NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – NOVEMBER 30: NASCAR Cup Series driver, Kyle Busch speaks to the media during the media scrum at Music City Center on November 30, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Kyle Busch did not return to the Championship 4 in his first season with Richard Childress Racing. He is still willing to give his year a solid grade due to some early success.
“Probably a B-minus,” Busch said ahead of the NASCAR Awards Thursday at the Music City Center. “I’m kind of floating between the C and a B-minus there.
“Started the season, I’d give us definitely a middle-A, for sure, the first probably 10-12 races. And then the second half of the season I’d give us somewhere in the C, so average it out, B-minus.”
Busch was in contention for wins early in his first season with Richard Childress Racing. He won at Fontana, the final race on the track’s 2-mile configuration. That was his fifth career Cup win at Fontana and his first trip to victory lane with RCR.
The early success continued with a win at Talladega Superspeedway when Busch capitalized on a late-race incident involving Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney. He took the lead as the final caution of the day brought the race to an end.
Busch’s third win was at Gateway in June. He started from pole and led a race-high 121 laps, including the final 60.
The situation changed with the race at Loudon in July. Busch crashed and finished 37th. It was the first of nine finishes of 20th or worse in the final 17 races.
“If we could have ended the season how we started the season, we would have certainly been something to contend with at the end of the year,” Busch said. “I mean, our stats weren’t too far off of the champion’s stats. … We just had more DNFs.”
Busch says part of the struggles were due to the rest of the competitors catching up to what Richard Childress Racing was doing. He also says that some of his struggles were just simple mistakes — pushing too hard when it wasn’t necessary.
“Just trying to figure out more about this car for me and how to drive it,” Busch said. “The car always trends loose, so me trending loose, being over the tire, over the peak of the tire, I spin out and crash too many times.
“… You’re gonna have days of 12th-15th, but how do you put that in your mind that you can be able to do that or that you can accept that and just take the finish?”
Cleaning up mistakes is one of the offseason projects for Busch and RCR, as is putting together consistently fast cars.
Some of the work will take place in the shop as the team tries to improve its setups. Other work will actually take place in locations across the United States as RCR continues to emphasize team building.
One example is a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas that takes place Dec. 1-3. Busch and Austin Dillon were co-drivers in this event in 2022 as they prepared for their first season as teammates.
“(The endurance race) was just something fun to do and kind of get me and Austin some time together, me and Randall (Burnett) some time together,” Busch said.
“We’re all going to be down there doing that again. So that’ll be fun. And then there’s a hunting trip in early January that Richard (Childress) and I are gonna go on.”
All of this work, whether it takes place in the shop or in a hunting blind, is done with the goal of bringing RCR back into championship contention.
For Busch, there is extra motivation as he aims to write another chapter in a Hall of Fame career. He already has the most wins among active drivers (63) and two Cup titles but can add to his legacy with some important milestone wins.
“I’d like to think that I’m not done yet, but there’s a few more things out there for me that I can do,” Busch said. “I’d love nothing more than to bring a championship back to RCR again. And of course, I got a box to check of that Daytona 500 trophy.”