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March 10, 2019

Rowdy’s reign: Busch firmly plants himself among all-time greats

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kyle Busch took the white flag on his quest for 200 wins Sunday at ISM Raceway. One to go.

Over the course of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s 15-year career racing full time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it often has felt like it was Rowdy’s world, and we’re just living in it. The 2019 NASCAR season so far (and ’18, and ’17, and ’16, and ’15, and …) is another one of those times.

Busch once again swept a NASCAR weekend, this time out in the desert – a week after coming ohsoclose to breaking out the brooms in Las Vegas. There have been a total of 11 NASCAR national series races this year, eight of which he’s entered and five of which he’s won. Needless to say, Brexton Busch’s frequent flyer miles are racking up at an alarming rate.

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Last year, we saw three drivers win three consecutive Monster Energy Series races – one of which was Busch, of course – mini-streaks of dominance that are impressive in their own right. Something about what Busch is doing being the wheel right now; what he’s capable of … it just feels otherworldly.

There’s no word on who won the rental car race leaving ISM Raceway, but it wouldn’t be shocking to hear it was Busch, post-race media obligations slowing him down be damned.

Sitting on the precipice of history, all anybody can do at this point is just sit back and watch, jaw agape and wonder if we’ve ever seen anything like this before, or ever will again.

Even those closest to him.

“I’m incredibly proud of him,” older brother Kurt Busch said on pit road after placing seventh. “He’s always been my little brother and I never knew he had that work ethic in him. When we were kids, he never did anything. He was always couch loafing and I can make fun of him that way, being the older brother.

“But in all honesty, this is something very impressive. I’m proud of him and he continues to be the gold standard in this whole world of NASCAR, no matter if it’s Trucks, Xfinity, Cup. Those wins need to be acknowledged; the way he’s able to do it week in, week out. All the different series. … He’s almost there, and I’ll be there to give him a big hug when he gets 201.”

The “couch loafing” is particularly notable, because – even though Kyle Busch has undoubtedly worked his tail off to get to where he is – he just makes it look … easy. Put the right car in his hands, sprinkle a little good fortune that he doesn’t get mixed up in somebody else’s mistake and chances are beyond good that he’s going to be the one taking the checkered in any series, any race, any weekend.

Behind the visor, there’s no one else like him. There seems to be no one else that can do what he’s done. And still doing.

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“I think for me, you know, it happened in football where we had some guys that all of a sudden on Sundays when they put the helmet on, you kind of look at them, they get it,” Coach Joe Gibbs said in the post-race press conference. “They know what the sport’s about. They are after it. They’re determined. It’s not often you find it.

“Certainly I think with Kyle, over here in this sport, I think Kyle is one of those guys. When he puts the helmet on … I just think he’s an unusual talent. I think all of us that watch sports, me included, really appreciate those great athletes.

“Somehow they have a gift. We don’t know how that happens. How does that happen? He goes to the test many times, and when we put the equipment on the cars to actually test, he can drive the thing when it’s several degrees past when the normal person can drive it. That’s just a gift. I think we all kind of appreciate athletes that have that.”

It’s not even remotely debatable at this point if Busch – still just in his early 30s – is a future NASCAR Hall of Famer. The question now shifts to: When all is said and done, will he be known as the greatest pure-talent driver NASCAR has ever seen? Is he now?

“Time will tell (where he ranks among the all-time greats),” Kurt Busch said, “It’ll be the picture painted around him and for him later on. In this current day and age, to be in this (position) and only 33 years old, there’s still a lot more work and a lot more fun and a lot more wins for Kyle Busch.”

When you see Kevin Harvick, 10 years Busch’s senior, be as competitive as he is in 2019 … 100 Cup wins isn’t out of reach for Rowdy. Second all time to Richard Petty’s 200 might not be either, if he’s able to approach David Pearson’s unfathomable 105.

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“I’m always leery about ‘all time’ when you start talking in pro sports because there’s been so many great ones,” Gibbs continued. “I do think Kyle has the unusual ability of some athletes. Being in football, you see it over there sometimes. Not very often over here. … I think really if he won 500 races, (his drive) wouldn’t change. He goes for it every single week.

“He’s got a determination and a drive that’s just very unusual, so I certainly think, you (reporters) will probably determine where he winds up in history, but it won’t be me, I’ve only been here for 28 years.

“But I would say that Kyle has probably got a chance to really do something great.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering, out of the past 16 races he’s entered at next weekend’s Auto Club Speedway across both Xfinity and Monster Energy Series competition, he’s won half of them. Busch is currently entered in both races at the California track.

That next checkered flag ain’t too far away.