Denny Hamlin: “Driving Backwards” Kyle Busch Being Held Back by ‘Underachieving’ RCR & Austin Dillon

Published 02/12/2024, 1:52 PM EST

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Denny Hamlin recently picked Kyle Busch to end his two-decade chase for a Daytona 500 win. Despite being championship rivals, the pair have mostly respected each other, if we ignore the occasional digs. Safe to say, after being his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing for a decade and a half, Hamlin knows what Busch can produce on the racetrack. Speaking about the same, the #11 driver has claimed that Richard Childress Racing might be stunting Busch’s success.

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Kyle Busch’s move to RCR arrived after an unexpected partition with JGR at the end of 2022. For Richard Childress and Co, Busch’s arrival meant business as the team looked like a genuine threat in the title chase after a long time. While Busch added that firepower to the team winning races in 2023, there wasn’t much support from his partner, Austin Dillon. As per Denny Hamlin, Dillon’s disappointing form could hinder Busch again.

Denny Hamlin reveals RCR’s over-dependence on Kyle Busch

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Richard Childress Racing is a team with a deep history and influence in NASCAR. Being one of the most successful franchises in NASCAR history, it is only natural for fans to pin their hopes on them. Moreover, Kyle Busch’s addition must have been a breath of fresh air for the faithful as the team went on to win three races through the #8 Chevrolet driver. However, according to Denny Hamlin, the team needed help to do the equipment and firepower justice.

Trying to find a specific reason for RCR’s failures in 2023, the 51-time Cup race winner, on the latest episode of Actions Detrimental, said, “I can’t pinpoint anything that RCR doesn’t have that can’t make him successful. They have got really strong pit crews and a good organization; they have just underachieved a little bit as far as you would expect.”

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“Last year, I didn’t feel as much for RCR when there were weekends when all the RCR cars were fast. But I feel like in the years prior to that, there were weekends where Austin Dillon or his teammate was really fast. They didn’t have that show-up that they were the fastest organization. Every other team had that last year where both of their cars were fast. RCR just never had that. It was either Kyle, or it just wasn’t happening.”

Denny Hamlin’s depiction of the situation holds ground. Austin Dillon finished 29th in the final standings with an average finish of 21.8. One aspect where Dillon could have done better is in terms of finishing races. Dillon had 10 DNFs, more than any other driver in 2023. On the other hand, Kyle Busch struggled with crashes and spun and wrecked several times in the year.

Speaking about how Busch’s playoff run ended prematurely, Denny Hamlin added, “To me, he is like Kyle Larson. You can say, ‘Oh he is going to win four races a year.’ That’s just because of his talent. He had a real bad playoffs last year and we were talking about him driving ‘backwards’ more than ‘driving forward’; that was kind of his highlight reel. Even he admitted that he had kind of lost it.”

After a solid start to the 2023 season with wins at Fontana and Talladega, the No.8 team lost momentum and speed as the season progressed. Eventually, a Round of 12 elimination arrived. Looking at all this, as the podcast continued, Denny Hamlin appreciated Busch’s talent behind the wheel and placed him among the best in NASCAR and even predicted that he would end his wait for a win at the Daytona 500.

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Hamlin places Kyle Busch on the ‘Mount Rushmore of NASCAR’

Kyle Busch’s three wins in 2023 weren’t the most dominant. To give you a perspective, while Hamlin led 998 laps, Busch was only able to lead 241 laps, showcasing the difference in their races. Adding more about how that has affected Busch’s odds of being eclipsed by a driver from the younger generation, Hamlin said, He had the most unassuming three wins of all last year.”

However, not concentrating on Busch’s stats from just last year, Hamlin looked at the bigger picture and explained how Busch’s overall dominance in the Cup Series was enough to consider him among the NASCAR elites.“I don’t know what to make of it. Right now, he’s got sixty-something wins. It’s hard for me to not put him in the Mount Rushmore of NASCAR drivers. There are others who could potentially win a big total, but there ain’t many that can catch Kyle Busch.”

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The No.8 Chevrolet team could have been stronger on short and restrictor plate tracks. However, Denny Hamlin didn’t have any of it. He claimed that after a look from the outside, the equipment and facilities at Busch’s disposal should guarantee him and Austin Dillon a good finish in the final standings.

“They are a Chevy P1 team,” said Denny Hamlin. “They get all the information that Hendrick’s team get. They are a two-car team. They’ve won at least three races two or three years in a row. It’s so tough because I look at these guys and all I see is like their upside. Somebody’s going to have a year that falls below expectations,” Hamlin further added. He also picked Busch to end his Daytona drought.

“I have a bold prediction: Kyle Busch wins his first Daytona 500. Kyle Busch wins it for the first time after 20 years of trying…20 years of frustration.”

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While Richard Childress Racing will arrive into the 2024 season with renewed expectations and goals, Kyle Busch will be nearing the twilight of his career. It remains to be seen if that affects his season positively.

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Written by:

Ansuman Abhisek

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Ansuman Abhisek is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. Even before he made his way into the world of motorsports, he had already made a name for himself in the sports journalism field by working as a writer for a few media houses. Now, having covered multiple Cup races live, he has often been the first to report on-track incidents and also provide his readers with an in-depth analysis of the same.
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Edited by:

Ariva Debnath

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