Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Will Kyle Busch’s Success Help or Hurt Austin Dillon?

Will Kyle Busch’s early NASCAR Cup Series success with Richard Childress Racing help or hurt Austin Dillon?

Steve Leffew: Kyle Busch’s success will undoubtedly help Austin Dillon. Dillon has proven himself capable of putting together seasons strong enough to make the playoffs and of running near the front often enough to take advantage of circumstances to win a race about every other year. With guys like Ryan Newman or Tyler Reddick, Dillon may have still had a case for being the alpha on the team. But by playing an active or even leading role in bringing in Busch, Dillon made it very clear he is comfortable serving as a role player.

All great teams need good role players. Busch is going to improve RCR from top to bottom, and Dillon will progress and improve due to Busch’s feedback on the cars and his expertise as one of the greatest drivers of his generation. They have a good relationship, and Dillon wouldn’t have recruited him if he wasn’t comfortable being the clear No. 2 driver.

Bubba Wallace saw great growth during 2022 while being a teammate of Kurt Busch, and Dillon will see a sort of career renaissance this year due to the improvement that will come with having Kyle Busch as a teammate.

Zach Gillispie: RCR is the championship favorite. Go ahead, ridicule this statement. I’m serious. There is something about Busch that just fits the Childress mold: a heroic, battle-hardened, Davy Crockett-like figure ready to rile up his rough-n-tumble troops to defend the Alamo. “OORAH,” he shouts. Childress has the horses ready. Their riders (or drivers, depending upon how you look at things) have taken the reigns. 2023 is waiting, so watch out.

You will thank me later when Busch and Dillon are riding off into that championship sunset post-Phoenix Raceway as immaculate rays of orange emblazon the silhouettes of the two victorious cattlemen, and George Strait’s “The Cowboy Rides Away” plays softly in the background.

Amy Henderson: That could depend on how similar their driving styles and setup preferences are. If they’re close and Busch continues to find the speed he had at Auto Club Speedway, Dillon can definitely use the information from Busch for his benefit.

Dillon advocated for Busch to join RCR, but he’s never been paired with a teammate of Busch’s level, and it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops. Busch will be the star of Dillon’s grandfather’s team, so some resentment could bubble up. All in all, though, Busch is going to elevate the team (Reddick did as well), and if Dillon just rides the wave, he could be in a good spot.

Stephen Stumpf: The answer can be yes or no depending on which way it is asked. Yes in that having Busch as a teammate will make Dillon and RCR run better as a whole. But it’s also a detriment because there will be more pressure on Dillon to perform in 2023 when his teammate has already won.

Wyatt Watson: Busch’s success incredibly helps Dillon out on the track. It showed at Auto Club with Dillon scoring a top 10 and will continue throughout the season. Busch winning and Dillon continuing to run strong shows that RCR as a whole is going to have a great season.

See also
2-Headed Monster: Is Kyle Busch Still Viewed as NASCAR's Villain?

Has Todd Gilliand proven he deserves to remain in Cup full time?

Watson: Todd Gilliland hasn’t had enough time to prove he deserves the ride he’s in. The 22-year-old had a good run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and was leading at Watkins Glen International before a mechanical failure ruined his race. Overall for Front Row Motorsports expectations, he performed as expected. He deserves another two years behind the wheel before a change like splitting his ride with Zane Smith is initiated, despite that not ending up happening.

Leffew: Gilliland has proven himself capable of being a full-time driver in the Cup Series, but being capable and being deserving are two different standards. Drivers are always coming up from the lower ranks to replace the bottom quartile of talent. In the NFL, you can be the 25th-best quarterback in the league and a team will still look to replace you in the future for someone who might reach the top 10.

That’s how I view Gilliland. He has a chance to prove he is deserving, but he will need to keep pace or outrun Michael McDowell to fend off the up-and-comers like Zane and Chandler Smith, among others.

Henderson: Gilliland certainly isn’t any worse than some Cup regulars, and he’s got more experience than some NASCAR Xfinity or NASCAR Craftsman Truck series regulars. He’s got a veteran teammate to learn from in McDowell. He isn’t going to set the world on fire anytime soon, but he deserves a chance to grow in the series.

