Kyle Busch turned 26 years old this month. And when you look at all he has accomplished in such a short amount of time, it really is remarkable. In 2011 alone, he has two checkered flags in Sprint Cup, five Nationwide victories in 10 starts and three truck wins in just five starts.
When NASCAR legend and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Bud Moore talks about talented race car drivers, he immediately mentions Busch. Even puts him in the same category as Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
I think it's a fair comparison because of the way Busch wins. Earnhardt was able to take a racecar that was not very good -- not always fast -- and get a lot out of it. And that's what we see in Busch. He puts his car in compromising positions and gets every ounce of what that car has out of it. He'll make it three-wide, four-wide, especially in the back of the pack when he's coming forward. We've seen several times when he's been penalized on pit road and had to go to the back of the field, only to come roaring through to the front. If you're having an off day and you miss a setup, it separates you from the field tremendously. So to be able to get the most out of that type of situation is crucial, and it's something he has proved he can do.
All that said, I don't consider him a dirty driver. He just races hard. He puts people in situations in which they have to make high-stakes decisions. And whether they like it or not, Busch winning a Cup championship is a matter of "when" -- not "if."
People might speculate that racing across multiple series hurts his chances of taking home the Sprint Cup title, but I don't think that's the case. The biggest distractions for professional athletes are things like opening a couple of restaurants, buying six planes to start a charter service or funding a beauty salon for your wife. That's when athletes get in trouble. Not when they're racing and doing more of what they do for a living. The only risk is injury, and with cars built the way they are now, it's much safer to handle multiple races than it was 10 years ago.
Besides, whether Busch is racing late models, trucks or Sprint Cup cars, his singular focus is getting behind a wheel and winning. I love to listen to him on the radio because he gives such great feedback. Fans of the sport can tell they are getting the maximum effort out of him each time. He's not a world-class athlete like Carl Edwards, who is going to run a marathon on the weekend. Racing cars is what makes Kyle Busch tick. Because of that, competing in Sprint Cup might not be enough for him.
Remember, we are looking at someone who could potentially reach Richard Petty's 200-win mark. With the pace of Busch's success across all three series, it's very possible. His Trucks win at Dover was his 96th career NASCAR National Touring Series win, putting him one behind Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt for a tie for third. As far as just Cup wins, I think he is capable of winning close to 100 races. And the guy can run another 15 years very competitively if he wants to, which is just amazing. But winning a Sprint Cup Championship will truly validate his legacy as a driver.
The maturity and composure he's shown this season makes me think he's ready to succeed in the Chase. When you get into a dogfight with the best drivers in the world, mistakes are emphasized. And if you react to a challenge by breaking down mentally like Busch has in the past, that's a big detriment to your team. We used to see these brash, emotional outbreaks at the end of races if things didn't go his way. But he's figured out that with his type of talent, there's no need for attitude to steal the spotlight.
And that makes him all the more dangerous. Times three.
Former NBA and college basketball star and longtime NASCAR fan Brad Daugherty joined ESPN as a NASCAR analyst in 2007. He is a regular on the NASCAR Countdown program that precedes all NASCAR race telecasts and is also an analyst on ESPN's daily "NASCAR Now" show.