Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: Kyle Busch’s New Chapter at RCR Mirrors That of Jeff Burton

Kyle Busch already has won three races this season in his first year with Richard Childress Racing, and at this rate, he will elevate RCR back to championship-contending status.

That’s something that hasn’t been truthfully said since Ryan Newman’s miracle runner-up finish in the 2014 championship run to former RCR driver Kevin Harvick.

To most, Busch’s unprecedented move to RCR from former team Joe Gibbs Racing was considered a downgrade. Busch had won two championships with JGR and had several top-tier teams interested. It looked like he was the leading candidate to drive the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing, but eventually those rumors went away, and Aric Almirola ended up returning to the seat.

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There was also a rumor that he would take over 23XI Racing’s No. 45 in place of brother Kurt after a crash at Pocono Raceway all but ended his career. That way, JGR would still lose him, but Toyota wouldn’t. But Tyler Reddick joining the team plus 23XI not expanding to a third car squashed that rumor.

Finally, there was rumor Busch was going to Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 car. But the team lost out on the Busch sweepstakes and put AJ Allmendinger in the car instead.

So Richard Childress Racing it was. Originally looking to field a third car, RCR agreed with 23XI to let the latter buy out Reddick’s contract, allowing him to join 23XI a year earlier than expected. Busch then slotted into Reddick’s No. 8.

While no one questioned the talent of the Las Vegas native, there were some questions of whether or not he could replicate the success he found at Joe Gibbs Racing, or even way back at Hendrick Motorsports for that matter.

RCR had fallen off considerably since Harvick left the team following the 2013 season, and aside from a one-off win from Newman and a couple of wins here and there by Austin Dillon (of which the first came three years after he debuted in the series, might I add), the team couldn’t find the winning speed it had with Harvick, or even Jeff Burton.

Coincidentally, Burton’s Cup Series career seems to be what Busch’s career is turning out to be. Burton ran the first two full-time seasons of his career with Stavola Brothers Racing before being picked up by Roush Racing (now RFK Racing), where he spent eight and a half seasons, winning all sorts of races from the Southern 500 to two Coca-Cola 600s.

Midway through 2004, Burton parted ways with Roush and moved to RCR, in a move that fans surely thought would derail his career. But The Mayor continued to find success. He only won four more Cup races, but he also added seven more NASCAR Xfinity Series wins, five of them coming in 2007 alone. He also made the Cup playoffs four times, back when the playoffs allowed less drivers.

Similarly, Busch only spent his first three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports before signing with JGR in 2007. The next 15 years resulted in 56 of his 63 career Cup victories, 91 of his 102 career Xfinity victories, an Xfinity championship and two Cup championships.

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Then, impending free agency allowed him to jump ship to RCR, and everyone was seemingly shocked that of all teams, Busch would sign there. But he quickly silenced any doubt, as he won the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway.

He’s added two more wins already, coming at Talladega Superspeedway and now World Wide Technology Raceway, and we’re not even halfway through the season. In a bigger plot twist, Busch now seems to be a fan favorite after spending 15 years as NASCAR’s perceived villain.

Busch alone hasn’t been the saving grace for the team. Reddick won three races last season, which made his announcement of moving to 23XI shocking, as RCR was just beginning to get somewhere. But Busch and his crew chief Randall Burnett have worked as if they’ve been together their entire careers, similar to how Burton and crew chief Scott Miller hit it off immediately in 2005.

Perhaps the only difference between Burton and Busch is that Burton’s nickname, “The Mayor,” came from his insightfulness on the well-being and safety of NASCAR. Busch, on the other hand, is rightfully called “Rowdy” because of his no-holds-barred aggressiveness on the racetrack.

Either way, both drivers have given boss man Richard Childress wins, and for the first time in many years, a championship run is not out of the question in 2023 for the Welcome, N.C., based team.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Reddick showed it wasn’t the cars fault last year. Kyle isn’t stupid and he got to see it on the track. No comparison between Burton and Kyle. Busch knows he can win in anything. And for the first time in a long time, Kyle looks happy.

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