In November, Kyle Busch reached a milestone he did not anticipate to hit till his NASCAR Cup Sequence retirement: his final race within the No. 18. It was the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, and the automobile he had change into synonymous with — a yellow Toyota Camry sprinkled with M&M’s — would quickly be gone for good. The weekend was stuffed with tearful goodbyes, each to Busch’s teammates and to the athlete he’d been for 15 years.
The evening earlier than the race, Busch thought in regards to the gravity of all of it.
“I am like, ‘Tomorrow’s the final time I am within the M&M’s automobile. Tomorrow’s the final time I am within the 18,'” Busch advised ESPN. “I needed to run the entire remainder of my time within the 18, however the playing cards weren’t on the desk.”
Not like in so many different sports activities, NASCAR grants numbers to groups, not athletes. Busch drove for Joe Gibbs Racing from 2008 by means of 2022, changing into a two-time Cup champion and Toyota’s winningest NASCAR driver. He was the No. 18. However when M&M’s mother or father firm, Mars Inc., determined to go away the game after 2022, Busch needed to search for new groups.
Certainly one of his first ideas was: “What quantity am I going to be?”
“There are drivers who come up by means of the ranks who’ve numbers which can be near them,” Busch stated. “However quite a lot of occasions, up on the prime degree, the NASCAR Cup Sequence, you simply get in there with regardless of the quantity is. Once I joined Hendrick Motorsports, it was the 5 automobile. Once I joined Joe Gibbs Racing, it was 18. Now, at [Richard Childress Racing, I’m] the 8.”
NASCAR’s system might sound counterintuitive, contemplating athletes construct empires round names and numbers, but it surely permits groups to construct empires as an alternative, and one of the best groups outlast their drivers. Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte drove the Gibbs No. 18 earlier than Busch, and Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson drove the Hendrick No. 5 after him.
That is why Justin Marks, who based Cup group Trackhouse Racing in 2020, selected numbers and constructed his empire round them.
“I needed the numbers to be endemic to the group, as a result of numbers do not journey with the drivers,” Marks advised ESPN. “Two of probably the most iconic numbers between 1 and 100, unbiased of what they’ve accomplished in NASCAR, are the 1 and the 99.”
Each numbers had historical past in NASCAR. To rebrand them for Trackhouse and its drivers, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez, Marks stylized them with a slash to match the group’s brand.
“It was vital for us to do a model factor within the quantity itself,” Marks stated. “In quite a lot of different types of motorsport, the liveries on vehicles are typically endemic to the groups. When the McLaren goes by in IndyCar and Method One, you instantly know it is a McLaren.
“In our sport, we have gotten to a spot the place there’s nothing sacred about these schemes so far as how they relate to the groups, as a result of the complete race automobile is a sellable asset. So then, you search for alternatives to have some form of continuity throughout the entire race vehicles and throughout the season. We will have a special sponsor each week, but it surely’s immediately identifiable as a Trackhouse automobile.”
Marks plans to maintain the Nos. 1 and 99 eternally, however he is aware of that may be tough. When Busch left for Richard Childress Racing, the Gibbs group shelved the No. 18 — for now. His substitute, Ty Gibbs, took the No. 54 as an alternative.
“When the 18 is on the monitor, it is burned in everyone’s thoughts that it is Kyle Busch,” Marks stated. “If the quantity is so carefully related to the historical past of a single driver, typically it is exhausting to begin a brand new chapter. It might be tougher to place Ty Gibbs within the 18 and begin to inform the story of Ty Gibbs.
“If we win 5 championships with Ross Chastain, and he races for us till the age of 44 and retires, that is a very long time from now, however I think about we might have a dialogue round whether or not we need to proceed operating the 1.”
Busch’s No. 8 has its personal lore. It’s famously related to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drove the No. 88 when he moved to Hendrick Motorsports.
“When Dale Jr. switched, all of the followers who had the 8 tattooed on them had been questioning what the hell they had been going to do,” Busch stated. “I really had a pair followers ask me: ‘Hey, you are not 18 anymore. You are 8. What ought to we do with our tattoos?’ I advised them: ‘You may put the [dates] beneath it, from 2008 to 2022, or take the 1 and make it the brand new Cup Sequence trophy. You can have the 8 subsequent to it.'”
Busch would not run his Cup quantity in every single place. In decrease divisions, he runs the No. 51 — an ode to Rowdy Burns, a personality in his favourite film rising up, “Days of Thunder.” Busch’s son, Brexton, runs the No. 18B, and Busch has observed different drivers’ youngsters doing the identical.
“Kyle [Larson] was at all times No. 1 when he grew up,” Busch stated. “I do not know why he was No. 1, however now that his child’s racing, Owen, he is 01. I feel it is just like the ‘baby.’ However I feel in addition they did it as a result of his initials are ‘O,’ which is a zero, and ‘L,’ which is a one.”
“I used to be quantity 1K,” Larson advised ESPN. “I did not decide that quantity. My dad did, and it simply grew to become my quantity. The unique go-kart we purchased was the 1. Slightly than altering the quantity, we simply threw a ‘Ok’ on it.”
Similar to his dad, Larson picked Owen’s quantity.
“There are a number of causes,” Larson stated. “My dad’s hero rising up was LeRoy Van Conett. He drove the 01 dash automobile. My dad owned a mud midget that he would run folks on the Chili Bowl [Nationals] with, and it will be the 01. Once I began proudly owning my very own midget for the Chili Bowl, any person already had the 1K.
“I used to be like, ‘Effectively, I will simply use the 01.’ I actually preferred it. I received each Chili Bowls that I ran because the 01, and never many individuals I do know of have run an 01. So when Owen began racing, I used to be like: ‘We’ll make it 01.’ It form of feels like ‘Owen’ — ‘O-wen,’ ‘Oh-one.'”
Larson drives the No. 5 Cup automobile, identical to Busch did virtually 20 years in the past. When Larson joined Hendrick Motorsports, the group requested what quantity he needed. He responded: “No matter you need to give me.”
“I would not say, ever, do I really feel like I personal that quantity over anyone else who’s been the 5,” Larson stated. “In grime racing, you may share a quantity with any person. You simply need to have a letter separating it. In NASCAR, no person can have the identical quantity as you.
“So I feel in NASCAR, for the time you are within the automobile, that is your quantity. Hopefully, you could have quite a lot of success and other people keep in mind you. Like Kyle Busch, I consider him as 18. If he wins tons of races and extra championships within the 8, it might sway what I keep in mind him as.”
Larson has had quite a lot of numbers, together with 1K, 01, 83V, 99 and 71. The Nos. 5 and 57 are particular as a result of he runs them now, and since 5/7 ended up being his daughter’s birthday. However he’ll run something, usually with out a choice.
There’s only one exception.
“If I might hand choose a quantity and be 1K within the Cup Sequence, I’d love that,” Larson smiled. “That might be my quantity.”
Busch did not hand choose the No. 8, however the extra he wins within the automobile, the extra it looks like his personal, he stated. It was additionally a little bit of destiny.
“My son’s birthday is 5/18,” Busch stated. “The 5 and 18 had been my first two Cup Sequence numbers, and it is 51 and eight now. It is form of ironic how issues — and numbers — work out typically.”