Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is a machine--a talent machine, when it comes to driving a race car.
His 55th-career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory came Sunday at Pocono Raceway and tied him with Rusty Wallace for ninth on the all-time win list. Consider this: Busch, 34, accomplished the feat in 512 races over 15 seasons. Wallace was 47 when collected his 55th and final win at Martinsville Speedway in his 642nd start.
And Busch is just getting started.
As easy as Busch made it appear on Sunday, each milestone will get increasingly difficult. Twenty-one victories stand between Busch and Dale Earnhardt’s 76 win total—22 wins if the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota wants to pass the seven-time champion for eighth on the all-time list. After that, it’s just a matter of clicking off the victories. Twenty-eight wins to tie Cale Yarborough and Jimmie Johnson—although it’s unlikely that the seven-time champion is finished yet. With 29 wins, Busch passes Yarborough and Johnson and joins Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison at 84 victories.
Standing alone in fourth all-time—with 30 more wins—is definitely attainable, should Busch stay healthy and continue racing. That’s three victories a year over the next decade for a driver whose average victory total is 3.66 wins a season. Busch would be 44 by then, three years younger than Wallace was when he won his 55th and roughly the same age as Johnson is now.
At some point, hopefully, Busch will learn to enjoy the journey. He was absolutely insufferable during his post-race press availability. The paid M&Ms pitchman was almost a caricature of a NASCAR driver, painfully intertwining mentions of Mars’ confections into his comments.
He mustered a moment of joy while tossing his son Brexton into the air—but it was short-lived. Once the questions started on his performance and how it relates to the current car package, Busch’s demeanor shifted.
While Busch has always been brutally honest regarding his disdain for certain car packages, he has also learned to play the game. When asked to offer his sentiments on the current combination of aerodynamics and horsepower, Busch described the sole green flag pass of the race that didn’t involve a restart, a driver slowing to pit or a pass on pit road.
“I passed one car today, and that was on the outside of Turn 3 and I got a good run through Turn 2 and kind of shallowed entry to Turn 3 a little bit, and (Clint) Bowyer went to block, so I just shot out to his outside, got alongside of him,” Busch said. “I mean, that was it. I don't know if anybody else passed anybody on the racetrack for the lead like that, but if so, then maybe this package is awesome. But that's all I know.”
Busch's words were deliberately measured and terse. He refused to rate the package and informed the media center he was finished answering questions about the car. The only competitors less thrilled than Busch on Sunday were the other 36 drivers who didn’t make the trip to Victory Lane at Pocono.
As for the winner, he was simply going through the motions, trying to do his job. But clearly, Busch’s true aggravation lies with the car.
“I just do what I'm supposed to do,” Busch said. “I try to drive as hard as I can, as fast as I can. If there's a car in front of me, I try to pass him. Whichever way I can do that, I try to do it, and if I can't do it, there's days that I get ultimately frustrated because I don't feel like my true talent can show on the racetrack because I'm too limited by the air of everything that's kind of going on around me that I can't do anything.
“As a race car driver when you can't do anything and you can't showcase what your abilities are and how good you should be or you feel like you are, then there's certainly some tense moments and some high frustrations.”
Despite leading the league with four wins, eight top fives and 13 top 10s, Busch couldn’t enjoy the moment. Just as was the case following his Auto Club Speedway win—his 200th aggregate victory in NASCAR’s top three national tours—he was perplexed over the races that got away. Sunday was no different.
“We've had fast cars this year and have thrown away too many, so I've left the racetrack way too many times this year frustrated, and I guess I try not to let the highs be so high and the lows be so low, but I could probably roll somewhere in the middle,” Busch said.
“When you win, there's a lot of guys that enjoy it a heck of a lot more and get the high from it, but to me, that's what I'm supposed to do. That's my job. Today was a successful day, and I look at it like that, and now I'm already looking ahead to next week.”
And he could likely win there, too, at Michigan Speedway or in two weeks at Sonoma Raceway. Yes, Kyle Busch is a machine, just clicking away the victories. But he’d likely get a lot more out of his job if he was less of an automaton and more of a joyful human being.