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On Wednesday (March 13), the latest group of NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees were revealed. And while he isn’t currently eligible, it got the gears turning about how Kyle Busch should be a first-year lock once he’s nominated.
Sure, Busch’s got an impressive 199 career NASCAR national touring series wins, which, for the record, can’t be compared — good or bad — to Richard Petty since there are many unique differences in how each got to that number, but think about just Busch’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series career on its own.
Consider for a moment that at just 33 years old, Busch boasts an impressive 53 career wins in 147 Truck Series starts. That’s a whopping 36 percent win record and it doesn’t even include the 116 top 10s and 95 top-five finishes. Those numbers alone are enough to put Busch in the Hall of Fame, despite never scoring a Truck Series championship. After all, he’s never run a full-time schedule in the series.
Busch made his first six starts in 2001 at the ripe young age of 16, piloting the No. 99 for the now-defunct Truck Series arm of Roush Racing. It was one of just three seasons he’s failed to find Victory Lane. The following year, NASCAR raised the minimum age to race from 16 to 18 and he was sidelined until 2004 when he made a single start at O’Reilly Raceway Park.
For the 2005 season, Busch began racing for Billy Ballew Motorsports and continued to do so through the conclusion of 2009. In that timeframe, he ran a total of 62 races and won 16 of them, including five straight during his final year with the team.
Fast forward to Busch’s record-setting 52nd career victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway a couple of weeks ago, and Ballew was there once again to celebrate with him.
Really awesome day🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/7tzmsEkmlp
— billy ballew (@billyballew) February 26, 2019
“To be able to go chase after records, that’s not what we’re here to do,” Busch said of hitting the all-time wins record. “We’re just here to go out there and compete and win and do what we can, and obviously everything that has tallied up over the years is getting us to this point.”
From 2010 forward, Busch has run trucks fielded by his team Kyle Busch Motorsports, a team former driver Noah Gragson once called a “household name.” Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Busch has won 37 of 78 starts behind the wheel of KBM equipment, nearly half of all of the races he’s run with his team.
But he’s racing in the minor leagues. He’s beating up on the kids with less experience and less money. Blah, blah, blah… it’s clear you don’t like Busch racing in the Truck Series.
Take out the driver and Busch’s contributions as an owner are just as impressive. From contractor complaints about payments to odd sponsorship situations (see: Justin Boston and Zloop), KBM was built from the ground up after purchasing equipment from the now-defunct Xpress Motorsports and has turned itself into a championship-winning organization.
“If we don’t win, there’s 60 people without jobs,” crew chief Rudy Fugle said after the record-breaking Atlanta win. “Even though he’s only running five races a year, he’s helping us do that. He’s keeping those people employed and their families fed. That’s super important.”
KBM made its debut in 2010 and faced a bit of a stumble with a contractor making claims the organization owed money, but when asked about it shortly after the allegations, Busch’s response was simply “actually, that got resolved… so, yeah, it’s been a challenge.”
A few years later, it was a sponsorship deal gone wrong with Boston and Zloop that ultimately ended in a lawsuit by KBM, alleging that a $650,000 payment toward a promised $3.2 million contract was missed.
But with the little bits of drama aside, KBM has brought several drivers through its ranks who have started working their way to NASCAR stardom: Erik Jones, William Byron, Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez, Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson. All of those household names are ones that came through KBM.
Need some ideas about this year? No problem. Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton, both of whom seem like they’re a good break away from visiting Victory Lane, are running for the organization this year.
And if the drivers that have come up through KBM aren’t enough, others on the track have talked about how much they can take away from racing against Busch.
Last season, Ben Rhodes, who engaged in a spirited battle with the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion at Kansas Speedway, said he learned a lot from the competition for the top spot.
“Racing with Kyle (Busch) for the lead was a dream come true,’ Rhodes said of the spirited battle. “It’s so cool to run with him like that because I’ve looked up to him my whole life. I was able to learn from him because like I said, he’s got more wins in XFINITY and Trucks than I have total stock car starts. It’s crazy that I was able to learn from such a guy.
“He played these games out there all night long, and I was finally able to pick up on them — because I choked on them several times [in 2017] — now I was able to play a couple of games on him. I guess if there were any positives in this, that was it, I learned.
“I started learning what he did in the second stage of the race,” Rhodes elaborated. “I pulled a couple games on him in the beginning, and I was able to swing past him on the outside. He learned from that and he played some games with me and made me go low. We battled and battled and battled him; we hung tough on the bottom, and by doing that, I learned from it and I was able to go into the third stage and make a clean pass because of that.
“Had he not done that, I don’t think I would have learned it and maybe not even have gotten past him. He is literally the best in the business at restarts, and this is probably the most restart sensitive restart track we go to all year.”
How about another driver? Robby Lyons spoke up after the Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway last season.
Unpopular opinion but I really like racing with @KyleBusch and learned a ton from being on track with him this weekend. Like needing to close up on the pace truck. 😅👊🏻 Look forward to having him back in the series and appreciate his commitment. 🤙🏻
— Robby Lyons (@RLRacing2) February 25, 2018
But what exactly did Lyons learn? He explained that too.
“How to arc it into Turn 3 better, how to hold the yellow line when running the bottom. Trying to keep his pace helped me figure out where our truck was off and what we needed to work on,” Lyons said.
Then, there was Brett Moffitt, who led 27 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year, fresh off his Atlanta win the race before.
“That’s fun racing with him [Kyle Busch] because he can drive,” Moffitt said. “Half of them can’t. It’s fun because I respect Kyle [Busch] a lot with everything he’s done. It’s fun to race door-to-door with him. People don’t like him coming and racing in the Truck Series, but I love it because being able to run with him there and learn off him is really good for my career and helps me out, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Meanwhile, many have argued that Busch could be just as effective as an owner without running the races. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, the best way to improve your equipment and your team’s setups is to put one of the best of the best behind the wheel.
“It’s my own team and I’d like to always get out there and have the opportunity to race with my own team,” Busch said last year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “Everybody thinks I just like to go out there and pad my stats and everything else. It’s not like that. It’s entirely to work with the people and try to educate the people.”
With all of that said, it’s very clear Busch has high expectations for those who compete for his organization.
“We debrief and go over film and look at things all the time,” Busch said when asked about what he would share with second-year KBM driver Gilliland about how he got to Atlanta’s Victory Lane. “I don’t know how many times last year we were in meetings and I was just yelling at them about let’s go. Our stuff is not that slow. You got to get up on top of the wheel and make it happen.
“We certainly have to work with [Todd] and continue to bring him up and get him filled in on what it takes to be fast at these places,” he continued. “We’ll hopefully be able to get him places because you know his career is on the line. You don’t get very many chances at this and I’m sure that we’ll hopefully be able to get him going better.
“He should have won two races last year, no question about it, but obviously it just didn’t happen. He’s got to show up this year and make it happen.”
At the end of the day, Busch ends up being a driver that fans seem to have a love/hate relationship with. There’s really no indifference or in between. Either they’re huge fans that follow his every move, regardless of what series he’s involved in, or they spend as much time as possible complaining about Busch racing in the lower series in as many different places as possible.
But the reality is that, regardless of whether you’re a fan or not, Busch should be a first-year lock for the Hall of Fame, even without his Xfinity and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series achievements.