TALLADEGA, Ala. — Eight months ago, Kyle Busch revealed how much issues on and off the track wore on him, saying then that it had “been hard as hell.”
Busch’s 15-year tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing was coming to an end. Not only did he have to find a place to race, he had to find a new manufacturer for his Craftsman Truck team.
Richard Childress Racing vigorously pursued the two-time Cup champion. Busch noted Andy Petree, RCR’s vice president of competition, “blowing me up for a couple weeks on phone calls.”
The reception from the rest of the organization also invigorated Busch.
“They didn’t think that Kyle Busch was washed up or anything like that,” he said. “It was really a breath of fresh air to get over there and get to work.”
After signing with RCR, he later partnered Kyle Busch Motorsports with Chevrolet, taking some of the pressure off in such a difficult and momentous year.
Even so, frustrations continued last fall. Busch’s final season at Joe Gibbs Racing saw him eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs for the first time in his career.
So much has changed for Busch since last August.
Sunday, Busch celebrated in victory lane at Talladega Superspeedway for the first time since 2008 — his first season at JGR.
He becomes the third Cup driver this season to have two victories, joining Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson.
While it’s easy to believe this season’s success has come naturally for Busch, that would be a mistake.
“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,” Busch said after his 62nd career Cup victory.
It’s evident in the meetings. Kaulig Racing is a part of the competition meetings with Richard Childress Racing and Justin Haley noted how vocal Busch can be in those gatherings.
“He never doesn’t ask a question,” Haley said last month. “If there’s even a thought in his mind of a what if or why, he’s not afraid to ask it. I really appreciate it of him.
“Our alliance and our organization in general, he pushes us. He’s not afraid to say, ‘Hey, this is not what we’re supposed to be doing. Hey this is wrong,’ or ‘Hey, this is right.’ ’’
Even after winning Sunday, Busch noted much work remains.
“I think next week is another big test for us, as the RCR group, statistically speaking, at Dover was horrendous a year ago,” he said. “Hopefully, we can turn that around.”
While Busch works to reshape Richard Childress Racing, the changes will take time.
“Have you watched our short track program?” he said with a grin when asked about his impact on the organization. “It’s a struggle. We’re working on that.”
Still, Childress likes what Busch has been able to do 10 races into their first season together.
“I think he’s helping us build RCR back to where we want to be,” Childress said after his team’s 115th career Cup victory and 13th at Talladega.
“I have to give all the credit to Austin Dillon. He’s the one that came to me, he knew Kyle was going somewhere else. He said, ‘Pop, what do you think about bringing Kyle Busch over here?’ ”
That simple question changed an organization. And changed Busch.