NASCAR: What Kyle Busch needs to have with his Truck team

Kyle Busch, Kyle Busch Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, Kyle Busch Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Kyle Busch needs to use some patience with the full-time drivers of his NASCAR Truck Series team, Kyle Busch Motorsports.

For the third straight season, the Kyle Busch Motorsports NASCAR Truck Series team will have a different full-time driver lineup. This year, John Hunter Nemechek is set to drive the #4 Toyota and Chandler Smith is set to drive the #18 Toyota.

Now team owner Kyle Busch just needs to use some patience with his team.

Kyle Busch Motorsports is a winning Truck Series organization. The team won the driver championship in 2015 and 2017, and they have 80 wins to their credit.

However, they have used a completely different full-time driver lineup in each of the last three seasons, and it has not paid dividends. Yet their departed drivers from those seasons have found success elsewhere.

It would behoove Busch to utilize some patience with his young drivers.

In 2019, Kyle Busch Motorsports won seven races, but only one of those victories came from the full-time drivers. Busch himself won in all five of his starts, and Greg Biffle successfully cameoed with a victory at Texas Motor Speedway.

As for their two full-time drivers, Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton, they struggled mightily, garnering criticism from Busch himself. Despite a midseason crew chief switch, both drivers failed to make the playoffs.

Gilliland, fresh off a 10th place finish in his rookie 2018 season despite missing four races due to being underage, finished in 11th in the standings. Although he won at Martinsville Speedway, he mustered only four top five finishes and six top 10 finishes, both decreases from 2018. Burton, meanwhile, led only 12 laps en route to finishing 16 points behind Gilliland in 12th.

The duo, both born in 2000, were replaced after the season. But Busch’s impatience appeared to be premature, as both drivers improved their respective performances in 2020.

Gilliland stayed in the Truck Series, moving over to Front Row Motorsports. Despite going winless last year, he made the playoffs en route to a 10th place finish in the standings.

As for Burton, he graduated to the Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series program. Burton amassed four wins, 15 top five finishes and 22 top 10 finishes in his rookie season, culminating in an eighth place finish in the standings.

Last year, Busch elevated former part-time drivers Christian Eckes and Raphael Lessard into full-time rides. After winning the 2019 ARCA Menards Series championship, Eckes graduated to the #18 Toyota.

Lessard, who accrued two top five finishes and five top 10 finishes in eight Truck Series and ARCA starts the previous year, became the new driver of the #4 Toyota. Kyle Busch Motorsports also altered their crew chief lineup.

Eckes and Lessard arguably outperformed the previous Kyle Busch Motorsports duo. Eckes made the playoffs on the strength of three runner-up finishes, including one at Texas Motor Speedway behind Busch.

But his championship hopes ended after the round of 10. Nonetheless, he ended up in seventh place in the standings with seven top five finishes and 11 top 10 finishes. However, after the season, he was released by Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Only 20 years old, Eckes already has an impressive resume. He is an ARCA champion and a reigning Truck Series playoff driver. Yet Busch opted to replace him after only one season behind the wheel.

As of press time, Eckes has not announced his plans for the upcoming season.

The Canadian Lessard failed to make the playoffs, but he continually learned throughout the season. In the Truck Series inaugural race at the Daytona International Speedway road course, he finished in third place.

Undaunted by his disappointment of missing the playoffs, he won at Talladega Superspeedway. He wrapped up his rookie season with two top five finishes in the final three races, including a fifth place finish in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway. Overall, Lessard finished in 12th in the standings with one win, four top five finishes and seven top 10 finishes.

However, Busch replaced Lessard with John Hunter Nemechek. Lessard is set to remain in the Truck Series this year, driving full-time for GMS Racing, the reigning championship-winning organization. Last year, he competed as a Cup Series rookie for Front Row Motorsports. He boasts six Truck Series wins on his resume.

In addition to fielding a different full-time driver lineup, Kyle Busch Motorsports also revamped their crew chief lineup for this year. Eric Phillips, who is the all-time winningest Truck Series crew chief, will be atop the #4 pit box calling the shots for Nemechek.

Returning for a second season with the team will be Danny Stockman Jr. He guided Busch to three Truck Series wins last year, and Brandon Jones won a race as well. Stockman has won both an Xfinity Series title and a Truck Series title, so his veteran presence will bode well for the rookie Smith.

Busch must be patient with his two new full-time drivers. Nemechek has won six times in the Truck Series, but it was driving for his family-owned team NEMCO Motorsports. He has not been to victory lane in any NASCAR series since 2018.

Admittedly, he is betting on himself.

Busch likes winners, but Nemechek has only competed in eight Truck Series races over the past two years.

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Nemechek has experience in the Truck Series, but this year presents new challenges for all drivers. The series is scheduled to visit Darlington Raceway, the Daytona International Speedway road course and Richmond Raceway for only the second straight year. Nemechek earned a top 10 finish in his first Cup Series start at Darlington Raceway, but it remains a treacherous track.

The Bristol Motor Speedway dirt course, Circuit of the Americas, Knoxville Raceway, Nashville Superspeedway and Watkins Glen International all joined the schedule as well. These tracks will present massive learning curves for all drivers, including Nemechek; Busch must be patient with his results at those courses.

Nemechek knows Busch expects his drivers to win. He trusts Busch, Phillips and his entire team. Busch in turn should trust that Nemechek will strive for the best and reward him with patience this season.

As for Smith, he has not run full-time in any NASCAR or ARCA series. He is only 18 years old. He only has 16 Truck Series starts to his name. In those few starts, he has accrued eight top five finishes and nine top 10 finishes. He earned his career-best finish of second place at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2019.

Smith has accomplished a good deal in ARCA. He has won nine races in 33 starts. Unfortunately, only one of those victories occurred at a course also on the Truck Series schedule: Phoenix Raceway.

Nevertheless, he earned the full-time promotion to the Truck Series. He has 29 top 10 finishes in those 33 starts, and combined, he only has four DNFs in his 49 Truck Series and ARCA starts. He is a promising prospect. But in order to fully flourish, he must learn from Busch, not be the subject of his criticisms.

He is ready for the challenge.

Busch is a two-time Cup Series champion, the all-time winningest driver in both the Xfinity Series and Truck Series and a future NASCAR Hall of Fame lock. His success didn’t happen overnight, though.

Cognizant of that and the unpredictability which can transpire in races, Busch must utilize some patience this season with his two new Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers.

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The 2021 season is scheduled to begin at Daytona International Speedway with the NextEra Energy 250 on Friday, February 12. Live TV coverage is set to be provided by Fox Sports 1 beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.