Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch has been called many things during a NASCAR career that has spanned more than 1,100 starts across three series. Now NASCAR President Steve Phelps has added something new to the list. He called Busch the racing equivalent of former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders.
Phelps made the comments during an appearance on “I AM ATHLETE NASCAR.” He sat down with Brandon Marshall, Channing Crowder, and Fred Taylor to discuss his 14-year history working for the NFL, the intense 2020 NASCAR season, and the future of stock car racing. He also took time to compare the six-time NFL All-Pro to a two-time Cup Series champion.
“I’m going to go Kyle Busch,” Phelps said during the October 22 episode. “I’m going to tell you why. Because I think Barry Sanders is one of the best running backs of all time, if not the best. And I think Busch is one of the best drivers of all time, if not the best.”
The driver of the No. 18 JGR Toyota Camry has made a name as one of the best NASCAR drivers while splitting the fanbase in half. Some NASCAR fans love “Rowdy” while others criticize his outspoken nature. Both sides have made their opinions very clear while watching Busch rack up 59 Cup Series wins, two Cup Series championships, 102 Xfinity Series wins, the 2009 Xfinity Series championship, and 61 Truck Series wins.
Busch has embraced the fans and their comments, egging both sides on after wins. He has a tradition where he will take the checkered flag from the NASCAR official, walk back to his stock car, and take a bow to the crowd.
Sanders Enjoyed a Brief but Productive Hall of Fame Career
Unlike Busch, Sanders did not spend a considerable amount of time in the NFL. He only spent 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions (1989-1998) before retiring after his age 30 season. However, Sanders made his name as an all-time great while producing on the field.
The former first-round pick rushed for 15,269 yards and 99 touchdowns during his time with the Lions. Sanders’ rushing yards total is fourth on the all-time list while his touchdowns are 10th all-time. He added another 2,921 yards and 10 touchdowns as a receiving option out of the backfield.
Sanders made the Pro Bowl every single season of his career, and he earned six First-Team All-Pro nominations while displaying a rare combination of speed and elusiveness. There are countless highlights of Sanders juking defensive players before rushing for a touchdown. However, Sanders stunned NFL fans and analysts alike by announcing his retirement after the 1998 season. He walked away within reach of Walter Payton’s career rushing mark of 16,726 yards.
Phelps Made Several Other Comparisons Between Players & Drivers
Calling Busch the NASCAR equivalent of Sanders was not the only comparison that Phelps made during his appearance. He also listed options for Peyton Manning, John Elway, Emmitt Smith, and Jerry Rice. Phelps started by comparing The Sheriff to 21-race winner Jeff Burton, who now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports.
“Jeff Burton. Just kind of a level-headed, just great driver. I’d go Jeff Burton,” Phelps said to start. He continued and compared Elway to seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. Though he clarified that the former Broncos quarterback-turned-executive is a big fan of scotch while Johnson prefers tequila.
The last two comparisons turned heads for different reasons. Phelps first compared Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith to Team Penske’s Joey Logano, the 2018 Cup Series champion. The NASCAR president explained that both men are very talented, but he made the comparison based on their work away from the competition. He said that they both care about their respective sports and their brands.
The final comparison entered GOAT territory. Phelps had to name the driver equivalent of Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. The executive could have selected any number of drivers, including Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, or David Pearson. However, he went for the best statistical driver in racing history — “The King” Richard Petty.
The driver of the No. 43 racked up 200 Cup Series wins during his career and retired with seven championships. Earnhardt and Johnson both matched his number of titles, but no one has come within 90 wins of Petty’s mark.