Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: KBM Drivers Leaving a Lot To Be Desired

Last Saturday (July 22) at Pocono Raceway, Kyle Busch Motorsports earned its 100th career win thanks to the bossman, Kyle Busch. Busch ran towards the front for most of the afternoon but was no match for former KBM driver Corey Heim until he sent it underneath Heim in a daring last-lap pass to win the race.

The win is the first for KBM since March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, also courtesy of Busch at his home track, and the first for the team since switching to Chevrolet after Busch signed with the Chevy-backed Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Busch’s two wins this season are the only two wins KBM has this season, and while 100 wins is a neat piece of Truck Series history, the team is also on the verge of something less than desirable – missing the playoffs.

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Since the Truck Series implemented the playoff system in 2016, KBM has only missed the playoffs once, in 2019, when Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton were its full-time drivers.

This year, KBM has one full-time driver competing for the championship in Chase Purdy, who is sitting 13th in points and is in a must-win situation entering the regular season finale at Richmond Raceway.

However, asking for a win from Purdy and the No. 4 team is somewhat of a tall order at this point. Purdy only has two top-five finishes to date this season, at Texas Motor Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and has been wildly inconsistent, sometimes due to issues not of his own doing.

KBM could theoretically pour all its resources into Purdy’s truck at Richmond in hopes of winning, but that would be unfair to the No. 51 team, who will have Matt Mills behind the wheel in what could be the opportunity of a lifetime. Mills will also compete in at least one other race at the Milwaukee Mile, but it would be unfair to take Richmond as a lame-duck race in favor of trying to put Purdy in the drivers’ playoffs.

Besides, even though drivers’ playoff hopes seem out of the question for KBM, Mills has a chance to contribute to KBM’s chance of winning the owner’s championship for the No. 51 team.

The one saving grace from KBM’s 2019 season was that the No. 51 team, which has served as the team’s all-star truck for several years, went on to win the owner’s title, and won six races en route to doing so. It wasn’t that KBM had a poor 2019 season, it just wasn’t a good year for its championship drivers.

Gilliland and Burton combined for just one win, which Gilliland grabbed in the fall Martinsville Speedway race – you know, the race where Gilliland famously quipped that Busch could “stay in your f*cking motor home!”

A similar situation is shaping up for KBM, except the problem this time is that KBM has no drivers who can contend for the win aside from Busch.

One of the drivers of the all-star No. 51 truck is Jack Wood. Wood and Purdy both competed at GMS Racing in their careers and were even teammates in the back half of the 2021 season. But neither driver could put up great results, and it’s been more of the same at KBM.

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In seven starts so far this season, Wood has just two top 10s, and aside from an 18th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Wood hasn’t finished higher than 27th in his other four starts, mainly due to crashes and mechanical issues.

William Byron also drove the No. 51 for three races and is part of the solution to stop the bleeding at KBM. While he went winless, he gained two top fives, a stage win at Darlington Raceway, and his one finish outside the top 10 was 11th.

Mills has a chance to make a splash in his two starts, and if he impresses enough, Mills could end up replacing Purdy as the full-time driver in what would be a shocking silly season move for 2024.

Even KBM’s satellite team seems to be finding more success than Purdy and Wood. Rev Racing has a technical alliance with KBM, and rookie driver Nick Sanchez has been close to winning his first career race several times this season.

Sanchez is lined up to be the only KBM-affiliated driver to make the playoffs this season and could make a deep run if things go his way while the actual in-house trucks may need to go back to the drawing board.

The No. 51 has six races unaccounted for as far as drivers. Busch and Byron are unable, as Cup drivers are not allowed to compete in lower series’ playoff races. It seems that either Wood or Mills will complete the season unless KBM brings up an ARCA Menards Series driver for track time such as Rev drivers Lavar Scott or Andres Perez de Lara.

But aside from a potential owner’s title, things are not looking up for KBM this season unless Busch himself is behind the wheel.

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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