Kyle Busch’s Move to Richard Childress Racing Isn’t the Step Back It Seems Like

Richard Childress Racing has had just a sliver of the success Joe Gibbs Racing has enjoyed for much of the past decade. But Kyle Busch’s move from the Toyotas of JGR to the Chevrolets of RCR might actually provide him a better chance to win races.

Busch has career statistics that place him among the all-time greats in NASCAR. He has 60 Cup Series wins, tied for ninth-most in the sport’s history and most among active drivers alongside Kevin Harvick, whose career ironically reached a higher level after he left RCR in 2014.

Busch also has a pair of Cup Series championships and the 2009 Xfinity Series title. He is the all-time winningest driver in both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series. And his 224 wins combined among all three levels are the most of any driver, ahead of Richard Petty’s 200 wins that all came at the Cup Series level.

Kyle Busch excelled during his 15-year run at Joe Gibbs Racing

Much of Busch’s success has come while driving for JGR. He had four career wins after three full-time seasons with Hendrick Motorsports before he moved to JGR at age 21 in 2008. He then burst forward with eight wins and more than 1,600 laps led.

It took until 2015 for him to win his first Cup Series title, but Busch has made the NASCAR Playoffs in 13 of his 15 seasons at JGR, won the series championship again in 2019, and has won at least one race in all 15 campaigns.

JGR, as a whole, has been somewhat dominant throughout those years. Along with Busch’s two titles, the organization has placed at least three drivers in the playoffs every season since 2014. It also had four cars combine for a modern-era record 19 Cup Series races in 2019.

Richard Childress Racing has struggled since Kevin Harvick left

Meanwhile, RCR has fallen from the ranks of the top-tier Cup Series teams during that time. The organization, a four-car operation with three drivers who won at least one race in 2011, has since downsized to two cars since 2018. Team owner Richard Childress has also not had a driver finish in the top 10 in the points standings and win a race in the same season since Harvick was third with four wins in 2013, his last year with the organization.

The advent of the Next Gen car has helped RCR’s performance this season. Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon have combined for three wins, which are the most the organization has celebrated in a single season again since Harvick had four in 2013.

Reddick has developed into a legitimate championship contender since he debuted in 2020, while Busch’s performance has taken a step back.

Busch has struggled of late relative to his past accomplishments

Kyle Busch ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400
Kyle Busch walks the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on September 11, 2022 | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

At age 37, Busch is still one of the top drivers in the sport, no doubt, but he has not produced nearly as much success since his 2019 title.

He won at least four races in an incredible five straight seasons from 2015-19 to go with 16 pole awards. He was part of the Championship 4 in each of those five years and finished inside the top five in 48.5 percent of the races during that stretch.

Then something changed.

It took until the fall race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2020, with only two races remaining, before he captured his first and only win of the COVID-19 pandemic-altered season. Busch then won a pair of races in 2021 but was eliminated from the playoffs after the second round for the second consecutive season.

The current season has not been any better. His only win came with a massive dose of good fortune. He was running third during the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway when leaders Reddick and Chase Briscoe collided in the race’s final turn. They both crashed, and Busch was able to sneak by for the win.

Busch entered the playoffs as the No. 11 seed in the 16-driver field, and finishes of 26th or worse in the first two postseason events have him two points behind the elimination cutline as he enters the final race of the first round Saturday night at Bristol.

It has been years since Busch was a strong championship contender. The same could be said for RCR, but Reddick has one more win and three more top-fives than Busch this season and sits those two points ahead of Busch in the playoff standings.

A move from JGR to RCR looks like a step back on the surface, but there is plenty of reason to believe Busch could have a better season next year, especially since he will get the No. 8 team that has helped Reddick become a title contender this season.

This could be a quite unanticipated union that might reinvigorate the careers of both the driver and the owner.

Stats courtesy of Racing Reference

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