Then, there was getting into the top 10 on the all-time Cup wins leaderboard, tying Lee Petty first.
Then, he answered the question — yes, Kyle Busch can win 55.
Sunday’s win at Pocono Raceway was the 55th of his Cup series wins, not only passing Lee Petty, but tying Rusty Wallace for ninth on the all-time wins list. It’ll take some time for him to get to eighth — he’s 21 wins behind Dale Earnhardt.
So, hitting the double-fives seems like a good point to pause and really dig into where Busch stands at this point of his career.
Age is just a number
Busch reached 55 wins at 34 years, 31 days old, or more than 13 years younger than Wallace got his 55th.
In fact, out of the 10 drivers who have hit the 55-win mark, Busch is the third-youngest at the time of win number 55. However, the two drivers who got there younger than him, got there much younger — Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty both did it at 29 years old (Gordon was four days younger than Petty).
Gordon’s win pace dropped off dramatically later in his career and it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to match Petty’s pace, especially considering he picked up the bulk of his wins in an era where there were more races run per year and he was often facing fields that he was easily the class of.
But a more obtainable goal is the driver who was the fourth-youngest at the time of his 55th win, David Pearson. The Silver Fox was 179 days older than Busch at the time of his 55th win and went on to add another 50 wins to his resume.
Putting in track time
There are usually multiple sides to every statistical mark, especially in NASCAR, in which debates about eras and who gets how much credit for each win is often as much competition as the action on the track.
So, this is where it’s imperative to mention that Busch made his Cup debut in 2004 at the age of 18 and started his first full season at 19. So, by the time of his 55th, despite his young age, Busch had a lot more experience in his career.
At the time of win number 55, Busch had made 512 Cup series starts. Only Wallace (642) had run more. And that gives Busch a 10.7 win percentage. To compare to some modern-era drivers to get there — Gordon needed 271 starts (20.3 win pct) and Jimmie Johnson 357 (15.4).
But both also fell off dramatically. Gordon’s win percentage for the rest of his career fell to 7.1. Johnson’s has fallen to 10.3 with his recent downturn.
Or … Busch could keep following in the footsteps of Pearson, whose win percentage went from 17.6 during his first 55 wins to 19.1 the rest of his career. However, Pearson ran a partial schedule for much of that time.
You can make the argument that Busch is right in the prime of his career and can continue adding quickly to his win total. Over the last five seasons, Busch’s win percentage is 17.7.
Whichever side of the Busch debate you fall on, you can’t argue with how he’s a consistent winner. He hasn’t had a full season in the Cup series in which he’s failed to win a race — that’s 15 in a row.
If he can add a win in 2020, and really there’s no reason to think he won’t, he’ll become the sixth driver in series history with a 16-season win streak, joining Richard Petty (18), Pearson (17), Johnson, Wallace and Ricky Rudd (16 each).
Or, if you want to look at just big seasons, Busch is up to four wins already on the season. That gives him nine Cup seasons with at least four wins, or the same number Pearson and Cale Yarborough had for their entire careers.
Again, there’s little reason to think Busch won’t have another four-plus win season. If he gets just one more, that’ll be the same number that drivers named Earnhardt, Gordon and Bobby Allison had. The only drivers with more are Richard Petty (16) and Johnson (12).
So, I’ll provide the numbers, you keep having the debate. And consider yourself armed for verbal combat with statistics, no matter what side you’re on.