LAS VEGAS (BVM) – Kyle Busch is one of the best drivers NASCAR has ever seen. He’s the all-time wins leader in both the Xfinity Series (102) and the Camping World Truck Series (62), while his 61 Cup Series victories are also the most among active drivers.
However, going into 2023, a lot of uncertainty surrounded “Rowdy.” His 2022 campaign was nothing to write home about, as he scored just one victory at the Bristol dirt race. Although he did earn over a dozen top-10 finishes, it just didn’t feel like the usual consistent success the former driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) No. 18 Toyota was used to seeing.
Perhaps contributing to Busch’s unusual season on the track was what was happening off of it. Despite driving for JGR since 2008, Busch and his team were not seeing eye-to-eye on a new contract, leading many to speculate he would be leaving his longtime race team at the end of the year.
Those who did were right, although he did surprise some with the team he ultimately landed on: Richard Childress Racing (RCR).
A Championship Tradition continues in 2023. pic.twitter.com/uC00r1T0Ob
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) September 13, 2022
Throughout the offseason, Busch and his new No. 8 Chevrolet team seemed confident. Yet, it was still hard to know exactly what to expect coming into 2023. If anything, the adjustment to RCR was supposed to take some time. Just a couple of weeks into the season, the driver of the No. 8 has proved anything but.
Busch’s car looked strong right off the bat with a third-place finish at the Clash at the Coliseum. However, the Daytona 500 was going to be the first real test. Busch started 36th in the race, but towards the end, he found himself in the lead with the chance to earn a long-awaited Daytona 500 victory. A wreck at the end would prevent that and lead him to finish 19th, but it was an impressive early-season effort from the No. 8 car.
If only it was ‘98… Really thought we had that one. Bummed but proud of our 8 group for sticking w it this wknd n giving us a real good backup car. Good things to come this yr. 👊🏻 pic.twitter.com/IJEFRyvCFt
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) February 20, 2023
Last weekend, Busch and his RCR team answered any questions or doubts anyone may have had at the Pala Casino 400. Even despite starting 21st and suffering an early penalty for speeding on pit road, Busch was strong throughout the race, seemingly becoming faster towards the end as he led 27 laps and took the checkered flag in the final Cup Series race held at Fontana.
That didn't take long.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 27, 2023
A large reason Busch made it 19 consecutive seasons with a Cup Series race win was a green-flag pit stop for the No. 8 car with just over 30 laps to go. It was one that was perfectly executed, and allowed his team to take the lead over Ross Chastain, who had led nearly half of the race.
“You know Kyle Busch is going to do everything right on pit road,” RCR pit coach Ray Wright said on BVM Sports’ Cup Connection. “He’s the best on pit road, he’s the best in the box, he’s the best out of the box, he’s the best off pit road, every week … That puts our guys in a good position.
“So just proud of the guys. They want to pit the 8 car. They want to pit for Kyle Busch. We all know what he’s capable of doing and I’m just glad that they had an opportunity, so early in the season, to gain that confidence, to seem themselves excel in that position.”
While the drivers often get all the love, there is no denying just how important a prepared pit crew is, especially in a race like the one that was run at Fontana. Anything can happen week to week, but to be successful in that kind of situation this early in the season was a big confidence booster for the No. 8 team.
“You just never know how it’s going to go,” Wright said. “You can have a great day on pit road up until the last stop. You can have a terrible first stop and then be solid the rest of the day.
“You can do all the work in pit stop practice you want. It’s like batting practice, you can hit fastball after fastball. But it was such a blessing for these guys to see themselves achieve, early in the season … That’s the best kind of confidence you can gain, is actually being put in the fire, and achieving your goals, hitting your marks, coming up with a very good, competitive pit stop in a clutch situation. That’s worth a million practices.”
The final pit stop helped Busch pull away from the field to earn his 61st Cup Series win, and his first with RCR.
And there it is. Take a bow, Kyle Busch (and RCR). pic.twitter.com/DYzNPoG5vD
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 27, 2023
The initial victory with his new team came sooner than most expected, perhaps even for Busch himself. However, the two-time Cup Series champion also knew RCR would have him in position to succeed early on.
“I felt like there was going to be a little bit of a learning experience, a little bit of a growth pattern,” Busch said during a post-race press conference following his win at Fontana. “But also, on the flip side of that, I always just kind of looked back and watched some of their results and success that they had last year … It’s just been really, really cool, and it’s been a great piece of opportunity to go out there and win races with a new team at RCR.”
Now, Busch and his team will move forward through the 2023 season already looking like a potential championship contender. Next up on the schedule is the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track Busch won on in the Cup Series back in 2009, and has claimed 14 top 10s and 11 top fives at in his career.
Getting 🔒 in for this weekend. 💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/EddLQdoZ1R
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) March 2, 2023
Busch, who plans to race in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series in his hometown this weekend as well, has finished in the top five at each Las Vegas Cup Series race in the past two seasons.
A few weeks into the year, both Busch and Richard Childress look like they couldn’t have made a better decision to join forces. The NASCAR season is certainly a long grind, and nobody knows that better than Busch. However, seeing success this early could mean a special season is on the horizon for the two-time Cup Series champion and the No. 8 team. Ultimately, it is the team, from top to bottom, that will help take Busch where he wants to go this season.
“It’s great to have the group that I do,” Busch said. “I was excited about working with them when it all came through. It’s been fun to work with them behind the scenes … Just kind of laying low, letting loose a little bit and having fun right now.”