If you’re looking for a furious debate about it, I got nothin’ for ya.
Kyle Busch has nudged against the number 200. Busch has won 199 races in NASCAR’s three current national touring series. And that, inevitably, engenders discussion of — dare I say comparison with — Richard Petty’s 200 victories in NASCAR’s Cup Series.
But it doesn’t matter as much as the social media apoplexy suggests.
If you want to discuss, discuss. If you want to compare, compare. If you think Busch’s modern-day accomplishment is better, lovely. If you think Petty’s stupendous run in another era is forever untouchable, good for you.
I’ll tell you what I think later in the column. That’s what we columnists are supposed to do, isn’t it? But first let’s lay the numbers on the table and think about them a little.
Petty’s 200 wins — his first in 1960, his last in 1984 — were all in stock car racing’s top-tier series, which, after a number of name changes, is called the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
If you want to get technical about it, Petty has 201 national touring series victories, since he also won once in the sanctioning body’s short-lived Convertible Series. He also won a handful of regional races, preliminary events and an exhibition race — but I’m counting only national touring series wins. That’s 200 plus one.
Practically speaking, nobody else can ever win 200 Cup races. The annual Cup schedule has been chopped from as many as 62 races a season early in Petty’s era (in 1967, he won 27) to no more than 36 in Busch’s lifetime.
Busch has rung up a prodigious 52 Cup victories — his first in 2005, his most recent last Sunday. He’s 11th all time and second to only Jimmie Johnson’s 83 wins among active drivers. Busch is 34 years old and might get close to 100 wins before he quits.
The only way Busch could approach 200 was to win in NASCAR’s two other national tours. He has done so in record fashion, with career win marks in both the Xfinity Series (94) and the Gander Outdoor Truck Series (53).
There have been racers across the country who have won several hundred events. But for all those drivers, most of the wins weren’t in NASCAR national touring series.
Busch is a great driver. How does his résumé compare to Petty’s towering legacy?
Well, there’s the fact that 147 of Busch’s 199 wins have come in the two lesser series. Without a doubt, the competition in Xfinity and trucks is weaker.
Also, Petty ran against the sport’s all-time greats — his legendary father, Lee Petty, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Ned Jarrett, Herb Thomas, Buck Baker, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace. The Hall of Fame-caliber list goes on.
On the other hand, it’s only fair to note that many of the better teams bypassed some short-track races in Petty’s heyday, opting to wait for bigger purses at bigger tracks.
And while it’s easy to argue (and impossible to prove or disprove) that today’s Cup drivers don’t match the legends of Petty’s prime, it’s also easy to point out that in this era of strong multicar teams, there are more race cars capable of carrying their drivers to victory week after week.
Petty, even with a stretch of 8½ seasons at the end of his career in which he was victorious in not a single race, won 16.9 percent of his career starts. Busch, yet to begin that inevitable end-of-career slump, has won 10.4 percent of his starts.
Statistics like that can be diced and sliced. The variables I have mentioned in this piece are only a few of an endless parade of comparative factors.
Busch’s deeds might be better celebrated if he weren’t surly at times. He seems to have mellowed now that he’s a husband and dad. Let’s all hope he won’t mitigate that observation with boorish behavior this coming weekend.
The consensus I’m seeing from across the spectrum of stock car racing observers — competitors and media — is that comparison aside, Kyle Busch’s numbers are historic in their own right.
Richard Petty’s son Kyle Petty, who raced with modest success at the Cup level and is now a commentator for NBC, said it as well as anyone. “It’s not a Richard Petty 200,” he said, “but I think Kyle Busch’s 200-plus wins goes on the same shelf (as seven championships for Earnhardt Sr., Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty) in NASCAR history.”
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m biased. Some of Petty’s great years came during my time as a NASCAR beat writer in the 1970s and ’80s.
I was around “The King” week after week. He hugged my grandma, a longtime fan of his, when one year I brought her to see the Daytona 500.
My judgment thus tainted, I say Petty’s 200 Cup wins stand above Busch’s 199-and-counting tour wins.
But that’s just me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the same for me as it is for all who venture opinions in this matter. That’s just us.