One of the most “untouchable” records in NASCAR history — Richard Petty’s 200 career victories — is perilously close to being matched.
Well, sort of.
After sweeping last weekend’s three national series races at Phoenix, Kyle Busch now has 199 career wins. Of course, those have come across all three of NASCAR’s national series — Truck(53 wins), Xfinity (94) and Cup (52) — compared to Petty, who won all 200 of his races at the Cup level.
Busch could tie or even surpass Petty this weekend in California alone. If not then, it won’t take much longer: Busch has wins at NASCAR’s next three tracks (Martinsville, Texas, Bristol) in the last two years.
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It’s a near-lock that he will pass the King by month’s end.
But, what should we make of that? And the bigger question: Do Busch’s 200 wins really count since they weren’t all in the Cup Series?
Most traditional NASCAR fans and people in the industry would say no. Petty’s wins all came against the highest level of competition racing could offer, while Busch, a Cup stalwart, routinely dips down to the Xfinity or Truck series against less-formidable drivers.
On the other side of the coin, though, the Cup Series that the King dominated from the 1960s to 1980s wasn’t exactly ripe with talent like the sport is today. Petty saw a far less competitive overall group than the drivers Busch faces every week. It wasn’t uncommon for Petty to win races by several laps — nowadays, drivers are lucky if they win by several seconds.
Petty also had more chances to win. The Cup schedule included as many as 62 races in the ‘60s.
Oh, how times have changed.
Now, Busch certainly deserves credit for this accomplishment, even if you don’t count his 200 as coming close to Petty’s.
The 33-year-old is already the winningest driver in Truck Series history, ahead of Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr., even though he doesn’t participate full-time at that level. Same for the Xfinity Series, where Busch has almost twice as many wins as the next-closest driver, Hall of Famer Mark Martin. On top of that, Busch is just two wins away from moving into the top 10 all-time in the Cup Series.
Busch just wins and wins and wins.
No, Busch is never realistically going to touch Petty’s 200 career Cup wins. No one is. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, even those multiple-time champions aren’t even halfway to 200. The only person who is, Petty’s former rival David Pearson, passed away in November.
Even if Busch keeps up the ridiculous pace he’s on now, it would still be a long shot that he gets within sniffing distance of Pearson’s 105.
Look, nobody is suggesting that Busch’s 200 wins makes him a better driver than Petty. The man is nicknamed “The King” for a reason, right? Instead of comparing Busch and Petty, trying to say which is better or arguing over their respective merits, let’s try this instead:
Appreciate greatness for what it is, and enjoy it while it lasts. Busch, like Petty did years ago, is going to step out of the car one day and not get back in. Rather than waste our time until then, why not just relish in watching one of the sport’s best drivers?
Richard Petty is still the greatest NASCAR driver of all time (even if he said Pearson may have been the most talented driver ever). But once he passes 200, and once he keeps growing that wins total, Kyle Busch will be NASCAR’s best-ever winner.
Both can be true without taking anything away from either.
This week’s NASCAR race at Fontana: What you need to know.
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400.
Distance: 200 laps, or 400 miles.
Where: Auto Club Speedway, a 2-mile, low-banked, asphalt oval in Fontana, California.
When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Last year’s winner: Martin Truex Jr.
Also this week: Production Alliance Group 300, Xfinity Series, Auto Club Speedway, 5 p.m., Saturday, FS1.
Worth mentioning: This race has gone to NASCAR overtime four of the last five years.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
Kyle Busch: He swept all three races at Phoenix last week, including picking up his first Cup win of the season.
Martin Truex Jr.: He doesn’t have a win yet this year, but a runner-up finish at Phoenix has him up to fifth in the points standings — not bad for someone still adjusting to a “new” team.
Alex Bowman: A wreck at Phoenix hurt him in the points standings, dropping him to 16th.
Michael McDowell: Not a good weekend for McDowell — he got into a fight with Daniel Suarez days before the race, then crashed out. He’s down to 30th in the points standings.