With 200-plus wins (and counting), motivation still peaking for Kyle Busch

Jessica Ruffin

FORT WORTH, Texas — When Kyle Busch was racing Legends Cars at a young age, the record was eight wins in a single season.

The driver that would later be nicknamed “Rowdy” won 16 races that next year — but had his sights set on more.

“It was, ‘OK, I won 16 in a year and I won 8 in a row, so can I now win 10 in a row or 12 in a row? How can you continue to get better and do better and do greater things?” Busch told NASCAR.com, seated in front of his motorhome Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.

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“And I think that’s just what stems (from) me continuing to try to evolve and not rest on your laurels and just continue to strive to be better and do all the things that you need to do to succeed and have the opportunities around you when you have the opportunities around you like I do.”

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Busch’s talent is inarguable and that gives him the tools to be successful in racing. But it’s his mental toughness and drive that pushes him to be the best. He’s not satisfied with simply being great; he wants to be extraordinary. No matter how strong of a run he’s been on, there’s always room to grow. That’s how all the mentally tough and extraordinary sports figures think, from Tiger Woods to Michael Jordan to Tom Brady.

Busch is no different; when he won his 200th national-series race at Auto Club Speedway earlier this season, Busch was thinking about the next goal shortly after: When can he get win No. 201 (already done), what win total he could be at if he had won a couple more events in 2019 (he’s won 9 of his 14 national races entered prior to the start of Sunday’s Cup race at Texas).

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And yes, even the wins can be bettered, too.

“Even when it’s No. 1, you’ve gotta think back to some of the mistakes that you made, some of the things that you didn’t quite do exactly right, keep that kind of in the back of your mind in your notebook and kind of (revisit) with those when you go back to those next season or if you go back to those a second time in the season,” Busch said.

Where does that drive come from? Busch said it’s within him. It always has been. But he also has another tiny — but powerful — person that motivates him: his 3-year-old son, Brexton.

“He might be the biggest reason and the biggest tool I’ve got in my arsenal that gives me the passion and the drive to go out there and win,” Busch said with a smile. “He asks me every time, ‘Hey Dad, you going to go out there and win today?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, buddy we‘re going to go out there and win today.’

“When I don’t win, he’s mad. He might be more upset than I’m upset, if that’s believable. He is passionate about it. He wants to win in anything that he does. So I have to let him win a few times but I also have to beat him a few times to show him it’s OK if you lose, you’ve just got to figure out how to get better. You’ve got to figure out how to do the right things the next time to make yourself better.”

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Young Brexton learned that lesson first-hand recently after taking a tumble on a four-wheeler.

“He was going down a hill, turned it too much and flipped and cried for about five minutes and I said, ‘All right, you done? Ready to get back on, you want to go again?’ ” Busch recalled. “And he was like, no. And I was like, ‘Well you gotta get back on the horse and ride it again …’

“Somehow he understood that, put his helmet back on, got back on and rode it again.”

That same lesson he taught to his son is the one that Busch learned firsthand after breaking his leg and foot at Daytona International Speedway in 2015. From the sidelines, he watched his fellow competitors fight for wins he should have been vying for. He saw someone else pilot his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

He used that as motivation to chop a year-long estimated recovery to three months, resuming a campaign that ended with five Cup victories and his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. That season also coincided with the birth of Brexton, and since his recovery he’s won 61 races across all three series, including 24 in the Monster Energy Series.

And Busch saw some personal growth through it all.

“You definitely saw a different light of what the sport is and who you are and things like that being on the sidelines and not being able to be out there and on the race track,” Busch said of the time. “Having somebody else drive your car, being away from it all. Those are certain situations that you certainly don’t take for granted anymore. And obviously having the opportunity that I’ve had with coming back and learning from that injury and learning through those things, those personal experiences and also having my son Brexton during that time has led to some personal growth and has allowed me to be a stronger person overall. …

“I’m a bit — a bit — more understanding in some things, a bit more patient in some things,” he continued with a slight grin. “But also, it’s just, I don’t know, in other things I have a little bit better tact of being able to attack certain projects instead of just being so bull-headed or running people over or not necessarily coming off in the correct way. A lot of people have understood who I am that I’ve worked with over the years, Andy Graves, David Wilson, guys at Toyota, I’m hard on them sometimes. And they’re like ‘damn, Kyle was really hard on us today.’

“But they know the passion and they know the spirit and they know where it stems from. I think it’s just all in all a package growth of being better.”

PHOTOS: Kyle Busch through the years

NASCAR is a unique sport in that drivers — no matter how successful — lose more than they win. Those losses are motivating, Busch said. But the wins are what continues to drive him, as he looks for a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — and beyond.

It’s not pressure; it’s a way of life for the No. 18. He’s never known another way.

“There’s no other thing for me than being able to go out there and score the win, especially when people can pick you or think that you have the opportunity to win in every single time you’re behind the wheel of a car or the race tracks you go to,” Busch said. “We can win at any of them. You’re always the favorite, so people expect you to be out there going for the wins. So, we gotta live up to all those expectations.”

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