Kyle Busch Motorsports: Huge Risk, Huge Reward?

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IDecember 13, 2009

MIAMI - NOVEMBER 23:  Kyle Busch, 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion, poses with his trophy during the NASCAR Nationwide/Truck Series Banquet at Loews Miami Beach Hotel on November 23, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

On Friday, Kyle Busch finally announced what those of us in the know had been expecting for the past few weeks—that he would purchase the Camping World Truck Series equipment of Xpress Motorsports to form his own team, Kyle Busch Motorsports.

We weren’t shocked when he announced that Miccosukee Gaming, his sponsor at Billy Ballew Motorsports for the past couple of years, would make the transition with him, or that Brian Ickler, his protégé, would run his truck in non-companion events. We already knew that Rick Ren had left 2009 champion Ron Hornaday’s team to manage Rowdy’s operation in the Mooresville shop.

What we didn’t know, however, was that Tayler Malsam, last of Randy Moss Motorsports, would join the new team in a No. 56 truck sponsored by ActivWater. We also didn’t know that the presumptive deal for Johnny Benson, the series’ 2008 champion, had not yet been signed.

But whether Benson gets a deal or not—and seeing as he’s been the only constant name in the rumor mill for KBM, and he’s guaranteed to make races based on his champion’s provisional, he probably will—Kyle Busch has already assembled a team capable of winning races and championships. The question is, however, whether or not the team will be able to realize that potential.

The only other driver to attempt to run his own team this early in his career was Kevin Harvick, and that operation started in earnest compared to Busch’s plans for three trucks. Harvick started his team with a limited schedule in 2002, where he and Rick Carelli combined for one win and five top-10s in six starts. He utilized a similar plan in 2003, with four drivers sharing the limited-schedule truck.

It wasn’t until 2004 that Harvick began running a full-time truck, as Matt Crafton took the reins of the No. 6 Goodwrench Chevrolet. Despite finishing fifth in points, he was not retained for the following year. Harvick also entered Tony Stewart in two Busch Series races that year, in preparation for a full-time car for Stewart and Tony Raines in 2005.

Slowly but surely, Harvick built his team, adding Hornaday in 2005 after he was dropped from the Busch car of Richard Childress Racing, Harvick’s Cup team. Hornaday has never finished worse than seventh in Truck points in a KHI vehicle, winning championships in 2007 and 2009.

In 2006, KHI ran two full-time Busch cars as its owner won the series title, although he mostly drove RCR cars that year. Harvick has run more Nationwide races in his own cars every year, winning in his own equipment for the first time in 2009 and potentially running for the championship in 2010.

Of course, that’s not to say that KHI hasn’t had its stumbles. The Burney Lamar experiment did not work well in 2006, as he only had three top-10s in 29 Busch starts. Cale Gale did little to distinguish himself in KHI cars in 2007 and 2008, and no longer drives for the team.

Expanding to two trucks in 2008 was unsuccessful too, as former champion Jack Sprague failed to win a race and only had nine top-10s in 20 starts, lagging far behind Hornaday’s six wins and 18 top-10s that year.

For the most part, however, Harvick’s team has been a success, and a big part of it is because he started off slowly, rarely going in over his head with his team. They raced when they had the proper funding and infrastructure to do so, and it paid off by turning KHI into the premier non-Cup team in the Nationwide and Truck series. Busch, however, is taking the opposite philosophy, hitting hard and early with a multi-truck team.

An example of which Busch should be wary is Michael Waltrip Racing, which went into Cup way beyond its capabilities in 2007. The team entered three cars that year as the flagship team in Toyota’s entry into Cup racing.

Waltrip himself spent the first third of the season 27 points behind the continent of Africa, having accrued 73 points in Daytona, a 100-point penalty for loading his Toyota with jet fuel, and a streak of a dozen DNQs afterwards. Young gun David Reutimann and former champion Dale Jarrett weren’t much better. Busch, Malsam, and Benson could easily correspond to Waltrip, Reutimann, and Jarrett if things start going wrong early.

What Busch does have going for him, however, is that Toyota has never been as abysmal in the Truck series as it was in its first year of Cup racing. Unlike Waltrip, who used Harvick’s philosophy of building everything from scratch (albeit on a much grander scale), Busch is inheriting an existing team and infrastructure, one which has won races and a championship in the past, and is entering a much less competitive series.

Also unlike Waltrip, Busch has been no slouch in the series he’s entering, having won plenty of Truck races over the past few years.

Regardless of how the 2010 season actually plays out for Kyle Busch Motorsports, the Camping World Truck Series will be far more interesting for its inception. We could see one of the most successful debut years in motorsports history, on par with Brawn GP in F1 in 2009, with the new team doing everything right and finding great success.

Of course, we could also see a catastrophic beginning akin to Waltrip’s first year as a Cup series owner, with the team suffering a handful of setbacks, missing numerous races, and generally disappointing all year.

I’m predicting something close to the former, but unlike the Cup series, it’s a little harder to predict what happens in trucks.

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