Kyle Busch seemed to be on the fast track to success with Roush Racing, but a NASCAR age requirement changed his course toward racing's big leagues. Then, earlier this year, Busch surprised observers by announcing an alignment with Hendrick Motorsports, one of Roush Racing's chief rivals. Busch, a Las Vegas native and younger brother to Winston Cup star Kurt Busch, is now preparing to run a full schedule for Hendrick Motorsports in 2004.
People say your teenage years are the best of your life and to stay young while you can; but for me, I eagerly anticipated my 18th birthday.
After running six NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races in 2001 at age 16, I was looking forward to running a full season in the Trucks in 2002. I even graduated from high school a year early to chase the opportunity, but those plans were abruptly changed when NASCAR implemented its rule stating that drivers must be at least 18 years old to compete.
It was a tough pill to swallow. It was tough not only for me, but for my family and everyone who has supported me throughout my career. I thought I was ready to go and had a good opportunity lined up for the Craftsman Truck Series-and then NASCAR made its ruling. At that point I realized I couldn't do much more than abide by NASCAR's rules.
I put the situation behind me, knowing I'd be back in a couple of years. After competing in the American Speed Association (ASA) in 2002, I was given the opportunity to join Hendrick Motorsports earlier this year.
I'm always going to be Kurt Busch's younger brother, but I needed to try something different, somewhere else. Kurt and my dad have been huge influences on my career, but Kurt probably has played the biggest role. It was a tough decision for me to leave Roush Racing, but after Kurt made a name for himself there, I realized I needed to step out of his shadow and prove to myself that I could make it-and Hendrick Motorsports is where I landed.
You can't deny the success the organization has had in racing, and since being here I have been pleasantly surprised by everything that's been going on. It's nothing like I thought it would be. Everything has exceeded my expectations from top to bottom and the amount of knowledge within the organization is second to none. People treat me like a veteran driver when, in reality, I've got to prove myself just like anyone else would. It's unbelievable.
Besides Kurt, I'm going to rely on all of the Hendrick drivers for advice. Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek have a lot of experience that I can pull from and I'm sure I can learn from Brian Vickers, too. He's done some great things so far this season. And I can't leave out Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson because they're on top of their game right now. I think it's obvious, but as things progress I'm going to seek help from everyone I can at Hendrick Motorsports.
Sometimes it takes time to get acquainted with new surroundings, but I haven't had any problems since joining the Hendrick organization. Admittedly, I was hesitant at first on how much I could do, but everyone told me just to go ahead and not to worry about it. I might have taken it too far at first in Daytona when I grabbed a radio from Jeff Gordon's hauler and went on top of the hauler to watch practice, but everyone up there introduced themselves to me. It was great.
I met Jeff Gordon a couple of years ago and I'm almost certain he doesn't realize it was me, or even remember it. Jeff was testing his Busch car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and he had taken a break and was sitting down. I approached him and asked if he would sign a few things for me. I actually had about four bags of stuff for him to sign and he signed it all. That really impressed me.
I really looked forward to finally getting things started on the track, once I turned 18. The plan for this season is to run seven ARCA races throughout the year and six Busch Series races.
So far, it's not that big of a deal going back and forth between ARCA and the Busch Series this season. Basically, it's as simple as jumping into another car, taking off and trying to gain as many positions as possible. Kurt told me to take my time and things will all work out.