Kyle Busch won his 52nd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday (March 10) in the Ticket Guardian 500 at ISM Raceway. While the win was significant because it already gets him locked into the playoffs quite early in the season, it was also his 199th career NASCAR victory across the three national touring series.
Naturally, that number is knocking on the door of Richard Petty’s landmark achievement of 200 wins and becomes natural fodder for discussion. Is Petty’s record that was once thought of as untouchable put into a different light with Busch achieving 200 wins before he is 35 years old, or is there hollow beating to that drum? This week’s 2-Headed Monster, Vito Pugliese and Mike Neff, dive in to discuss.
The Gold Standard Fit for a King
The Kyle Busch versus Richard Petty win total talk started some years ago when Busch hit the 100-win plateau. At the time, I thought it was a non-sequitur and a topic that was precipitously close to clickbait. After all, wouldn’t the logical progression at that point be to compare it to David Pearson’s 105 wins?
This was also at a time when there was an effort seemingly every couple of years to push a narrative of “The New Kyle” after a number of less-than-savory comments and incidents took place, and it looked like an attempt to help shift the discussion to something positive. Now, as he’s nearing 200 wins, it’s a perfectly legitimate discussion to have given the sheer number of victories he’s amassed in such a short amount of time.
That said, the discussion makes as much sense now as it did at 100 wins — it doesn’t. And I don’t foresee an iconic photo of Air Force One landing in the background as the No. 18 streaks during his 200th win anytime soon.
Going off the raw win total alone, let’s consider who Richard Petty had to compete against get to 200 wins: Pearson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Fred Lorenzen and Ned Jarrett — all essentially in their prime. Throw in other notables such as Bobby Isaac, Lee Roy Yarbrough and even Fireball Roberts for a couple of years, and you’ve pretty much compiled the NASCAR Hall of Fame and several books of legendary lives. Not trying to denigrate any accomplishments of Busch in the “new” modern era, but wins against Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter don’t really carry as much weight.
One of the arguments that comes up is, “Petty ran 60 races a year, three nights a week!” That’s a bit of a misnomer, as he only raced 60 races one season — 61 starts out of 62 possible in 1964 — with three 50+ seasons in ’62, ’63 and ’69. To balance those out, Petty only made 14 starts in 1965 during the Chrysler 426 Hemi boycott. The rest of his starts were all in the 40s or 30s depending on the season. The series only made 28-30 starts during the years he was racking up titles from 1972-1984, the year of his final win. Busch’s starts end up being in the 80s some years between the three series.
Some might question the competition level during Petty’s time as well, citing a disparity in funding or talent level. A different era to be sure with the wheelman also managing the day to day operations, driving the car to the track and being involved in the construction of the cars as well.
Yeah, there was probably a lot of junk Petty raced against, but take a stroll through the back half of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series field sometime. The bodies of some of the lower-funded teams have painted over duct tape as body work with the sides of the trucks looking like golf balls. When they go to some of the bigger tracks, they aren’t exactly at full throttle on the straights, in a desperate attempt to help get a few more miles out of a hand-me-down engine.
As much as things have changed, the reality of have’s and have not’s has remained constant in motorsports.
Funding? Sure, Richard Petty had Chrysler support for the most prolific period of his career, but he was also up against an outfit named Holman-Moody during this time. Beyond that, he was up against the likes of Wood Brothers Racing, Bud Moore Engineering, Junior Johnson & Associates, and DiGard Motorsports just to name a few.
Busch has had the unwavering support of Toyota and TRD for over a decade, during not only the Great Recession, but also significant contraction within the motorsports world as far as marketing dollars and, as a result of the bailouts, the level of manufacturer support that was provided to opposing teams.
So where do we go with this? It’s a fun discussion topic and a great way to needle your buddy if he’s a Busch fan or get him all worked up if his daily driver is a ’73 Dodge Charger, but they’re simply not comparable stats. It’s like trying to compare Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs to Peyton Manning’s 5,477 passing yards. They’re two completely different records and discussions — both notable and commanding respect, but aren’t really comparable. It’s also a little unfair to Kyle Busch, who has been put in a weird position when constantly asked to weigh in on something he hasn’t been pushing at all.
Given Busch’s age and what he has left to accomplish, the level of parity of competition today given the lack of unique engine providers and shared resources amongst teams, 200 wins is absolutely impressive and a stepping stone on the way to 250 and 300 wins total for sure.
