After 200 ~ Then What?
We’re almost there and I couldn’t be happier.
Like the endless political commercials we can’t avoid during the election season, the hyped and overhyped “Kyle Busch 200 Wins in the Top Three Touring Series Countdown” aka KB200WI4TSC publicity campaign has about gotten the better of me.
But it’s almost over.
Don’t get me wrong-It’s not that I don’t like Kyle Busch. Well, truthfully I’m not a big fan of his, but as a race fan I do appreciate what he can do in a race vehicle... most of the time-
It’s not that I don’t think this is a significant milestone in a tremendous racing career. It is. He set it as a personal goal, a very high goal and he is about to achieve it. For that, he deserves recognition. It’s a big deal.
But if I understand it correctly, initially it was his goal. Now others, many others have made it into this significant milestone in NASCAR. The fact that it was set at 200 automatically makes it into something else though and that’s what I have trouble with.
He is already being crowned as the winningest NASCAR driver. Speculation is he’ll easily surpass the 250 total win mark. Redefining the method of measurement is blurring established lines and making it into something that maybe it’s not. It may be great publicity but unifying the fan base it’s not.
Not sure anyone cares about that anymore.
I’ve been following racing for quite a while now and this is the first time I can recall, win totals from multiple series being totaled together for some new win total. Well, I take that back I have seen it somewhere else-Darrell Waltrip’s Wikipedia page where all his wins in every series at Nashville Speedway were combined to give him the title of the “winningest driver” on that track-
Kyle Busch is one heck of a driver-no doubt about it. He’s the winningest driver in the Truck series. He can wear that crown all he wants. Has the most wins in Xfinity series, too. He can wear that crown as well. He has earned them both.
I’m just not ready to put some mega crown for some redefined measurement of accomplishments on him just yet. But if folks really have to do things like that then while you’re at it, give him the winningest Cup Stage format race winner. Probably by the end of the season he’ll be first in wins in the new aero setup races.
But this KB200WI4TSC, I just don’t know.
Fans say, well you can’t compare Busch to Petty. Different times. Different rules. Different tracks. Different racing. Different competition levels. All true. Busch fans say that Truck and Xfinity series wins are comparative to Petty’s Cup wins, as the competition is better in those lower series. Might be, but if the same driver can crawl in a truck and win on average 1 in 3 starts, get in an Xfinity ride and win 1 in 4 then Cup should be pretty close. 1 win every 10 Cup starts is pretty impressive, but 10% isn’t 25% or 33%. Maybe the level of competition plays a factor.
But nothing that has been or is going to be written or said is going to stop this KB200WI4TSC train. Now, it’s not whether he is going to get his 200 combo wins but when and where will he get that one? This week at Fontana? Somewhere else down the road? To paraphrase Kyle, turn on the TV and watch the... race!
Personally, I hope he gets 200 and the sooner the better. Maybe the hype will settle down some and we can move on to something else.
Then comes the next question... What’s the next milestone for Kyle Busch? What does the media move onto?
Career Cup wins? I think we can all agree that Richard Petty’s 200 career Cup wins are out of the question unless Kyle competes at his current level while driving for as long as Hershel McGriff or Morgan Shepherd. I think that one is safe.
But this hype has started as career win comparisons have started between him and Jimmie Johnson.
Most wins in the “Modern Era”? That has started as well. That one makes Richard Petty less formidable but there are still some pretty heavy hitters ahead of him.
Surprisingly, no one is talking Cup Championships. 1 (or 2 depending if you are a purist or a modern day mashup-er) vs 3 drivers with 7 is a bit of a stretch at this point. If he rips off a string of five in a row (which with major competition nearing retirement plus the Gen-7 car is entirely possible) like Jimmie Johnson did them he’ll be in that discussion.
Winningest active driver? He is currently the second winningest active driver in Cup wins behind Jimmie Johnson. He has a decent gap between him and third, so if Jimmie retires first he will automatically inherit that title and keep it for probably as long as he drives. But once he steps out of the car that title will then fall on someone else.
So what’s next? How can he truly make his mark in Cup that will last after his career has ended?
