Kyle Busch and Richard Childress Racing are one year strong together.
One year and six days, to be exact. Or 53 weeks. It was Sept. 13, 2022, when Busch was officially welcomed to the team.
“This year has definitely flown by,” Busch tells RACER. “No, I would not say that it has felt like it’s been 12 months’ time; maybe five or six months, actually. But it has been a year, and it’s been a really good year.”
On the track, it’s been a good year as well. Busch, who is still NASCAR Cup Series championship-eligible, describes it as having met expectations for the No. 8 team, and there is still plenty more to go after.
“But it’s been really fun to be brought into RCR and into the system and work with everyone in the front office,” Busch says. “Also, Randall [Burnett] and the team and Richard and Austin [Dillon], and everybody at Team Chevy. It’s just been a whole learning experience, and just understanding the dynamic that I came from to the dynamic that I’m now in, and kind of morphing those two together into what can be better than maybe what RCR’s been.”
Busch spent 15 years at Joe Gibbs Racing, and the expectation was that he would be a lifer. But after 56 wins and two championships, the sport and business of racing (including the heavy dependence on sponsors) had changed enough for a driver of Busch’s caliber to end up elsewhere.
A year later, Busch, now 38, admits he’s gained a new perspective on the sport. He was in his early ‘20s the last time he went through a contact negation that resulted in his joining a new organization.
“When I did it the first time from Hendrick (Motorsports) to Gibbs, I was a kid and just shut my mouth and listened,” Busch says. “I’ve come over here and I’m definitely not polished, I’m no politician, but I’ve definitely come in and been better at being able to voice a little opinion and discuss the pros and cons of a lot of different things. To have open arms and open ears from the RCR side has certainly helped that a lot.”
A new team, a new owner, a race shop, procedures. And partners. Busch, for the first time in over a decade, had to develop new relationships with new corporate leaders such as Cheddar’s, who was on his car at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“The fact of the matter is there were a couple out there at RCR that were a little hesitant to begin, but I went in face-first, and we did a couple of dinners and meetings, stuff like that, and got them to understand more of me and who I am,” Busch says. “They were like, OK, let’s take the chance, and I think it’s been remarkable for both of us: me being at RCR with new sponsors, proving that there are companies out there who will put their names behind us.
“The Cheddar’s folks have been really fun. Their social engagement has been really, really cool, and have a great group on that front.”
Many expected Busch to be a lifer at Gibbs, and after having raced for JGR for 15 years, he almost was. But the move to driving under Richard Childress, and the fresh start that came along with it, have translated into a welcome reset for the two-time Cup champion. Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images
Busch fully embraced the idea of a fresh start and everything that came with it. However, he knows full well it takes more than a year to reach the ultimate destination.
“When Richard walked through the shop and told everybody I was coming, it lit up everyone, and they felt as though – I wouldn’t say they won the lottery – but essentially got a No. 1 draft pick,” Busch says. “I was coming over there to help rebuild and bring an organization back to its forefront.
“I’m still working on that every day. I wouldn’t say that we’ve found the recipe yet that’s going to take us to that level, but I think each week we continue to build on that. It is a building process. Things don’t happen overnight. The way we are doing things and what I’m asking for out of practices or data and things like that, I continue to try to get more and more of that because they just never really did any of that beforehand and didn’t really share a whole lot of that with their drivers beforehand. I like to be in on a lot more than what they’re kind of used to.”
It took Busch no time at all to get up to speed in a new system. A second-place finish in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum (non-points) gave way to one of the closest times Busch came to winning the Daytona 500 as he led at the 200-lap mark. Busch then won in Fontana a week later and entered the postseason as the No. 5 seed with three victories.
In his introductory announcement a year ago, Busch spoke about the good that can come of change. That included him behind the wheel, trying to clean up aggravations from mistakes of years past.
“Yeah that didn’t change,” Busch laughs. “Still tons of mistakes. Actually, I would say a lot more on my behalf of mistakes, just dumb (expletive). It’s speeding on pit road. We kind of had to find our way – I think we sped four of the first six races. So, we just had to clean up our act at the beginning of the year, trying to be too aggressive. I knew my settings from before, and we had to dial it in and make it right. Then, other stuff, like mistakes on discussing the car in practice and leading our team in the wrong direction a little bit with things I was saying.
“So, trying to (fight) through a little bit of my communication dialogue and Randall and I being on the same page. There was a little bit of that early on, but jumping into their system early, I would say our first five races, we were pretty quick at each place and it was really cool. A good start. We’ve had some really fast cars since, just not as good of finishes to go with those good cars.”
A year down and many more to go. Busch is settled and in a good place.
“I think so,” he says. “I think the biggest thing for me was the last couple of years of having struggled at JGR – we won one race and then two races and one race my last three years. That just wasn’t KFB-esq and so it was frustrating.
“Time for a reset, time for a fresh start. It just kind of got a little dull or whatever you want to say. I had Adam [Stevens], I never really wanted to lose Adam and then I got Ben [Beshore], and I thought we were going to click and be better than what we were, and unfortunately, it wasn’t. I was hoping for a little bit of Denny [Hamlin] resurgence when he got Chris Gabehart.
“It wasn’t in the cards, but I got to RCR.”