By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Kyle Busch has picked up right where he left off after his championship season a year ago. Busch is currently in the midst of a hot streak as he’s won the last two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, and he has won the last four NASCAR National Series (Sprint Cup, Xfinity, Truck) races overall.
Busch now sits at an incredible 161 victories between NASCAR’s top three divisions, which naturally has fans and pundits comparing him to the legendary Richard Petty, who won 200 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. During an interview with The Final Lap, it became apparent that one person who doesn’t understand the comparison is Petty’s son, and former eight-time Sprint Cup race winning driver, Kyle Petty.
“No. Not at all. Not at all,” Petty said. “And this is why I say that. Kyle Busch — I think there is a category in the record book — and I’m not just saying this — I am biased. I will say that, take that into account. Richard Petty is my father, I’m biased on that part.”
Petty continued, “Here’s what I think. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. won a number of what were at the time Busch races and Cup races all on the same weekends all at the same time doing that. Mark Martin came along and did exactly the same thing. And there was no Truck Series during that period of time. So those guys had an opportunity to run in two divisions, but not three.
“Kyle has come along and has the opportunity to run Trucks, and to run the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series. So he has three chances to do — to put those big numbers up for wins and stuff, where Earnhardt and Mark Martin and Darrell Waltrip and some of the other guys who did it only had a couple of opportunities. And at the same time, you know its a category that nobody really kept up with before. To say NASCAR total wins, it was always Cup wins, Xfinity wins (or Busch wins at the time) and Trucks wins, so it’s a totally new category.”
To be totally honest, I agree with Petty. 200 wins in the Sprint Cup Series should definitely trump 200 wins over a total of three divisions in NASCAR, but to say that Busch doesn’t deserve to be mentioned next to The King because Busch has had more opportunities to win is ridiculous and false.
Currently there are 36 races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule each year, however Richard Petty ran in a time where there were 44 to 62 races per season. In Petty’s first 13 seasons he ran more than 39 races in 11 of them. In all, it took Petty 943 starts to rack up 200 victories in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It has taken Busch 843 starts to accumulate 161 wins in Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series. That being said, a Cup Series win is exponentially harder to achieve, as evidenced by Busch’s win total being much lower in Cup than it is in his Xfinity Series career. Regardless I digress.
What Petty said next is what really shocked me.
“Kyle started driving pretty much full-time in 2005, and I think Jimmie Johnson started in 2002 or so. So Jimmie has run basically — Jimmie’s run about 100 more races than Kyle has — Cup races — a little over 100 races. In that same time, Jimmie Johnson has 77 wins and six championships, Kyle has 36 wins and one championship,” Petty explained. “So when you compare apples to apples and that’s apples to apples Cup to Cup and then Kyle drove for Hendrick and has driven for Joe Gibbs — he’s been in top equipment. You know he’s a regular Cup driver. He’s not phenomenal, not anything special sometimes when you look at him.”
I’m all for hot NASCAR opinions, but how can you possibly say that arguably the best raw talent in the sport today, and the guy who looks to just now be reaching his prime behind the wheel of a race car isn’t anything special?
Busch already has more Sprint Cup Series wins in his career than NASCAR Hall of Famers Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett, who are also former Sprint Cup Series champions, and Busch still has many years left in the tank. So if Busch isn’t anything special, what does that make Labonte and Jarrett in Petty’s book? One is left to wonder.
To be fair, Petty did give praise to Busch’s skills.
“I think Kyle Busch is probably one of the most talented race car drivers I’ve ever seen in all the years I’ve been going to the race track, and I’ve been going to the racetrack since I was one year old,” said Petty. “I think he’s a phenomenal talent and an incredible personality, and incredible driver.”
Petty has never shied away from voicing his opinion in the past, but this time I think he may have went just a little too far in trying to defend his father’s honor.
To hear the full Kyle Petty interview from The Final Lap, click play
(The Final Lap’s Kerry Murphey contributed to this story.)
Image: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images