By admin | July 29, 2008
By Richard Allen
In 2003 Ryan Newman had a great season. He won eight races and took eleven poles in the process.
2003 was the first year Newman’s team, Penske Racing South, had switched from Ford to Dodge. At the time, some wondered if Dodge had some advantage, or if Penske had provided some new technology to give Dodge an edge, or possibly, Newman and his team were simply out performing the competition.
At that time, Dodge was relatively new to NASCAR, at least in its return to the sport.
In 2008, the same sort of scenario is playing out. Toyota is relatively new to NASCAR, just like Dodge in 2003. A high profile team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has just switched from another manufacturer to Toyota. And, one driver is winning races in bunches.
So far, Kyle Busch is turning in a Ryan Newman like season. He has won seven times on the Sprint Cup Series in 2008. And, like that season those same questions are arising.
Is it that Toyota has some sort of an edge? Did Joe Gibbs Racing bring some technology with them when they switched from Chevrolet this past off season? Or, is Kyle Busch simply a better driver than his counterparts?
To answer the first question, we need to do nothing more than look at the statistics of other Toyota drivers this season. Only one other Toyota driver has scored a win and that was Busch’s JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin. However, that can be a bit misleading. On several occasions this year both Hamlin and Tony Stewart, another JGR driver, have been near victory only to have late race misfortune ruin their chances.
To answer the second question, there can be no mistaking that Joe Gibbs Racing has benefited the Toyota effort. Last year, which was Toyota’s first season in the Sprint Cup Series, was a disaster for the Japanese auto giant.
This year, like 2003, there has been just one driver for the new manufacturer who is essentially doing all the winning, so Busch‘s success cannot be attributed entirely to Toyota.
But now, here is where the real debate starts. Is Kyle Busch that much better behind the wheel than other NASCAR competitors?
At this point it would be difficult to argue against his abilities. Aside from his Sprint Cup victories, Busch has added six Nationwide Series wins and he has taken two trophies in the Craftsman Truck Series as well.
Granted, on the Nationwide Series he has driven the highly regarded #20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing which has been the class of the field this season as shown by the fact that the car has won with four different drivers behind the wheel. However, only one of his wins has come in that car. His other wins have been in JGR’s other car, #18, or while driving for lesser funded Braun Racing.
Busch’s two truck wins have come while racing for Billy Ballew. The highest that particular truck has finished without Busch driving is 9th.
In one regard, Busch’s career statistics look very much like those of Ryan Newman. Newman won eight races in 2003 and has only won a total of 13 races throughout his entire career. Busch has won seven times in 2008 and has just four other Sprint Cup wins.
So to answer the question, is it Toyota or is it Busch? I believe the answer lies in some combination of the two but I would have to give more weight to Busch than his car. I say that simply because he has two teammates in Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart who are without doubt two of the best drivers in the Sprint Cup garage and they have managed but one win between them driving similar equipment.
While it may be distressing to many, Kyle Busch is a great talent behind the wheel of a racecar.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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