Kyle Busch on NASCAR’s debate: ‘There’s no greatest of all time’

Kyle Busch sits at an impressive 194 NASCAR national-series victories entering the 2019 season. That’s within driving distance of another historic all-time wins milestone, the amazing 200 set nearly 35 years ago by Richard Petty.

Though close in proximity to Petty’s mark — which was established entirely in NASCAR’s top series — Busch’s numbers are divided among three different stock-car circuits. And that’s a fact that has also divided many history-minded NASCAR observers trying to draw comparisons between the two accomplishments.

For his part, Busch isn’t trying to make his own correlations. He’s simply enjoying the discussion.

“That was just a number I threw out there, even though it was the same number. It was just out of thin air,” Busch said, referencing a casual first mention of the 200-win goal after notching the 50th of his career back in 2009. “But what’s crazy is I’m getting close to it. I didn’t think I’d get close to it, especially this early. I mean, I might have a chance to do it this year.

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“I don’t try to equalize or compare apples to apples on myself and Richard. That’s not what this debate is about. I think it’s cool that there’s a debate. I think it’s cool that there’s a dinner-table-type talk around this.”

That debate has been spirited, with vocal arguments from each side. Advocates for Petty contend that 200 wins in NASCAR’s top division would trump Busch’s tally, which has roughly three-quarters of its win total from the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series ranks. Busch backers retort that his wins came against arguably stiffer competition, with Petty racking up dozens of trophies against thin fields in 100-mile races before NASCAR’s modern era.

Dissecting stats across different eras leads to multiple conclusions and feeds an even larger discussion about who is the all-time No. 1 driver in NASCAR history. Busch doesn’t delve into the latter debate, which he says is impossible to solve.

“People want to figure out who’s the greatest of all time, and in my opinion — in any sport — there’s no greatest of all time,” Busch says. “I think you can have a top five, but it’s going to be really, really hard to decipher who’s the No. 1 of the top five in any sport. You look at Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Steph Curry — guys like that. Look, Michael’s my favorite just because he’s my favorite of the three, but I look at LeBron and what he’s been able to do and the different teams he’s been able to do it with and how he’s led them to championship games eight years in a row. You can’t beat that, you know what I mean? But he doesn’t have more championships than Michael Jordan, and Michael Jordan doesn’t have the most.

“That’s what I’m getting at. Like Tom Brady and (Peyton) Manning, Drew Brees, (Joe) Montana — that’s how I interpret all those things. That’s the comparison I’m trying to build. Do I want to be known as the greatest of all time? No. Do I want to be known as one of the top five? Sure.”

Those unending debates all fuel the weighing of Busch’s legacy in the sport, a legacy he’s still actively building as a 33-year-old driver in his prime. As a one-time champion with 51 (and counting) premier-series wins, his NASCAR Hall of Fame credentials are secure. But he’s still aiming to add a Daytona 500 victory to that portfolio, a goal that he’s redoubled this season.

Adding to that list of accomplishments is what still drives him, and it’s what prompts the question of when he might consider exiting the cockpit and enjoying life after competition. He cites the example of Jeff Gordon, who quit full-time driving on his own terms in 2015, going out by battling Busch for that season’s title.

“What’s left on the list? It’s like, well, I’ve about checked everything off. It’s just now about adding to it,” Busch said of his legacy. “A one-time champion is great, but two is better. A one-time Daytona 500 winner would be awesome. That would check off the rest of the boxes. It would complete the deal. But then winning more of them. People ask, what’s going to keep you going? Well, it’s winning more of them. I’ll be done when I feel like I’m not able to perform and be at the top of my game anymore.”

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