gordon and Johnson, but once he put popularity over driving ability, he lost the right to be called the premier team owner in NASCAR. JGR, Penske, and SHR run circles around HMS. And when Jimmie retires, Rick will have next to nothing. Meantime, Joe Gibbs has only the perennial problem of how to find rides for all of Kyle Busch’s protégés with Chris Bell and Ryan Preece in the pipeline. JRM has little to offer HMS because Junior is obsessed with giving has-been and never-weres like Sadler and Allgaier rides, instead of stockpiling youth with talent. Kyle Busch is not only JGR’s best driver, but he doubles as mentor and talent scout.

And Frank Velat, NASCAR is about winning, not creating bromances. The biggest winners in Rick’s decision were Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing. It took awhile for Hendrick to pay the price, but he is paying big time now.

rg72

Yes, yes, and yes.
This one is as close as the Coca Cola 600 where Truex Jr. led almost every lap.
One of the under the surface stories of the NASCAR decline is Junior’s performance (more precisely lack thereof) in the Hendrick fold. He had more winless seasons than seasons where he won a race. A lot of hangers-on expecting Dale Jr. to turn into Dale Sr. gradually jumped off the wagon as they could see it just wasn’t happening.

I don’t think Casey Mears thought Casey Mears was on the verge of being a title contender in 2007 or any other year for that matter.

Kyle Busch is in the business of winning races, not making friends for life.

Bill B

That’s what baffled me the most at the time. It made no sense to keep Mears and let Busch go. You just knew that once Kyle settled down and matured a bit that he was going to be highly successful. Whereas Mears never showed any promise of a championship level driver.

Echo

You nailed it my friend.

Echo

Nobody ever ever thought Mears was going to break out. But if Rick was really that stupid then Kyle was one super lucky guy. Kyle has 46 cup wins doesn’t he ! Thought I read he just passed Bill Elliott. Who are the fools who voted Truex into the 30th place on the 50 best all time drivers.

Echo

I meant smarterthanyo nailed it right on.

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