Personally, I think the most objective way to evaluate a driver’s stature no matter their time, competition, rules, cars, race format, you name it is to look at where they rank in wins for the time period they were on the track. In other words, while they were on the track, during their “era” were they the winningest driver?
Sounds pretty fair to me. If a driver is truly great, they should be the one who hoisted the trophy up the most shouldn’t they?
Since the beginning of NASCAR there have been 2940 drivers start a Cup race. Out of all those drivers, only nine have achieved the distinction that while they were on the track, no other driver won more races.
For this evaluation, a driver’s “era’s” start year was the season they competed in 5 or more Cup races or got their first Cup win, whichever is earliest. Using that criteria, those nine drivers include-
Thomas 1949-1957 48 wins 2 Championships
Lee Petty 1949-1965 54 wins 3 Championships
Junior Johnson 1955-1966 50 wins
Ned Jarrett 1959-1966 50 wins 2 Championships
Richard Petty 1958-1992 200 wins 7 Championships
Darrell Waltrip 1972-2000 84 wins 3 Championships
Dale Earnhardt 1979-2001 76 wins 7 Championships
Jeff Gordon 1993-2016 93 wins 4 Championships
Jimmie Johnson 2001- ongoing 83 wins 7 Championships
That’s not very many drivers. An awful lot of top-notch drivers are not on that list. The Flocks, Joe Weatherly, Curtis Turner, Buck Baker got covered by Thomas and Lee Petty. David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and many other drivers, Hall of Fame drivers were engulfed in the Richard Petty era. Darrell, Dale and Jeff covered even more top drivers, just like Jimmie Johnson is doing to this day.
So where is Kyle?
Everyone by now knows that Kyle entered the Cup scene in 2004 and since that time has 52 Cup wins and one Championship. The ranking of active drivers in the Kyle Busch “era” includes-
Kyle Busch 52
Kevin Harvick 41
Denny Hamlin 32
Brad Keselowski 28
Kurt Busch 22
Joey Logano 22
Martin Truex, Jr 19
Clint Bowyer 10
Ryan Newman 9
So now during the Kyle Busch “era” (2004-on-going) Kyle still has some work to do if he is going to catch Jimmie to become the winningest driver in his “era.”. Can he win 20 more races than Jimmie between now and the end of his career? He’s still young and with the changes on the horizon there is no reason to believe he won’t continue winning. How long will it take all depends on if and at what rate Jimmie Johnson can find his way to Victory Lane again and if Kyle’s win rate going forward will be at the 2018 rate or the 2017 rate or somewhere in between. Of course, it all comes to an end if he were to pull a Carl Edwards and abruptly retire.
If Kyle does pass Jimmie’s totals can anyone surpass Kyle on his win totals before he retires and ends his “era”? As it currently stands, it will be tough unless someone catches fire and puts up some phenomenal numbers pretty quickly. Harvick, Kurt and Ryan are late in their careers and probably don’t have time to close their gaps. Things will have to turn significantly for Hamlin and Keselowski to overcome the significant gaps they face ahead. Joey appears to be young enough and on enough of a roll but it is doubtful that even he can catch Kyle before the end of the Kyle “era.” Joey is better poised to work his way to the top during the Joey “era” (2009-ongoing) where his 22 wins are just 18 behind Kyle, who has 40 wins and 21 wins behind Jimmie in that same time frame.
It will be interesting to watch. Of course from here on out every win will be added to the mashed up three series win total title. As he continues to climb the career Cup wins ladder we’ll be reminded of those names he passes-Lee Petty is just 2 wins ahead and Rusty Wallace 3. Then he’ll have to cross a 21 win gap to get to Dale Earnhardt. If he can he may also secure his spot as the winningest driver in his “era” to become only the tenth driver to hold the distinction of being the winningest driver while they were on the track.
Kyle Busch having the most wins in his “era” would be a mark that could never be taken away from him and unlike the current KB200WI4TSC is one that wouldn’t divide the fan base and diminish the accomplishments of others. Arguments and conflict may be good for the sport’s interest and increase internet clicks. But it would sure be nice to have something the bulk of us could come together in agreement on. Seeing Kyle Busch become the winningest driver during his “era” might just accomplish that.
Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?
It might be his greatest accomplishment ever.