The 2023 playoffs are just around the corner and Busch is hoping to do something that hasn’t been done in nearly 30 years — win a NASCAR Cup Series championship with Richard Childress Racing.
The team has six Cup titles, all courtesy of the legendary Dale Earnhardt, who won his final title with RCR in 1994. They haven’t won it since, and their last real shot was in 2014 with Ryan Newman, who ended the season as the championship runner-up.
Busch has been in the playoffs 15 times before, taking the crown twice with Joe Gibbs Racing. But after his shock departure from JGR, many were unsure how he would perform this year.
Well, he and RCR reached Victory Lane in just their second points-paying race together.
Race winner Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
“I think I’ve enjoyed it,” Busch said during Media Day on Thursday. “Moving teams is always kind of scary, like going to a new school or whatever. It’s kind of unnerving. But it’s been really good. Randall [crew chief Randall Burnett] has made it super easy. Everybody at RCR has been great. My thing now is just to try and reward them with the skill and everything that I know. I have to be able to go out there and perform at the best of what I know.
“To bring home a championship, but more importantly, just make that final four. The potential is there. The stuff is there. The team is there. We just need to execute and that starts with me. That starts with Randall, and snowballs from there.”
So how does one reach the Championship 4? Winning your way through each round is the simplest way, but with how close the field is, limiting mistakes and striving for consistency is a far more realistic goal.
“You can’t speed on pitroad,” said Busch. “You can’t slide through your pitbox. You can’t do stupid things that’s going to knock you back ten positions at a time. You can lose a spot or two just by being a little conservative, but I feel like even in those times too, if there’s other guys doing that and you’re aggressive, then you can pick up those spots. It’s all just so hard to pinpoint.
“But with the tracks and the optimism and how we’ve been running and what we’ve been doing, I think there’s no reason why we can’t be in the top four.”
What a championship would mean
Since the current format’s introduction in 2014, Busch has made the Championship 4 five times but not once since his 2019 title run.
Although he’s manage to win three races this year, the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet has been very inconsistent lately with four finishes of 21st or worse in the last seven races.
When asked if he’s a good pick to win it all, Busch remarked: “Well, apparently not. All the algorithms and every other piece of stupid information has us knocked out in the first round, so we got a lot of haters. Gonna prove them wrong.”
It’s not lost on him how big a title would be not just for himself, but for the entire race team.
“It would be phenomenal,” he said. “It would be awesome. That’s what we all strive for. I don’t care what team I’m at, I’m going to go try and win a championship. But to have the history and legacy of RCR and everything that they’ve done over the years with Earnhardt and with the other drivers that have been there. Yeah, it’s been a little quiet lately but that would be nice to shake that up.
“I feel like when you’re in the final four, it’s like a championship season. You just gotta go out and execute in that last race and there’s so many things that can go against you in that last race to not let you win a championship. But that’s a title season. That’s where we want to get to and I feel like we can and we’ll work Phoenix once that time comes.”
Busch’s knowledge and skill behind the wheel have proven to be invaluable for RCR, and has helped the entire organization to become stronger this year.
“They’ve got a good process and procedure of how they do stuff and how they build cars,” said Busch. “I didn’t see anything in that, but they’ve done a really good job taking in some of my ideas and being able to implement them.
He feels like those processes and procedures “have gotten better throughout the year,” but would like to win a couple more races (five total) before saying they have exceeded expectations.
Last year, the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet made the playoffs with then-driver Tyler Reddick. They were eliminated in the very first round, as was Busch while still driving for JGR.
“They were in the playoffs last year,” he said, reflecting on the 2022 season. “I feel like they got a good sense of what it takes and what it’s like. We both got knocked out early, but there’s learning from that.
He then added: “It’s about not making mistakes. that’s where i feel like our detriment has been. And some of it is not self-induced. Like the engine issue at the Indy Road Course, like how do you know that’s gonna happen? Just things like that, but it’s racing. A lot of different circumstances will happen. You just got to work your way around them.”
Although one of the top drivers in the sport, Busch is still human and has made mistakes this year, overdriving the car and crashing out while trying to push the limit. It’s a tempting line to cross with how close the entire field is, but something that you absolutely cannot have in these final ten races if you want to reach Phoenix as a title contender.
“The things that have challenged me the most is just the difficulty and the competition getting closer together,” he explained. “Less cautions (means) less opportunities at being better than the guys the guys that you’re running around. So you kind of get stuck behind them, and that’s frustrating, so you try harder and then you put yourself in a bad spot.”