One hundred and ninety-four. Kyle Busch has won 194 races across NASCAR’s three national series, and that’s 194 and counting, putting him close to an elusive round number, one that Richard Petty reached with his 200 premier series wins. However, Petty and some of the sport’s other greats are reluctant to compare the two feats.
“It’s not comparing apples and apples,” says Petty. “It’s completely different. You’re talking about three different leagues that they’re adding his up. If you want to get back and get tricky, I won a convertible race, and I won a USAC 500-mile race at Pocono. So, I really won 202 races. Then if you go back and run all the heat races we used to run. … It should never be in the same paragraph.”
Busch himself would agree, although he’s justifiably proud of his pending accomplishment. “Obviously, it’s a goal of mine,” he said at Richmond in September. “It’s just a number. There’s no correlation or comparison to Richard Petty’s 200 wins. It’s completely different, completely different eras.
“I’m certainly looking forward to that moment and what that means to me and my career. It’s going to be really, really cool to get there.”
NASCAR Hall of Famers Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip as well as seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson are all of one mind: “The King” stands above all in the win column, because his 200 came in one series.
“It’s not comparable,” says Gordon. “I think what Kyle’s done is amazing, and if you compare it to any other driver in the modern era what he’s done, he should be commended for it. And it’s almost impossible to compare anything that’s happening in the modern era to what Richard used to do — the way they used to race, the types of races, and different things that he did to add up to those 200 wins. But I still think you have to look at the premier series. You can’t go and try to boost or promote the 200 wins by using Truck and Xfinity.”
Gordon believes the more interesting chase is for second place — 105 wins by David Pearson — on the list of all-time premier series victories.
“To me, I think it’s a much bigger story to see [Busch] challenging Jimmie Johnson or myself or David Pearson,” he says. “I think that’s the real modern-era goal. I know that’s what I chased, can you get to 105 [Pearson’s career total]? Is that realistic? Richard’s is unrealistic.”
Martin competed against both Petty and Busch during his 31-year career and is quick to lavish praise on both. That aside, though, Martin is careful with the comparison talk. “It’s a different day and age,” he says. “Both are incredible, and when you talk about Richard Petty, The King, I just want to honor what he did for this sport. … I want to give him the respect for what he accomplished because it was a good bit beyond anybody in this sport in that era. In a lot of ways, I feel what Kyle has done or is doing is a good bit beyond what anybody is doing in this era, and Kyle is due the same kind of respect.”
Busch collected eight NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2018, pushing his career total to 51. After running six races in 2004, Busch has been a full-time driver since ’05, and his wins have come in 498 starts.
Busch won just one of his seven Xfinity Series starts last year. With 92 wins (and counting), he is the winningest driver in the series — a title he took from Martin. At 51 wins in the Truck series, Busch has tied another Hall of Famer, Ron Hornaday Jr., as that series’ winningest driver. Busch added two wins in five Truck starts last year.
Having made his NASCAR national series debut in ’01 — in the Trucks — Busch has been winning races in bunches since ’04. With plenty of racing still ahead for him, he is likely to far exceed 200 combined wins.
A remarkable accomplishment worthy of recognition. But separate from Petty’s.
“Totally,” says Johnson. “The way Kyle has gone about it in building his own team and running it, I can’t even imagine the headache and amount of time and focus and energy required to be a part of all that. Let alone three different teams, the demands of Cup, had his own [Xfinity] team for a while, still has Trucks, all that stuff is so much work. It’s so much work I don’t even want to do it. I put so much into my Cup deal, and I know how much time it takes for me, like, how the hell do you do all that? It’s impressive. It really is.”
It’s a level of achievement that Martin believes no one else will come close to reaching. “What Kyle has done is pretty much unheard of in NASCAR, the way he’s won in all three series and won big time,” Martin says. “He’s won a lot of Cup races, and his winning percentage versus starts is probably one of the highest in NASCAR history as well. … In today’s age, it’s difficult to win these races, and he’s still out there doing it on a very regular basis.”
Says Gordon: “He’s a remarkable driver. He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame. … Even looking at his championship run in ’15, what he did that year with the injury and coming back from that, I think it’s extraordinary. But the one thing that I hesitate on with this subject is, what other drivers at his level is he competing with in Trucks for those wins? Or teams? Same thing in Xfinity. There’s more competition there, but still, if you look at his wins, Gibbs was just dominating that series, and when he got in that car he did even more with it. So, he should be commended on every level, but I just don’t think it deserves the amount of credit the wins in the Cup series or even compare to what Richard, or what David [Pearson], accomplished.”
Johnson has always said 200 wins in one series is unattainable.
“It’s insane,” he says of Petty’s feat. “We face the same problem many sports do — you can’t compare generations — but wow. The accomplishment is out of this world.”
So what’s the point of combining wins from multiple series?
“It’s a different way of looking at the success someone has had,” says Waltrip. “I think it’s a huge accomplishment. I have a little bit of a problem comparing 200 wins in all three series compared to 200 in one, but if that’s the way they want to do it, I’m in that point and time in my life and career life, well, that’s the way we’ll do it.”
Even if the wins don’t stack up to Petty’s, Busch is still highly regarded by his peers. Waltrip even says that Busch is “like I was” with his emotions and attitude.
“I knew most of the time I was better than the competition, so if I didn’t win, it wasn’t my fault,” says Waltrip. “The car wasn’t right, the crew did something wrong, and I would be upset about that because I’m out here putting my life on the line, risking everything I got to win a race, and I don’t want somebody messing up in the pits or something happen to the car that keeps me from doing that. I think Kyle is the same way.”
Once a teammate of Busch’s, Johnson points out that Busch is very chassis smart, which is only one of his strengths. There is also a “pretty intense level” of understanding about geometry and suspension that he uses to work on and build cars. Busch uses that knowledge to articulate what he feels and how to fix it.
While he may not like hearing Busch’s win total in the same sentence as his, Petty recognizes the talent.
“He’s a heck of a racecar driver,” Petty says. “Personally, I don’t really like some of the stuff he does, but he probably don’t like what I do either. But that is him, and basically with him, what you see is what you get. Which is good. He stays consistent, and that’s good. He’s true to himself.”