Kyle Busch vs. Dale Jr. - you knew it was coming

Mitchell HallCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2008

He’s just can’t be that good.  He can’t really be doing all this without NASCAR turning away and letting him cheat.  He couldn’t possibly have won that race without cheating. 

Let me introduce you to Kyle Busch, NASCAR’s new bad boy, and the breakout driver for 2008.  Late summer 2007, Dale Jr. announces he is leaving DEI, then that he is joining the team of his fans archrivals.  Two things were known for sure by all those fans: Dale Jr. would finally win all those races he deserved, no more second fiddle to Gordon or Johnson, now he would play along with them; and Kyle Busch wasn’t that good anyway, he would never win another race because it was all Hendricks equipment that won those races for him.  In hindsight… wrong and wrong. 

I am a fairly big Jr. fan, though it is fading.  I still enjoy seeing him take the lead, most likely because I can’t see his daddy do it anymore.  But the truth is he just simply isn’t that good.  It wasn’t the equipment at DEI, or the motors from DEI, or the crew at DEI, it was Jr.  He is at best a top 10 driver.  Some years he might pull out a top 5, maybe even a championship, but he will never win the multiple championships all his fans wish that he could win. 

With Jr.’s defection came the release of Kyle Busch.  Nobody could place him less than third fiddle at Hendricks, on his worst day he was still better than Mears.  For so many he was viewed as someone that was created by superior equipment from Hendricks.  Therefore when Rick chose to release him rather than the big name of Mears few batted an eye.  Many assumed he would land somewhere and slowly fizzle out like so many have done after winning a few races.  Then he announced he was taking the 18 car, which had been run in the ground and forgotten in the wake of Bobby Labonte’s departure.  This only added to the thoughts that Kyle would suffer from now on. 

Jr. found himself in a similar predicament.  The 25 car at Hendricks was long revered as the weak link in the chain.  Despite limited success with multiple drivers over the years, the 25 car had never amounted to much with Hendrick.  First came the number change to the 88, then new crew chief, crew members, sponsors, the whole nine yards. 

Each driver sat at the beginning of 2008 with what could be described as all new teams, assembled only to provide them with success.  In addition to switching teams and owners, the Car of Tomorrow/Today was implemented full time this year.  This told us that there would be no more aero advantage for either team.  In theory the playing field was leveled, and each driver sat ready to complete. 

Fast forward to today and compare the 2008 finishes of each of these drivers.  Each can be found near the front week in and week out.  Each can tout superior equipment with superior teammates.  The only difference might be the sponsor income for the 88, and the swollen compensation for the 88, but that’s another day.  Even the finishes are similar, with the exception of the win column.  But the differences are vast when you take a closer look. 

Dale Jr. took the seat of Kyle Busch.  He has managed to win one race, which meets Kyle Busch’s total at Hendricks for each of the last two years.  But the race he won was on fuel mileage.  If baseball can fill the record books with asterisks, then Nascar should consider adding them for these fuel mileage races.  Dale has managed 7 top 5’s and 12 top 10’s this year, which puts him pretty much on par with what Kyle did last year.  To make a long story short, Dale has managed to maintain what that car did last year, but not improve on it much.  At least not yet. 

Kyle Busch took the seat of JJ Yeley.  There is absolutely no reason to try to compare these two drivers since JJ didn’t really deserve the ride when he got it.  But let look at what that team did last year… 21st in points, 1 top 5, 3 top 10’s.  Pretty dismal to say the least.  Step in Kyle Busch.  Currently first in points, 6 wins, 11 top 5’s, 12 top 10’s.  What else can you say but wow.  There is no way to know how many times a team has been turned around this dramatically in the course of a year, but I bet there haven’t been many.  Kyle has taken the 18 team and returned them to dominance.  He has improved on every stat and portion of that whole team since he walked in the door at Joe Gibbs Racing. 

I am prepared to suffer the wrath of the Earnhardt nation, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone threw beer cans in my yard.  But all the articles I keep seeing on here and elsewhere knocking Kyle Busch for what is absolutely remarkable.  You should all be able to appreciate something this great when it is happening.  Kyle Busch deserves your respect and admiration.  No matter how bad you hate him you should look at the bright side of it… it could be Kurt winning again, then I would be crying too!

In conclusion, I think at least 75% of all the fans will become at least moderate Kyle Busch fans this year.  The other 25% don’t recognize any other car besides the 88 anyway.  I think he has a great chance to win his first Cup, and maybe break Jeff Gordon’s win record of 13.  The most important thing to take away from this sort of break out season is that success in racing is hardly ever completely dictated by equipment.  It is almost always impacted heavily by the driver.  This year Kyle wants it worse than anyone else.  If Jr. or others start to want it worse, they might win a few more, but until then this is Kyle’s playground, and these are Kyle’s races to lose.  Get ready to see him win some more, or prepare to turn the channel. 

Enjoy a nice bag of M&M’s and sip your NOS while riding around under Interstate Battery power!  Go Kyle.