Tuesday, July 25, 2023

OPINION: Yes, Kyle Busch should run for a Truck Series championship


by Ben Schneider
LASTCAR.info Staff Writer

Readers of this site will no doubt know where I - along with my editor-in-chief Brock Beard and my fellow staff writer William Soquet - stand on the issue of the now-perhaps even more aptly named “Buschwacking” debate. I get frustrated and annoyed when an active, full-time Cup driver, Kyle Busch or otherwise, steps into XFINITY or Trucks and steals a win from a series regular.

There’s no need for me to go over the reasons why here in this article. I’ve done that before, in my very first article for this site nonetheless, and Brock also perfectly summarized those points in a piece in February.

However, I did disagree with one small part of Brock’s most recent op-ed on the subject, specifically when he said, “Most irritating is that such ‘start-and-win’ drivers and their hollow victories are feted as actual accomplishments, not dismissed as the most tolerated sham in professional sports.”

This, in my opinion, is a step a bit too far. To be clear, Busch’s Truck Series wins are by no means equal in terms of prestige to his Cup Series victories. But to summarily dismiss Busch’s 64 Truck wins - the most ever - as complete non-accomplishments does a disservice to the talent possessed by those who compete in the series on a weekly basis. Ron Hornaday Jr., second behind Busch on the all-time Truck wins list with 51, is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. Series champions Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague - 28 wins each - arguably should have at least been nominated by now, and I’ve personally made the case for three-time series champion Matt Crafton’s consideration. And that doesn’t even touch on the younger talent in the series working to move up the ladder to the Cup Series one day, such as defending champion Zane Smith or Corey Heim, the current points leader despite missing a race, and the driver who Busch passed for the win on the final lap of Saturday’s race.

Beyond just the wins, Busch’s stats in the Truck Series are borderline unfathomable. In his 30 starts from 2018 to 2023, Busch finished outside the top-three just four times: a pair of 21st-place finishes at Atlanta in 2018 and 2020, as well as a pair of seventh-place finishes: Charlotte last season and Kansas this season. Of those 26 top-threes, 15 were wins, and 14, all but Saturday’s win at Pocono, also saw Busch lead the most laps. Over 170 total career starts dating back to his debut in 2001, Busch has finished in the top-five 115 times, meaning he is historically more than twice as likely to score a top-five finish as he is to finish sixth or worse.

These are numbers that would surely be championship-cailber - if held over the course of a single season.

And that is exactly why Busch should, at some point in the future, run for such a championship.

This isn’t just in reaction to Busch’s comments this past weekend about potentially running a full Truck season after retiring from Cup. I also said this after Busch won the Truck Series race earlier this year at Las Vegas. Were Busch to run the series full-time as a dedicated Truck Series driver, he would no longer be a “Buschwacker.” He would be a Johnny Benson, Johnny Sauter, or Todd Bodine, a driver who once raced in Cup now dedicating himself to a full Truck Series championship campaign. I won’t speak for Brock or William, but to me, that is a completely different situation than Busch altering the Truck Series playoff grid by attempting to steal a win (and often succeeding) five times a year as an active Cup driver.

What’s more, the argument pro-Buschwacking fans often use is that Cup regulars running XFINITY and Truck races brings more attention and viewership to those series. While I believe this potential boost is not enough of a benefit to outweigh the drawbacks, I can only imagine such a boost would only be amplified if a driver of Busch’s caliber competed in every race on the Truck Series calendar. His status as a NASCAR superstar would hardly go away just because he’s retired from Cup; just take a look at how much attention Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s XFINITY Series one-offs continue to draw every season.

Aside from winning the Daytona 500, there’s hardly anything Busch has yet to accomplish in NASCAR. (For what it’s worth, even Busch himself will point out he was the leader at mile number 500 in this year’s edition of the race.) Busch came into the Cup Series in 2005 and won Rookie of the Year honors, as well as races at California and Phoenix. Since then, he has amassed a total of 63 Cup wins, ninth all-time and, remarkably, his lowest total in the top three divisions. His 102 XFINITY wins are more than twice as many as the next closest driver (Mark Martin with 49). Prior to the 2018 race at the Charlotte Roval, Busch’s 2018 Coca-Cola 600 win meant he could briefly say he’d won at every Cup Series track on which he’d competed. While NASCAR’s recent heavy schedule changes have meant some tracks and layouts have only been run once or just a handful of times, that’s still incredibly impressive.

Above all, however, Busch is a two-time Cup Series champion and also has an XFINITY championship from the 2009 season, before Cup regulars were limited in the series. No driver has ever won championships in all three national touring series of NASCAR. Greg Biffle perhaps came the closest, missing out on the 2005 Cup title by finishing second to Tony Stewart. Austin Dillon could become the first to do so, but with only four Cup wins in a decade’s worth of starts, it would take a late-career bloom similar to Martin Truex Jr. for that to become a likely possibility. Brad Keselowski only needs a Truck championship, but he closed Brad Keselowski Racing several years ago and is now fully committed to ownership on the Cup side with his partners at Roush and the Fenway Sports Group.

Busch, however, still owns his Truck team, Kyle Busch Motorsports. Despite his “small team” post-race comments on Saturday, make no mistake: no team scores 100 series victories without establishing themselves as one of the series’ most formidable programs. It’s an organization that is not just capable of providing Busch the chance to live out his dream scenario of racing with his son Brexton, it is one capable of winning races and championships.

Would Busch’s remarkable, video game-like Truck Series stats prove to be sustainable over the course of a full-time season?

There’s only one way to find out.

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