2018 could very well be the turning point of Kyle Busch’s NASCAR career. The 33-year-old has consistently been successful in all three series, but this year has been even different. Busch has won many races and championships but he’s been even better in 2018.
In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Busch has had the best run of his entire career. After a 25th place finish due to tire trouble and a hard earned seventh at Atlanta, Busch went on a run of seven straight top three finishes including three consecutive wins for the first time in Busch’s Cup career.
Busch’s career has changed off the track as well. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of his run-in with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond, Busch and Junior publicly “buried the hatchet” about what happened 10 years ago. In many ways, it was more for the fans to see a different side of Kyle Busch. Busch and Dale Jr. largely got over it and Busch even mentioned about how the two have become better friends over the past three or four years, but it wasn’t exactly something the fans saw.
In a way, Kyle Busch’s career has gone in a similar fashion as Dale Earnhardt Sr. Yes, that may sound sacrilege to many fans but both drivers had their fans and their haters and both drivers weren’t all that concerned about what the haters thought. Dale Sr. went with the philosophy that as long as fans cheered you or booed you, you were doing something right. That’s kind of how Kyle Busch has operated. As long as his fans love what he’s doing, that’s what matters. But if the Dale Jr. podcast is any indication, there may be a few more fans joining the ranks.
Kyle Busch talked to The Comeback as we discussed some of the current events in NASCAR. From the Richmond discussion with Dale Jr. to pit gun troubles as well as the new All-Star race package to the future stars of the sport, Busch gave his view and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.
[Note: Interview was conducted before the GEICO 500 in Talladega where Busch finished 13th]
Phillip Bupp: You have three straight wins, but something that I find just as important, you have seven straight top 3 finishes and you’re currently on the best form of your career. How has your team been able to find this kind of performance?
Kyle Busch: I think it’s a lot of things. Obviously, fast race cars and great equipment, some good engines and good horsepower. Having a great pit crew as well too obviously helps so there’s a lot of different things that go into those situations and thankfully we’re able to have that going on for us right now. So we’ll just keep working at it and hopefully keep this roll going. We’ve got Talladega, one of the most unpredictable races coming up this weekend and then we go to a couple race tracks that may be pretty good for us.
PB: A lot of talk around the garage has centered around the new pit guns where each team is given a similar gun by NASCAR. Your team has avoided those issues that other teams have faced but you had a massive tire issue at Daytona that took you out early. How frustrating is it to be knocked out of a potential good finish due to something that might be beyond your control?
KB: Yeah I mean, having bad finishes due to circumstances that are outside your control are certainly frustrating. The tire issue that we had in Daytona was the last two years in a row that we had that tire issue. And unfortunately it’s the biggest race of the year when I feel like I’m in the prime of my career and wanting to go out there and score a race win that I haven’t gotten in my career yet so that’s very frustrating and makes you very upset in the moment and yet there’s still tomorrow. You gotta move on and get back to earth and reality right after that.
The pit guns, they’ve been a little bit of an issue for multiple pit crews up and down pit road. Ours included, we have had some issues. It’s just random when it happens and what happens. Whether it’s air pressure loss or the gun just stops spinning and stops working or there’s certain variables that keep happening. So I think that we’re all trying to come to a resolution as to what the fix is and what’s the best way in being able to go about with that considering we’re already a third of the way into the season.
PB: Have you had any ideas of what you think should be done?
KB: I mean, yeah there’s plenty of ideas to go around. I think everybody kind of wanted this because they felt like there was an unfair advantage with some teams that were on pit road with better equipment. And I thought that that was the name of the game in our sport which was always try to innovate and be creative and push the limits on cars and equipment and the like. I mean, we saw it with the Wood Brothers back in the 70s and the 80s, who were bringing out crazy air guns and better jacks and things like that. And there was never a rule made about that, people just kept making their stuff better.
PB: Yeah, personally I saw what Denny Hamlin said about Joe Gibbs having their pit guns from last year being so better that those guns should just be available to everyone if that’s possible and just have everyone on the same advantage.
KB: Yeah, that’s maybe an option, I’m not sure. I know that technology is certainly Joe Gibbs Racing’s proprietary information and somebody would have to pay a pretty price in order to get that.
PB: Oh yeah, for sure.
One thing that kind of stopped the NASCAR world was you burying the hatchet with Dale Earnhardt Jr. about the 2008 Richmond race. Jeff Gluck wrote a great oral history and Dale’s podcast was a nice complement. Did you ever wish you and Dale could have settled it earlier or did it have to take its time and maybe one of you retiring before the two of you fully getting together and talking about that night?
KB: Yeah, absolutely. I think the 2008 race may not have even happened if we would’ve had a few conversations before that. It just kind of seemed like when things were all kind of going down with my departure at Hendrick Motorsports that I may have thought it was Dale Jr. who was creating the departure and in all reality it wasn’t Dale and Dale was actually sticking up for me and wanting me to keep me on the team.
