Kyle Busch helping Richard Childress Racing return to form

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 25, 2023


Auto Racing Writer

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — There were many dark days last season for Kyle Busch as his long, successful run with Joe Gibbs Racing came to an end.

JGR had lost its sponsor for the two-time Cup Series champion and the future NASCAR Hall of Famer was an expensive free agent. He offered to lower his market value and scoured the garage looking for a seat, facing the harsh reality that with all his talent he might not land with a top team.

It was Austin Dillon who asked his grandfather to consider speaking with Busch and somehow forget a 2011 incident in which Richard Childress attacked Busch following a Truck Series race. Childress famously removed his wristwatch before pummeling Busch as payback for wrecking a Richard Childress Racing entry – a confrontation that earned Childress a $150,000 fine from NASCAR.

Dillon made a convincing argument and a pairing that once seemed unfathomable came to fruition as Busch left JGR and Toyota for a new job driving a Chevrolet for Childress.

Through 11 races, it is a partnership that is changing the Cup Series landscape.

Busch won his second race of the season on Sunday with a victory in double overtime at Talladega Superspeedway, where he milked every last drop of fuel in his tank to steal the win. Crew chief Randall Burnett had called Busch in for a splash of gas during overtime, a decision that came too late for Busch to make it to pit road. Busch was secretly pleased: by not pitting, he gambled that he’d have a shot at the win rather than just a reasonable finish.

“Rowdy” is on a mission this season to prove his value, reaffirm he is still an elite racer and thank RCR for giving him a job when his prospects seemed so grim.

“They didn’t think that Kyle Busch was washed up or anything like that,” Busch said. “It was really a breath of fresh air to get over there and get to work. Trust me, I’ve probably done more, worked harder in this year than I have in the last four — just because of feeling like it’s my duty, it’s my service to them to give them everything that I’ve got, absolutely everything that I’ve got, for them sticking their neck out for me at RCR.”

It goes both ways.

RCR had fallen on hard times over the last decade and the Cup Series had seemed to pass by the proud organization that won six championships with the late Dale Earnhardt. RCR won just five races after Kevin Harvick left following the 2013 season but showed some promise last year with Tyler Reddick, who won three times.

Reddick decided he was leaving RCR at the end of the 2023 season to drive for Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan. With an opportunity for Reddick to move a year early, Dillon pushed his grandfather to consider Busch.

The first reward was Busch’s win earlier this season at Fontana, which earned him an automatic berth in the playoffs. Then came the win at Talladega, where Childress has 13 career victories as an owner and raced 19 times himself from 1969 through 1981. His career best finish was sixth in 1980.

It was such a special breakthrough for Childress — who last went to Talladega’s victory lane in 2011 with Clint Bowyer — that the 77-year-old entered the post-race news conference with an open bottle of champagne from Childress Vineyards.

“I think he’s helping us build RCR back to where we want to be,” Childress said of Busch, while making sure to credit his grandson for the hire. “Racing is like life — there’s peaks and valleys. When you get in on a peak, it’s harder to stay there. You got to be prepared when you’re at the top. We’ve been there.

“We’ve also been in the valley, the very bottom. You got to work harder and have the right drive and emotion to put you up to the top. That’s what we’ve worked hard to get there. It’s took a long road.”

Busch insisted there is work to do, despite notable improvement on superspeedways and intermediate tracks. He said RCR’s cars are still struggling on short tracks but he is working on it within the organization, where he’s been an immediate asset.

“His ability speaks for itself obviously. What he knows about the cars and the strategy, just how the race plays out, what he needs in a car, all that is hugely helpful,” said Burnett, the crew chief. “I think it helps me be better, be more detailed and really be on top of my game because he’s going to challenge you if you’re not.”


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