CHARLOTTE, NC – A cascade of boos rained down on Kyle Busch after his surprise victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, a moment that reminded him of the icy welcome that the late Dale Earnhardt received after a controversial 1999 victory on the track.
But that wasn’t even close to it. Earnhardt went out of his way to leader Terry Labonte and did not shrug.
Busch did nothing like that. He finished comfortably third on the final lap of Sunday night’s race in Bristol, covered in dirt. It was Chase Briscoe who became the leader Tyler Reddick, and all Busch did was escape the smoke to get the 60th victory of his career in the World Cup.
With the checkered flag in his hand, Busch laughed at the reaction from the crowd: “I mean, man, I feel like Dale Earnhardt Sr. right now. That’s amazing. I didn’t do anything.”
What the crowd didn’t realize was that Busch’s ninth Cup victory of his career in Bristol had just earned him a place in the NASCAR record books. The win tied Busch with Hall of Fame member Richard Petty with at least one win in 18 consecutive seasons.
“For me, it’s been a long time, 18 years,” he said. “The most important thing for me is to have that opportunity and appreciate my opportunities with Joe Gibbs Racing.”
Busch thanked longtime sponsors M & M’s and Interstate Batteries, as well as JGR’s leadership, starting with Hall of Fame team owner Joe Gibbs for “turning my back on me for so long and staying in the seat.”
Busch ranks ninth on the all-time list of victories, but Bristol’s victory was 17 victories away from Earnhardt, the late seven-time champion and first-class member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame alongside Petty. Kevin Harvick, with 58 Cup victories in his career, is the closest to Busch among active drivers; Busch, two-time Cup champion, is the only active driver with multiple titles.
His journey first began with Jack Roush, who had his older brother Kurt Busch under contract, and Kurt swore that the driver seven years younger than him would be better than him. Roush gave Kyle Busch some Truck Series outings when he was 16, but when he turned 18 and was approved to compete at higher levels, Hendrick Motorsports got hooked.
Busch won with Hendrick but was immature and, like his older brother, quite temperamental. It only lasted three seasons before Rick Hendrick released him to sign Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Gibbs grabbed the 22-year-old before the 2008 season and Busch no doubt made a career out of the Hall of Fame. He has 223 wins in the three national NASCAR series and “retired” from the Xfinity Series races at the end of last season when he crossed the 100-win threshold with 102.
He still runs in the five events in the truck series awarded by NASCAR for his Kyle Busch Motorsports team, although he has not won in his first three outings this season.
Now 36 and awaiting the birth of his second child – Busch and his wife, Samantha, have publicly fought infertility and are expecting their first daughter through a surrogate – Busch is focusing on winning more Cup titles.
He knows he backed the victory in Bristol, the first in a season that has six top-10s in nine races. He doesn’t think the No. 18 Toyota team is where it needs to be to fight for the title yet.
“We have a lot of work to do to win more races and be in contention every week,” Busch said. “I feel like I’m in the middle of my career and I’d like to run ahead and dominate and win races and fight for championships. That’s our ultimate goal.”
Next up is the Talladega Superspeedway, where Busch only has one victory, in 2008. He has no past experience in what should have been a hectic race with NASCAR’s new Next Gen race car.
“There’s shit in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who’s going to win, what’s going to happen and where the accident is going to come from,” Busch said. “You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.”
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Kyle Busch is constantly consolidating a career in NASCAR at the Hall of Fame
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