Sunday, July 17, 2011

What do Kyle Busch's 100 wins really mean?

One hundred.

If you have one hundred pennies, you have a dollar. In this day and age, a dollar isn't what it used to be. A hundred dollars? That's enough to take a family of four to the movies and get snacks. Or maybe -- maybe -- enough to buy a ticket to a NASCAR race near you and have enough left over for a T-shirt of your favorite driver.

One hundred years is a century. One hundred yards is a football field. Whenever a list of "the best of all time" is compiled, chances are it will be composed of 100 items, be they songs, movies, or racecar drivers.

When the definitive list of the all-time best NASCAR drivers is written, there is little doubt that Kyle Busch will be on it. He's proven he can win, any time, anywhere, in any type of racecar.

And he just reached his own "100" milestone: 100 career NASCAR national touring series wins. His 22 Cup wins, 49 Nationwide Series wins, and 29 Camping World Truck Series wins at just 26 years of age is indeed an impressive accomplishment.

But how impressive?

Does it put him in the same league as Richard Petty and David Pearson? Or even Bobby Allison, Cale Yarbourogh, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon? Afterall, he's publicly stated he'd like to reach 200 career NASCAR wins, a number heretofore reached only by one man: The King, Richard Petty.

The answer there, unfortunately for Busch's legacy, is not quite yet.

There's a real possibility that Busch will reach the 80 win plateau that so few before him have crested. But as of now, for the stat that matters, he's 178 wins behind Petty's total.

Sure, the bulk of Petty's wins came in the 1960s and into the 1970s, many on dusty dirt tracks and out of the way paved short tracks. Many were short races against short fields thin on any serious competition. But the fact of the matter is, even then, Petty's wins were in the top stock car series in the country. That still stands for something.

Busch has 22 wins, which is no small feat considering how hard it is to win just one race at the sport's highest level. But it's not quite time to put him in that elite group based on his prodigal win rate in the lower divisions.

If you're going to discredit many of Petty's wins due to the competition, or lack thereof, let's dissect Busch's 49 Nationwide wins. Who is the competition in that series? Sure, he has had to beat the likes of Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, and lately Brad Keselowski, but beyond that who is there? During the past five seasons, the Nationwide Series has had the competitive depth of many of those fields that Petty whipped up on prior to the start of the sport's modern era in 1972.

In his 29 Camping World Truck Series wins, the only Cup competition he's faced is from Harvick and Bowyer.

The bottom line is Busch is driving superior equipment in those series, his Nationwide cars are provided by a Cup team with virtually unlimited access to technology and a budget double, triple, or even more than that of most of the Nationwide Series regulars. While he owns his own Truck team, he still has unlimited access to Cup technology and it's no secret he's spending way more than most would consider prudent in that series.

Since Martin Truex won the Nationwide Series championship in 2005, the final time a non-Cup driver won the title, Harvick, Edwards, Bowyer, Busch, and Keselowski have all taken the glory in the NNS. Meanwhile over in the Cup Series, it's been all Jimmie Johnson. Five consecutive times Johnson has celebrated on stage and taken home the big trophy, and really the only trophy in NASCAR that anyone truly cares about.

Can Busch knock Johnson off his throne and lay claim to a Cup championship? History says no, at least until he quits chasing after wins in lower divisions.

A quick examination of the Nationwide Series all time win list offers further proof. Mark Martin (49), Busch (49), Harvick (37), Edwards (33), and Jeff Burton (27) make up five of the top six on that list and scored the majority of their wins in that division while also being a full-time Cup Series driver. Their collective Nationwide Series win total: 195. Their collective Cup championship total: zero.

Busch has the makings of a Cup champion. But can he pull it off while double- and sometimes triple-dipping? Odds are no. Why? Simple: in order to beat Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, you have to be better than Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Johnson concentrates on one thing, winning the Sprint Cup Series championship. Knaus can reach Johnson any time of day, in the car or out. Can Dave Rogers reach Busch? Sure, when he's not in the Nationwide Series car or in the Truck. Some weekends there are ten to twelve hours, right square in the middle of the time when he's needed the most, that Busch is unavailable to his crew chief because he's busy racing in series that for a major league championship caliber driver just don't mean anything at all.

Mark Martin was a guaranteed Cup champion-to-be in the 1990s and into the 2000s. It was unfathomable that he'd go his career without a Cup title. But he spent the best part of his career, the years when he could have won multiple championships, bouncing back and forth between garages and taking time and effort away from where his main focus could be. He might not say it if asked, but chances are deep down he knows he would trade those meaningless 49 Nationwide Series wins for just one Cup Series championship.

Hopefully for Busch, he doesn't come to that realization too late.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Your last three paragraphs make a strong point that most in the media seem to miss. I had a similar thought when Edwards debated skipping Cup practice in Sonoma to drive his Nationwide car in Road America. He might as well hand Jimmie the trohpy if he is willing to sacrifice the performance of his Cup car for a series he can't earn points in.

    Edwards used some brain cells and stayed in Sonoma to improve his car that was 28th in first practice. On Sunday afternoon, he finished 3rd.

    Kyle Busch becomes too comfortable with dominant equiptment in the lower series. When his car struggles in Cup, he cracks and ruins his own perfomance. He is talented, but he fails to meet his full potential in Cup.