Set to make his official debut in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet at the 2023 Daytona 500, Kyle Busch is about to enter into the next chapter of his storied NASCAR career after spending the past 15 years in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
While Busch has significant reason for optimism as he takes over a car that went to Victory Lane three times this past season with Tyler Reddick at the controls, the two-time Cup Series champion and his supporters would be wise to pump the brakes on any expectations they have of Year One at RCR unfolding like Year One at JGR.
To put it bluntly: It’s just not going to happen. And in a moment, we’ll explore the reasons why.
All the stars aligned for Kyle Busch in his first year at JGR
When Kyle Busch assumed the reins of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at the start of 2008, he’d just completed his final year at Hendrick Motorsports — the organization where he began his Cup Series career in 2005.
Over three seasons in the No. 5 Chevrolet owned by then-future NASCAR Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick, Busch recorded four wins — two in his rookie season and one in both 2006 and 2007.
So when Busch joined JGR, he was no Cup Series veteran, but he’d been around long enough to move beyond any initial growing pains and was rapidly approaching a period of years that most people who follow the sport and know it well would consider the prime of a driver’s career.
Meanwhile, JGR was coming off a four-win season and entering into a new partnership with Toyota, which had joined NASCAR’s top series in 2007 with some other teams. Although the Toyotas struggled in ‘07, the manufacturer harbored high hopes that bringing the powerhouse JGR organization into the fold would right the ship. And, likewise, JGR officials believed that a move from Chevrolet to Toyota would position the company well for the future.
So, when Busch came over to JGR, the stage was set for him to potentially enjoy immediate success. Just how much success he’d find in his first year with the team, no one knew, of course.
Kyle Busch will be hard-pressed to replicate the success from his JGR debut season
Kyle Busch wasted no time settling into his new home at Joe Gibbs Racing, starting off the 2008 season with back-to-back fourth-place finishes and winning in just his fourth start, which came at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch went on to collect eight trophies that year — more than any other driver — and lead the points standings almost the entire regular season.
But to expect him to achieve a similar feat in his debut season with RCR is little more than wishful thinking, for at least three reasons.
First, although Busch owns 60 Cup Series wins along with two championships, 2008 is the only time he’s ever been able to score eight victories in a single year — and he’s never scored more in a season.
So, based on his history over 18 seasons at the Cup level, the odds are clearly stacked against him matching or breaking any personal records in his initial season at RCR.
Second, Busch is pairing with an organization in RCR that, prior to a four-win 2022, hadn’t secured more than two victories in a season since 2013 — Kevin Harvick’s last year with the company. While Busch is jumping in a car that went to Victory Lane three times last year with now-former RCR driver Tyler Reddick, Busch will still need some time — maybe even a whole season — to completely mesh with crew chief Randall Burnett, a new manufacturer, and a new team.
Lastly, even if Busch’s transition to RCR turns out to be totally seamless, the Las Vegas native’s recent history at the Cup level — where he’s won just four races over the past three seasons — makes it doubtful that he’ll come anywhere close to matching his win total from Year One at JGR.