Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Beyond their shared 49 victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart are on similar sure-footed paths toward their inevitable ultimate days in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Busch’s victory Sunday at Pocono tied him with Stewart on the sport’s all-time wins list – a feat immediately recognized by the retired three-time champ himself.
“Congrats on win #49 today @kylebusch. There’s many more to come. Proud of you,” Stewart posted on his Twitter account, adding two emojis of “thumbs up”.
Busch, who was teammates with Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2008 season, was genuinely moved by Stewart’s message. And by the feat.
“That’s awesome,” Busch said about tying Stewart. “And you keep reaching higher up the ladder and you keep reaching milestone drivers, and Tony Stewart is one of the all-time best — and one of the drivers that I was a fan of as well growing up so it’s awesome to be able to tie him.”
Even with a decade generation gap, these two hard-nosed, natural talents share many competitive traits in terms of racing talent and professional demeanor. And as their paths to NASCAR history cross, it’s interesting and revealing to explore the similarities and differences that separated them from others.
They are intense competitors, both absolutely willing to share their disappointment as well as their accomplishment – apt to take shots at themselves, the media, their team, their cars, even the sanctioning body – when results don’t match expectation.
They have been brutally candid in a time when others are prone to demure and gloss over. Political correctness has never been their style. They are genuine and honest – in good times and bad – a lost art for many star athletes no matter the sport these days.
Does losing hurt? You bet it does. Does winning feel incredibly good? You bet it does. Look at their faces, listen to the tone of voice, watch the emotion. Fortunately in the case of both Busch and Stewart – winning has more often been the way of life and ultimately what will define both these supremely-talented champions.
Here’s a look at how they tallied their historic numbers:
It took Stewart – who retired in 2016 – 597 starts to reach 49 wins. He didn’t start competing in the Monster Energy Series fulltime until 1999 when he was 28-years old – arriving in the stock car ranks already the first driver in history to win the USAC Triple Crown (Sprint Cars, Midgets and Silver Crown) in 1995 and then earning the Indy Racing League championship in 1997.
Busch, on the other hand, was only 20 years old before landing a fulltime Cup job with Hendrick Motorsports in 2005. He finished runner-up in the 2004 Xfinity Series championship and had only a couple handful of random Camping World Truck Series starts by the time he made his fulltime Cup debut.
Both drivers won immediately at the Cup level, however.
Stewart won three races in his 1999 rookie season – at Richmond, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami and finished fourth in the Cup championship run that year (NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett was the champion). Busch won two races his 2005 rookie season – at Fontana, Calif. and Phoenix – interestingly, besting Greg Biffle both times. He was only 20th in the championship standings, however, while Stewart hoisted his first of three season trophies.
Stewart won races at 22 different tracks on the schedule – with a personal high, and still series record of five victories on the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course where the series races this week. His wins covered the gamut of superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega, Ala.) to short tracks (Bristol, Tenn. and Martinsville, Va.) to 1.5-milers (Homestead and Atlanta) to both road courses in Watkins Glen and Sonoma, Calif. He won multiple times on 14 tracks.
Busch has won races at 23 tracks to date – and as with Stewart claims multiple wins at 14 tracks. Interestingly, however, the first 13 wins of Busch’s career all came at different venues. His eight victories at Bristol Motor Speedway is a personal best. As with Stewart, he has won on every type of venue on the schedule from superspeedways to intermediate tracks, short tracks and both road courses (twice each).
While Stewart and Busch have championships to their credit, neither has won the Daytona 500 in a combined 30 starts.
Both drivers have shown a propensity to dominate races that they’ve won, however. Busch has led at least 100 laps in 23 of his 49 wins – plus, he’s won at Watkins Glen twice and that race has only 90 laps. Three times he led at least 300 laps en route to victory. Only once has he won a race leading fewer than 10 laps (he led five in his 2014 Fontana win).
Stewart has led at least 100 laps in 19 of his wins (note that additionally, five victories came in the 90-lap Watkins Glen race). Interestingly, the 333 laps Stewart led in claiming his first career win at Richmond was the highest number of laps he led en route to any victory in his entire 18-year career.
The numbers and statistics represent the elite, championship caliber talent both Busch and Stewart share – and with Busch rapidly adding to his win total there seems to be limitless opportunity to expand his historical imprint. Next up on the historical Cup victory chart is win number 50, which would tie Busch with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett.
With his win Sunday, Busch tied Kevin Harvick with six wins each in a season that is already destined for the record books. The 2015 champion is not only on a title chase, but is also very close to another historic milestone – 200 NASCAR wins – a tally associated with the great Richard Petty, who earned them all in the Cup Series.
Busch’s total would represent all three major NASCAR divisions – he has 49 wins in Cup, 92 in the Xfinity Series and 51 in the Camping World Truck Series for a total of 192 victories.
Just for perspective, NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson has 106 wins (all but one in the Cup Series). Dale Earnhardt had 97 major series wins (76 in Cup and 21 in Xfinity), the recently retired Jeff Gordon has 98 total (93 in Cup, five in Xfinity) and fellow retiree Tony Stewart has 62 national series victories (49 in Cup, 11 in Xfinity and two in the trucks).
“Any time you’re able to continue to win races in this series, it’s obviously just that extra step, and you keep continuing to climb the ladder,” Busch said following Sunday’s Pocono win. “There’s a lot of great names that I’ve passed already and that I’ve tied today with Tony and that I very much look up to that are higher and look to one day be able to accomplish all of them.
“But as far as how many can you get, I just don’t know. I’d like to think that everything is achievable, but we’ve just got to keep working at it and keep doing what we can do.
“I don’t think I can drive that long to get to 200 (in Cup). I’d better start winning 10 in a year in order to get there quicker. But overall it’s been fun, and there’s a lot of great respect to those that have been there and won that many races and have been legends of our sport, many of them Hall of Famers that I can continue to excel on.”