FONTANA, Calif. — The first time Kyle Busch won a professional race, the then-13-year-old thanked his older brother Kurt.
For not being in that race.
Twenty years later, Kurt went to Auto Club Speedway’s Victory Lane to congratulate Kyle on winning his 200th career NASCAR race.
“They’re all added up through his hard work, his dedication to perfection,” Kurt Busch said Sunday after finishing sixth to his brother.
Kyle Busch’s accomplishment will be debated. Some will suggest the accolades are hollow because many of his 147 wins in the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series came with superior equipment and against inferior competition. Others will look at his 53 Cup wins — which has him 11th on the all-time victory list — and note his talent is worthy of the praise heaped upon him.
Forget about the number 200, don’t let it distract you. And don’t let any discussion of comparing it to Richard Petty’s 200 Cup wins distract you. They’re different.
“Somebody asked me about whether or not I was the greatest of all time,” said Busch, the 2015 series champion who scored his first career Cup victory at this track. “I’m never going to self‑proclaim that. That’s for others to debate.
“I would just like to be attributed or in that mix of the top five, top eight guys. I think by the time I’m all said and done, I could be in the top two or three of those guys of greatest of all time.”
But one thing to look at is what Busch is doing in Cup.
He has won 13 of the last 50 Cup races, dating back to his 2017 playoff victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
That’s a 26 percent winning percentage. That’s ridiculous. But so are 200 career NASCAR wins (again, don’t let that number distract you).
Busch has accomplished his recent level of dominance in an era of ever-changing rules from stage racing to aerodynamic and horsepower alterations intended to keep cars closer together. He succeeds in an era where drivers can see the data on their competitors. No rule change has stopped Busch from winning.
“Take a look at football,” said Busch’s car owner, NFL Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. “Take a look at football. We have something going on over there. We got a team that’s dominating things.”
Busch hasn’t reached the championship level domination of that team that Gibbs, a former coach of the Washington Redskins, wouldn’t let pass his lips, but it’s hard to argue what Busch has done in Cup lately.
“The thing you can count on in pro sports, everybody is coming,” Gibbs said. “You look at all those race teams out there and how good they are.”
Busch’s biggest competition — other than himself — was Team Penske, which had the top three cars at one point in the race. Instead Penske drivers finished second (Joey Logano), third (Brad Keselowski) and fifth (Ryan Blaney).
“It’s Team Penske and the 18 car,” Logano said of Busch. “They got something. They’ve got a good driver. They’ve got a good crew chief. They’re making good adjustments. They’re building good cars. You put something like that together, they win races.
“I wouldn’t say we’re far off. We’re right there and we’re leading laps as well. Today may have been his day. We’ll come back and fight hard next week.”
They couldn’t beat Busch on a day he cost himself the lead by speeding on pit road on Lap 123 in the 200-lap race. Busch dropped to 18th for the restart.
Stevens counseled his driver that there was enough time to make up the lost ground even in a race where the field got strung out the longer a green-flag run went.
Stevens has been Busch’s crew chief for 43 of Busch’s 200 NASCAR victories. Stevens knows when to coddle, when to push back and when to encourage. Such was the case during the final caution on Lap 165.
Busch, who was leading, debated a change to the car, saying he was afraid to free the car too much.
“Don’t be afraid,” Stevens told his driver.
Stevens later said: “I was really just busting his chops.”
“I didn’t want him to not tell me what the car was doing because we were learning about the magnitude of our changes,” Stevens said. “I didn’t want him to forecast his impression upon what we were going to do. I just wanted him to tell me what it was doing.”
The changes worked and Busch was back in front for the final 26 laps.
Then it was just a matter of time before he could sing.
“All I do is win, win and win no matter what,” Busch said on the radio after taking the checkered flag, reciting a line from DJ Khaled’s song “All I do is win.”
For as big as this victory was, there will soon be another race. Busch will compete in Saturday’s Truck race at Martinsville Speedway and the Cup race the following day.
There are more races to win.
“I think anything beyond this is just another number,” he said. “I mean, I could go lightly and say 250 (wins), or I could reach for the stars and say 300. What’s wrong with that?”