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How Kyle Busch’s dominant start made NASCAR history

Some would call it preposterous, to mention Kyle Busch’s name in the same breath as NASCAR’s all-time greats: the Dale Earnhardts and Richard Pettys of the world. Others might call it slander, fake news or any number of ways to say ridiculous.

But the truth of the matter? Right now, through nine races of this young NASCAR season, Busch is having an all-time dominant stretch — and the only thing ridiculous here is trying to argue he isn’t.

These are Busch’s finishes this season, from best to worst (and remember, he’s won three straight): first, first, first; then second, second, second; then third; seventh; and finally 25th. That’s an average finish of 4.89. The numbers written out look even more impressive: 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 7, 25.

That is a lot of low numbers.

As a result of that dominance, Busch has already built more than a 50-point-cushion atop the Cup Series leaderboard, and the regular season isn’t even half done. At this rate, Busch could go the rest of the year without winning and still cruise into the third round of the playoffs. Heck, who would blink twice if he made the championship in that fashion?

For as great as Busch has been, though, it feels necessary to provide some historical context to the moment.

Just how historic has his beginning to the season been, really? Is it up there with anything Earnhardt or Petty did, or is that just more chit-chat?

For comparison, from NASCAR history here are four of the other more dominant stretches to begin a Cup season:

Darrell Waltrip, 1981: Waltrip, like all the other Hall of Famers on this list (or future Hall of Famers), had a number of terrific seasons. His best opening, though, came in 1981, when he won four of the Cup Series’ first nine races. But even with more wins than Busch, his average finish of 13.56 during that stretch doesn’t stack up. Waltrip had four finishes outside the Top 15 in ‘81, compared to just one for Busch this year (and in the unpredictable Daytona 500, at that). Both good, but Busch probably gets the edge.

Bill Elliott, 1985: Awesome Bill from Dawsonville may not have won the Cup championship in 1985, but he did win the Winston Million — a $1 million prize for winning three of NASCAR’s four major races — in what was clearly his best overall season. Elliott won four of his first nine races like Waltrip, but had a better average finish of 9.44. Still not as consistent as Busch, but then again, hardly anyone ever has been. Elliott also won his 10th race that season — could Busch do the same this weekend at Talladega?

Dale Earnhardt, 1987: No list of the greats could be complete without some mention of Petty or Earnhardt, so here comes the Intimidator. Earnhardt would win his third Cup Series title in 1987, and that trophy largely came through the strength of his start. Earnhardt won six of his first nine races that season, including four in a row at one point. His average finish of 3.44 surpasses Busch’s this season, as do his wins. Or in other words, you can’t beat everyone, Kyle.

Jimmie Johnson, 2007: The best modern comparison for Busch’s dominant start is Johnson’s 2007 campaign, the year he ended up winning his second of five straight Cup Series championships. Johnson’s first nine races that year actually parallel Busch’s fairly nicely: he also won three races and had his worst finish in the Daytona 500. But unlike Busch, Johnson wasn’t hitting the Top 10 every other week. His average finish of 11.67 is hurt by wrecking out twice, but otherwise, this is about as close as can be for a Busch comparison. Did we mention that Johnson would also win the 10th race that year, and a championship?

As you can see, Busch’s dominant stretch to begin the 2018 NASCAR season is nothing to scoff at. What he’s accomplishing is historic, or at least right there with historic numbers in the past. (For those of you inclined to point out Petty’s exclusion here, his 1967 championship season began with only two wins in the first nine races and an average finish of 10.11, also below Busch’s.)

Now all that’s left to do? Win No. 4 this weekend at Talladega, for starters … and then try to parlay that into a second championship. That will be difficult to do. But history seems to be in Busch’s favor.

Kyle Busch celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Kyle Busch, center, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., Saturday, April 21, 2018.