Stumpf: For a rookie season at FRM, Gilliland did a solid job. Picking up the extra races in 2023 with Rick Ware Racing also shows that other teams are interested in his services. He belongs full time in the Cup Series at the moment, and he will improve on the results of his rookie season.

Gillispie: Jumping straight from the Truck Series to the Cup Series after just two victories is awfully bold, don’t ya say?

Michael Rooker said he would be open to a Days of Thunder 2. Would a sequel help NASCAR grow?

Henderson: At this point, no. The original movie was so long ago that many fans probably don’t know the central characters, real life or fictional, who drove the film, or even that it’s loosely based on real people and some of the events in the movie actually happened, like the ice cream scene. The original is one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies (some parts are so terrible, like shifting to go faster because Cup cars don’t have 17 gears, but others, like the drive to the airport in Charlotte, are dead accurate). But the time for a sequel is passed.

Stumpf: Absolutely. Tom Cruise is still a major movie star 33 years later, and Top Gun: Maverick was a smashing success after a 36-year wait for a sequel. A potential Days of Thunder 2 should be as close to a portrayal of modern-day NASCAR as possible, and if the movie can be both accurate and entertaining, it might draw viewers to try tuning in to the real thing.

Leffew: A Days or Thunder sequel would definitely help NASCAR grow. It would reach new viewers and rekindle the memories of those fans who may have wandered off. I hope it happens. If so, getting the main cast members back, especially Cruise, will be critical to maximizing the growth opportunity.

Gillispie: Of course, as long as it’s not the movie Driven.

Watson: A sequel to Days of Thunder would be exciting to see. With the blistering success of Top Gun: Maverick, bringing Cruise back (and of course, plenty of the original cast) would be something NASCAR fans as well as any person would like to see in theatres.

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How the 'Kyle and Kyle Show' Could Provide a Missing Piece for NASCAR

Only nine of the top 20 in Xfinity points have won before. Who will be the next first-time winner?

Gillispie: Oh. hey. Parker Kligerman. We’ve loved seeing you on TV but it is so nice to have you back. I hear there are some early-season road courses you will like. You’ve got plenty of experience to find that checkered flag, so those win stickers next to your name rail will certainly come in handy, won’t they?

Watson: Either Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith or Sam Mayer. Mayer is coming off a dominant second-place finish last week and looked poised to challenge, but race winner John Hunter Nemechek broke through and had a faster pace. Sammy Smith, on the other hand, was contending for the lead in the closing laps too before getting taken out of contention on the last wreck of the evening. Chandler Smith ran well all day finishing fourth, and he takes over the same car piloted by AJ Allmendinger, who competed for wins regularly.

It’s a tough decision, but I’m going to go with Sammy Smith due to the fact that Toyota has less in-manufacturer competition than Chevrolet.

Henderson: The two drivers that jump out at me are Chandler Smith and Mayer. Both are still very young (Smith is 20 and Mayer just 19) but have shown promise. Both won in the Truck Series and look comfortable in Xfinity cars.

Mayer has a year-and-a-half under his belt now, and he’s only going to get better as he learns from his time in the seat. He showed some decent consistency in the second half of 2022, finishing 11th or better in nine of the last 10 races. Smith has a couple of Truck seasons behind him, with five wins to show for it as well as two top-10 points finishes. A win by either shouldn’t come as a surprise when it happens.

Leffew: I’ll go all the way down to 15th in the standings and choose Sammy Smith. The Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity program has shown it is still capable of top-tier speed and execution. Smith led laps at Auto Club and matched Nemechek in speed at times. When JGR hits, he will need to beat Nemechek to earn that first win, but it will happen within the next half-dozen races.

There are other strong candidates like Chandler Smith, Mayer, Kligerman and Riley Herbst, but Sammy Smith has the right combination of team and pedigree to get it done first.

Stumpf: Mayer and Chandler Smith both impressed with top-five finishes at Auto Club, but my pick is Sammy Smith. He didn’t get the finish (19th) after a late spin, but he was out front for 14 laps and mixing it up with the leaders throughout the evening, all at 18 years old. JGR also looks to have the hot hand to start off the season, as his teammate Nemechek dominated the closing laps. If Smith keeps showing the same race-winning speed, that first win will come sooner rather than later.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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With Busch’s excellent start to the 2023 season one has ask the question is Kyle B more talented as a driver or is he getting better equipment than A Dillon.

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