After two remarkably successful years in the Camping World Truck Series, Kyle Busch Motorsports is expanding to the Nationwide Series in 2012. This is the next step toward what may be an inevitable move into the Sprint Cup Series.
Expect KBM to experience success right away as it forays into NASCAR's second-highest series. 26-year-old Kyle Busch is sparing no expense for his operation. The KBM facility is a sparkling 77,000-square-foot marvel, and already there are five Camrys in various stages of production for the 2012 Nationwide season.
And Busch is bringing on sponsors to match, with Monster Energy coming on board as a primary sponsor.
But perhaps most importantly, KBM will have immediate success thanks to its NNS driver lineup. Kyle Busch himself will be running about 13 races in 2012. His dominance in Nationwide competition is well-known: Busch is the all-time series wins leader, with 51 wins in 222 starts.
And the team's other driver is no slouch either. Last week, Kyle announced that his older brother Kurt would be driving the remainder of the season's races for KBM, about 20 events in all.
How good is Kurt Busch in the Nationwide Series? Well, his winning percentage is actually better than Kyle's, at 25 percent. Admittedly, Kurt has only 12 career starts in the series, but winning a quarter of your starts in any series is impressive. Busch has also won three poles in his NNS experience.
Busch is excited for this opportunity, which come following a tumultuous offseason. Busch has had a rough time since the end of the 2011 season, following a series of emotional and profanity-laced outbursts throughout the year. Shortly after the season finale, Busch and Penske Racing announced that they were splitting ways. Busch has since signed on with Phoenix Racing for the 2012 Sprint Cup season, hardly a top-tier organization.
So how did KBM sponsor Monster Energy feel about bringing Kurt Busch on board? Other potential sponsors have shied away from Busch in recent weeks. At one point, before signing with Phoenix Racing, Busch was in talks with Richard Petty Motorsports, but team owner Richard Petty said that sponsors were wary of having the volatile Busch represent their brands.
Apparently Monster Energy has no such qualms with the temperamental Busch. When asked about the company's response to bringing his brother on board, Kyle Busch said the energy drink company had no problem with Kurt being the face of their brand.
"When this opportunity came along, we got together and collaborated on what we could do and took it to Monster," Kyle said. "And they were like, 'Hell, yeah, sign him on.'"
With a solid driver lineup and good sponsorship in place, fans will need to get used to seeing KBM in Victory Lane early and often in the Nationwide Series this year. And if that is indeed the case, expect the speculation on when Kyle Busch will bring his team to the Sprint Cup Series to intensify.
However, the jump to Cup isn't likely to happen any time soon—at least not for a few years. As Kyle Busch himself admitted, the cost of running a competitive Sprint Cup operation is many times higher than running well in the lower series.
"One day, maybe," Kyle said of that possibility. "It takes a hell of a lot more money to go Cup racing competitively than it does to go Nationwide racing. But this is a step in the right direction for sure."
While Busch doesn't have any definite plants in place to move KBM to Cup, you can bet he has hopes and dreams of turning his organization into one of NASCAR's premier teams, right up there with Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Kyle's own Sprint Cup team, Joe Gibbs Racing.
"Hopefully this place is going to be around a long time. It's a beautiful facility," said Busch. "You know, this is something that I feel is near and dear to my heart. I didn't inherit this. It's something that I've been building. I've tried to build all of this and hire the right people and put them in the right places so we can be successful."
Arguably, KBM's biggest asset going forward could be its owner. Whenever Kyle Busch jumps into a race car, he has a chance to win. If and when KBM enters the Sprint Cup Series, you can bet they'll be competitive if Kyle Busch is at the wheel. Of course, Busch is doing well at Joe Gibbs Racing right now, but even if he were to spend another five years with JGR, Busch will still be relatively young. His peak driving years are still ahead of him.
Tony Stewart’s recent success could provide a model for Kyle Busch to follow when he takes KBM to NASCAR's highest level. Stewart left Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2008 season and took another high-level driver (Ryan Newman) with him to Stewart-Haas Racing, which, while not a new team, was given a complete makeover upon Stewart's arrival. Stewart won four races in his first year as an owner-driver, and took home championship honors in 2011 after just his third season. Tony Stewart, once one of NASCAR’s biggest hotheads, has mellowed out to a degree few suspected he was capable of.
Could Kyle Busch Motorsports become the next team to move to elite status in the Sprint Cup Series?
Other teams are currently doing their best to move into NASCAR's upper echelon, notably Michael Waltrip Racing. But gaining entry into NASCAR's top tier is a difficult task to accomplish (especially if you begin by firing the only driver who has actually won races for your team).
The now-defunct Red Bull Racing found out how tough it is to be successful after investing tens of millions of dollars in their NASCAR operations. MWR seems to be moving in the right direction, hiring experienced drivers such as Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin and bringing in smart NASCAR minds to run the team's operations.
However, I believe KBM's future is brighter and the organization's potential is higher than that of MWR and other aspiring Cup teams like Richard Petty Motorsports. Perhaps the one thing that could hold the team back is Kyle Busch's well-documented history of immature actions, both on and off the track.
But I also think that running his own team will eventually force Kyle to grow up, helping him eventually fulfill his immense potential at the Sprint Cup level. Few would doubt Kyle's status as one of the two or three most talented drivers in NASCAR today.
However, Busch has yet to finish higher than fifth in a Sprint Cup season. The added responsibility (and cost) of running in his own equipment could finally straighten out "Rowdy" for good. And when that happens—look out, NASCAR world. Kyle Busch Motorsports will be a force to be reckoned with.
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