Kyle Busch Motorsports is boasting a proud group of alumni that’s come through their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series organization. From Erik Jones to Christopher Bell to Noah Gragson to William Byron to Bubba Wallace, etc, KBM was constantly boosting drivers’ young NASCAR careers to brighter futures up the ranks.
But, over the last few years, their stats have taken a dip. The proof is there. That’s forced KBM to mythically install a turnstile at their front door. I mean, if you want to have a future with them and as a Toyota development driver as a whole, you better win and better do so quickly.
KBM is doing nothing wrong by this.
2021 will see a third straight year with both full time drivers being new to the team. 2019 saw Todd Gilliland in the No. 4 Toyota and Harrison Burton in the No. 18 Toyota. 2020 saw Raphael Lessard in the 4 Truck and Christian Eckes in the 18. 2021 will see John Hunter Nemechek replacing Lessard in the 4 and Chandler Smith replacing Eckes in the 18.
So, why so much turnover you may be wondering? On the surface, you could say that KBM is being harsh to younger drivers. Why not give them more years to groom their racing habits?
Well, it’s because KBM has top of the line trucks. They’re win ready now. With an abundance of young Toyota drivers ready to move up the ranks in NASCAR, Toyota’s philosophy is to put them in a win now situation and see how they handle it. If they fail, they have someone new to come in and give it a try.
Just look at the 4 Truck as a prime example. Erik Jones drove it in 2015. He won three wins, had 11 top five finishes, 20 top 10’s, five poles and led 925 laps on his way to a championship. He’d graduate to the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing after.
In 2016, it was Christopher Bell’s turn. He had one win, but nine top five’s, 17 top 10’s, 197 laps led and made it to the Championship 4. That allowed him a second stint in that truck the very next year. He gave KBM their second title in three years after scoring five wins, 15 top five finishes, 21 top 10’s, five poles and 875 laps led.
What if I told you that the Truck hasn’t made the playoffs since.
In those three years, Jones and Bell combined for nine wins, 35 top fives, 58 top 10’s, 10 poles, 1,997 laps led and two championships.
In the three years since?
Two wins, 14 top five finishes, 30 top 10’s, two poles and 300 laps led.
Todd Gilliland took over the Truck after the first four races of the 2018 season due to his young age. He had no wins, four top five finishes, nine top 10’s, one pole and 208 laps led that year. He was 10th in the final standings. He returned in 2019 for one win, six top fives, 14 top 10’s, one pole and 72 laps led with also an 11th place finish in the standings. After being publicly called out by Busch to do better, his stats didn’t improve so he was replaced by Lessard for this past season. Lessard, had one win, four top five’s, seven top 10’s, no poles and 20 laps led. He also failed to make the playoffs and came home 12th in the final standings.
The 18 Truck was the same.
After Noah Gragson won two races, had 12 combined top five’s, 30 top 10’s, nine poles, 812 laps led and a near championship in 2018, Harrison Burton and then Christian Eckes took over the last two years. They’ve combined to have no wins, 14 top fives, 22 top 10’s, no poles and 191 laps led. Their final points finishes were 12th and eighth respectively. Each had seven top fives and 11 top 10’s and each were replaced the next year now.
Burton, did move up to Xfinity and thrived as a rookie in 2020. Eckes, will have to find a new team.
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch has won 17 times in a part time role obviously since 2015. He’s done so in just 30 starts. Greg Biffle even came back and won a race in a part time role. It was his first NASCAR start in a couple of years at that and his first Truck race in a long time. He still won.
The Trucks were proven to have what it takes to win races and compete for championships. The drivers just weren’t living up to their potential, so KBM will keep trying until they find some.
That’s why Chandler Smith and John Hunter Nemechek were brought in.
Nemechek, takes a step from the top of the ladder (Cup Series) to the bottom (Truck Series). But, this is a new path though that could put him with a more competitive Cup team the second time around. He’s had six wins, 28 top fives, 50 top 10’s, two poles and 609 laps led in the Truck Series during his career. He did so with a smaller family run team. He’s not had an opportunity like this before.
Then with Smith, he’s only 18 and has made 16 Truck starts with KBM the last two years. He’s had eight top fives and nine top 10’s to go along with 93 laps led. He also had nine wins, 22 top fives, 29 top 10’s, 10 poles and 1,761 laps led in 33 ARCA starts.
These two are betting on themselves in 2021 and so is KBM. If this move pays off, the two have a future.