But I obviously have had a great career with Toyota and with Joe Gibbs Racing and with M&M’s since the departure. I can’t say I would have traded it for anything right now, but certainly I would have liked to have had a better relationship for a lot longer with Dale Jr. The friendship that we’ve had over the course of the last three or four years has grown a little bit, but imagine what it could be if we had started that 10 years ago.
PB: Some fans actually got a more positive view of you after being on the podcast. You kind of showed a side of yourself that might be overshadowed by what fans might see you in the heat of the moment on the track. Have you noticed any change in fan reaction in terms of social media or in cheers and boos at Richmond after you did the article and podcast?
KB: Yeah, certainly. I felt like there’s definitely been some social presence that’s been changed. You’re not going to flip the world upside down on day one. Obviously, it’s going to take some time and there’s going to be some moments in which I may do some things that some fans don’t like and I may do some things that fans do like. It’s a never-ending process, it’s ever-evolving and with Dale by my side and being on the podcast with him and kind of seeing his reaction and getting a taste of both of us together for the last ten years, it showed people that we can put our differences aside. We can be friends even though we’ve had been [friends] behind-the-scenes for the past three or four years. I don’t think people wanted to really believe in that but they got a chance to bury their hatchet if you will.
PB: That’s what I figured. What might not be seen behind-the-scenes is a completely different Kyle Busch what might be on the track. Which, in the moment, anyone gets mad when something happens.
KB: Yeah, no question. Yeah, I believe that.
PB: Switching gears, the Monster Energy All-Star Race is coming up. The three races at Charlotte are going to be completely different this year. The Coca-Cola 600 remains the same 600 mile race but the All-Star Race will be run on a different package with restrictor plates and the fall race will be on the new Roval. Do you like these changes at both the All-Star Race and the Roval and do you have any idea what could happen in those races?
KB: I’d hate to speculate and say what can happen in those races but certainly the All-Star package is going to be a unique experience. It’s going to be a unique race. I wasn’t a fan of the package when we ran it in the Xfinity Series at Indy last year because I felt like it took the dominant guy or the fastest car, the guy that led all the laps and brought him closer and back closer to the field. Which, again in racing, I thought racing was to be the fastest guy and to go out there and kick everybody’s butt but it seems like it’s all about the show and being able to have racing and passing and back and forth and some unknowns to racing. So I’m kinda confused as to where we’re at, if we’re a sport and racing’s where it’s at or if we’re just an entertainment business.
But overall, I think it’s going to be different, that’s for sure. I’m not sure what to expect. The 600 will be a typical 600 race and kinda know what we think to expect in that one. And then the Roval race, man that’s going to be insane. It’s going to be a lot of different circumstances happening in that race. It feels like the track is very narrow and kind of tight. Not a lot of room for runoff and not a lot of room for things to kind of happen but that’s the same for everybody. So we’ll just try to be the best at that one.
PB: Do you think you have an advantage at the All-Star Race considering this was a similar package at Indy?
KB: I wouldn’t think I have an advantage, necessarily. But maybe it’ll act or react a little bit more like the Trucks kinda do. I think the minimum speed is going to be way, way, way slower than we all anticipate it being and feeling and thus it’s going to create for a whole different package of racing. So, it’s going to be intense.
PB: You like to race in a lot of different series and compete against some of the young talented drivers in the sport. Credit to you, you even hire some of them for Kyle Busch Motorsports like Noah Gragson and Todd Gilliland. Who are some young drivers that you have raced against that you think has what it takes to someday be a success in Cup?
KB: Well, I think it’s all relative to what your career path is and what kind of equipment you get into. So William Byron being one of those guys, he went to Xfinity was successful in Xfinity and won a championship there and has now moved onto the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports. So he’s got the world in the palm of his hands right now.
You look at Bubba Wallace who was at our place [at Kyle Busch Motorsports] and kind of moved up and took a different route and is not in such great equipment, but is in Cup. I don’t know that he’ll be able to win races or win championships [where he currently is]. Christopher Bell, I look at right now is another one of those guys that is in great stuff and if he’s patient and can stay in great stuff for a long time and be a part of Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing and [he can] have success.
Another guy right now, I think one of the most notable guys coming up is Todd Gilliland. I think he’s got a lot of promise and a lot of talent. He’s very aggressive, he has an aggressive driving style in which he’s very hard on the gas, very hard on the brake, makes things happen really quickly. If we can just soften some of those touches up, I think we can make him an even smoother race car driver and even one who is successful.
PB: As we head into the summer months and the second half of the regular season, how is your mindset? Can you continue this great run and get a second championship?
KB: Yeah, I don’t think that there’s anything that is working against us right now. So I feel like that we’re in the right spot as a team, as an organization with Toyota and everything that we’ve got an opportunity here to be able to go out there and succeed and bring home our second championship. It’s kind of, the way people would look at it, it’s between us and Kevin Harvick right now but I would argue that, the way I look at it, is that it’s ours to lose and so we just gotta go out there and execute and do our job as we’ve done so far this year and keep it through 36 weeks.