Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – As Kyle Busch excitedly climbed out of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the minutes following his dominant victory late Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he had already mentally checked off that last box on his “to-win” list of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup venues to conquer.
He has now won at every single track where the Cup Series currently races – the only driver in history to accomplish such a feat.
“I think everybody in this sport and everybody that follows the support, I think everybody realizes how hard that is, and to be able to accomplish that, when you think about road racing at Watkins Glen, Michigan, Indy, all the different places we go and the different racetracks, I think everybody just around the sport really appreciates how hard that is,” Busch’s team owner Joe Gibbs said.
“For him to do that, particularly Kyle is young, and for him to be able to get that done at this age I think is special. I think everybody around the sport really appreciates it.”
It also means Busch must be creative on collecting and displaying winner’s trophies. Sunday’s may be Busch’s first Cup trophy at Charlotte, but it’s his 188th NASCAR national series trophy – including 47 Monster Energy Series wins, 91 Xfinity Series wins and 50 Camping World Truck Series wins.
Only one man has more national series wins: NASCAR’s “King” and inaugural class Hall of Famer Richard Petty, who won 200 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races before retiring at the age of 54.
Busch just celebrated his 33rd birthday earlier this month.
Think about how much competitive time he has remaining to challenge and eclipse Petty’s mark. And he’s doing it racing against, arguably, the deepest field of accomplished drivers ever. He’s beaten retired greats from newly-named NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon who is a 93-time Cup winner and four-time series champ to three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart.
And Busch’s current weekly competition includes seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, former champs Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth, to perennial title favorites such as Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin to a long list of eager and superbly talented up-and-comers from Chase Elliott to Kyle Larson.
This season, in particular, Busch’s primary trophy challenge has come from 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick, who is pairing with Busch in an absolutely epic “one-up” contest. Harvick has five wins, Busch has four and three times they have finished a variation of first-and-second place in a race.
These two past Cup champions have absolutely dominated the first third of the season, combining to lead 1,695 of the 4,302 laps of competition – an amazing 39 percent.
It’s perhaps fitting that Harvick is next behind Busch on the current-driver list of winners. He has 103 victories in NASCAR’s premier series (42 in Cup, 47 in Xfinity and 14 in trucks.)
Interestingly, both Busch and Harvick have proven to be streak-y victors in 2018. Harvick began the year with three straight wins – at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Busch answered with three straight at Texas, Bristol and Richmond. Harvick responded winning back-to-back at Dover and Kansas – heading into Charlotte.
Busch finished second to Harvick at Las Vegas and Phoenix and Harvick finished second to Busch at Texas.
The impressive 69-point total separating Busch over second-place Logano in the Cup standings would normally be the topic of conversation for racing observers. But it’s the way Busch has separated himself that makes the storyline compelling and the intense trophy race between Harvick and Busch so exciting.
It’s a win-win situation. Kind of like Busch and Harvick.