Don’t Be Too Quick To Belittle Busch’s 200 Wins

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, March 18 2019
Kyle Busch collected his 200th NASCAR victory on Sunday. Where does that put him vis a vis The King? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Looking back at … Fontana:

NASCAR fans all over America today are undoubtedly viewing Kyle Busch’s 200th victory in the series in the same denigrating way as did TV on Sunday: yes, it’s a good little milestone but it in no way measures up to what Richard Petty did.

That is not only not fair, it’s not totally accurate.

What Busch has accomplished may be even more impressive that what Petty did.

Busch got his 200th NASCAR victory when he won Sunday’s 400-miler at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The victory came in the Cup Series, the series in which he has now won 53 races.

His other 147 victories came in the “inferior” Xfinity and Truck series.

All of Petty’s 200 victories came in NASCAR’s premier series.

Make no mistake. Petty being able to win 200 times in that series is an incredible feat. So incredible that his closest competitor in the number-of-wins competition – the great David Pearson – has just slightly more than half that number (105).

Those numbers, however, cannot be understood without viewing them in their historical context.

The racing in NASCAR in the 1960s and early ’70s when Petty and Pearson competed, was a different beast.

Take the race schedule, for example. It was much bigger. In 1964, for example, a year in which Petty won nine times, the schedule for NASCAR’s premier series held 62 events. Petty drove in 61 of those events.

A large portion of those events were held in small towns and at tracks that fans not of that era have ever even heard of. There were races in burgs with names like Weaverville, Maryville, Thompson and Jefferson.

During the Petty era, many of the top drivers chose not to compete in every race on the schedule. With paydays so thin and with travel costs so thick, few could afford to race in more than a handful of events each year. They of course opted for the bigger, better paying events. Events like the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and races at tracks like Rockingham and North Wilesboro.

In 1967, the year Petty drove in 48 of the 49 races on the schedule and won a career high 27 events, Pearson started just 22 events.

During a career that began in 1958 and ran through 1992, Petty started 1,184 races. Beginning in 1960, Petty ran complete or nearly complete schedules for the rest of his driving career.

Pearson’s career began 1960 and ran through 1989. During that time, he started just over half as many races – 564. Only twice did he compete in anything resembling a complete schedule.

And make no mistake about this: There were a lot of extremely talented drivers in the sport in those days. And a lot of good crew chiefs and mechanics and owners. And a lot of tough race tracks.

But from race to race at the “lesser” events, the faces of the competitors changed dramatically.

In the modern era of NASCAR, drivers compete in each and every race of the schedule which, these days, is 36 events.

The talent level of the competitors is not better. Just more consistent and, perhaps, deeper.

A lot of people around the sport say that it is not fare to compare Busch’s 200 to Petty’s. Just not the same thing. Or is it?

While Busch is driving in every Cup race, he is also engaging in a Petty-era like schedule in the Xfinity and Trucks series. That is, he is competing on a Pearson-like basis in those series, driving between five and 18 Truck races and seven to 35 Xfinity races.

Is he driving against the very best teams and drivers in NASCAR in those events? Sometimes to often.

Kyle’s old brother had a very interesting thing to say after Sunday’s race.

“Really proud of him,” Kurt Busch said. “Two hundred wins. He was the lazy one on the couch, not doing much when we were kids. But a number is a number and it’s significant.

“When your running Cup, Xfinity and Trucks, you’re wearing your body out every day going after it. Any time I’ve run Xfinity and then had to go back it up with a Cup race, it puts a toll on your body. He just keeps going and going.”

While it may be fair to say that Kyle Busch’s 200 wins are not the same as Petty’s, or that they may even are not as significant as Petty’s, it would be horribly unfair to point to the 53 Cup wins vs. 200 Cup wins and say Petty was a four-times better driver than Busch.

What is completely accurate to say is that both 200s are beyond remarkable.

Petty said last week that he believes Busch could have competed in the Cup series back in his day. That’s a given.

Could he have won 200 times? Under circumstances similar to Petty’s, that may not be a given but it is extremely possible. Like Petty and Pearson, Busch is the top wheel man of his day.

Two hundred at 33 years old. Wow.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, March 18 2019
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