Richard Petty accomplished his 200 in cars that were lacking aides that are considered common place today, like power steering, power brakes or window nets — the latter of which was the result of him nearly getting ejected from his ’70 Plymouth Roadrunner on Wide World of Sports after knocking down the inside wall at Darlington Raceway.
Having said that, The King’s 200-win mark is an untouchable record, one that will forever remain the gold standard of excellence and achievement in our sport, and one that really isn’t open to debate. –Vito Pugliese
Kyle vs. The King — It’s Really 2 Different Achievements
As my good friend Vito pointed out at the top of his section of this discussion, this debate was planted and fertilized nearly 100 wins ago by Kyle Busch as NASCAR was looking to anoint its next superstar of the sport. Kyle won his 100th race across the three national touring series and someone immediately whipped out a slide rule and ciphered that he just might actually get to 200 wins if he runs across all three national series for an extended period of time.
Well lo and behold, here we are, on the verge of that feat happening. And while 200 wins in any form of national touring auto racing is impressive, both of these are exceptionally impressive for completely different reasons.
There is no direct comparison of The King’s wins to Busch’s wins — let me repeat that for those of you who think this article is going to be about how they are the same. Richard Petty’s wins are all Cup wins and came predominantly in a time when competition levels were drastically different. Kyle Busch’s 200 wins come across three different series, although they all tour the entire country quite a bit more than the Cup Series did in the King’s days.
So, once again, there is no direct comparison of Busch’s wins compared to the King’s. That said, I argue that Kyle Busch’s 200 wins is a more impressive feat based on the level of competition in the modern world of NASCAR versus the fledgling days of NASCAR when Richard Petty won most of his races.
Busch runs in a period of time when the equipment is incredibly equal from the front of the field to the middle of the field. Depending on the race, that means somewhere from 15 to 20 vehicles. While there is still some disparity between those cars, there is little doubt that on any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday, a car that regularly finishes in the front half of the field could win a race with the circumstances lining up properly.
As a quick broad brush look at a simple statistic that could back this up, there were 43 trucks in 2018 that scored top five finishes. In the NASCAR XFINITY Series, there were 38 different cars that came home with a top-five finish last year. And in the Cup Series, there were 24 cars that ended up in the top five at the finish of at least one of the 36 races last year.
The point to that compilation of statistics is that it is contrary to the pre-modern era of NASCAR — 1971 and before when there was only the Cup series and they ran an average of 51 races a year — when the cars in the races were far from equal. In fact, the total number of cars capable of winning a race was lucky to be above five during any given race. In fact, if we look at 1964, the year that The King won his first title and they ran 62 races, the most in any Cup season, there were 52 drivers who finished a race in the top five.
That is just over the total top fives in the Trucks last season and that series only ran 23 races. 170 people competed in races in 1964, which means 118 of them didn’t have a single top-five run. In the Truck Series you had 113 trucks race which leaves 70 of them without a top five finish.
The other thing to consider is that, in the modern rules, having cars on the lead lap is a focus of the sanctioning body. When The King was running, lap down cars started to the inside and it was very difficult to get a lap back if you weren’t the first car a lap down. There were no wave arounds or lucky dogs. As a result, in 91 of Petty’s 200 wins, he was the only car on the lead lap. In over 160 of them, he was on the lead lap with one other car.
Busch routinely finishes race with double-digit cars on the lead lap. He also has had to start more races from further back than Petty did. In his 200 wins, Petty started outside the top 15 three times. THREE TIMES! He had a total of 10 starts in his 200 wins where he started in a double digit starting position — one time in his first 100 wins and four times before he got to 172 wins. Busch has started from the tail end of the field due to technical inspection infractions nearly a dozen times and gone on to win.
Busch has never raced less than 31 vehicles during a race that he’s won. Petty had 20 races where he competed against fewer than 20 cars.
When it is all said and done, 200 wins is an amazing accomplishment whether it was in the Cup Series during its formative years and on into the modern era or if it is in today’s national touring series where the equipment is so equal and the rules favor cars staying on the lead lap.
The curious thing about this debate is Busch is just now coming into his prime as a driver if you look at the history of most drivers in motorsports. There is a very real possibility that he’ll get to 100 Cup wins, 100 XFINITY wins and, should he get a wild hair and go back to run Trucks to claim a Truck title, 100 Truck wins. Due to the fact that it is mathematically all but impossible to win 200 Cup races anymore, 100 Cup wins and over 200 in the support series would truly be worth arguing about. –Mike Neff