RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Kyle Busch raised a few eyebrows when he casually mentioned he’d like to collect 200 victories in his NASCAR career.

That’s a mighty big number, associated only with Richard Petty’s unreachable record of 200 Cup Series wins. It was once thought Jeff Gordon might challenge the mark, but he fell off the pace long ago and currently has 82.

But if Busch is flexible with the goal he revealed before this season, he’s got a shot at reaching Petty’s mark.

With an asterisk, that is.

Busch’s win Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway was the 50th of his career spanning NASCAR’s top three series. It came on his 24th birthday, and Busch believes he could reach 200 NASCAR wins if he maintains his desire to race in every event possible.

“But I know the older I get I’ll start slowing down some way,” he said. “Hopefully I can achieve that goal. It would be sure nice to get that. I know it’s not 200 Cup victories like Richard Petty has, but it will still be a phenomenal mark for me.”

A mark few thought he could ever reach just two years ago. His talent level has never been questioned, but there’s a reason Busch has often been called “Wild Thing.”

He was ready for NASCAR when he was just 16, but an age minimum sent him back to the sidelines for a two-year wait. Once admitted to the big leagues, he came full of unbridled desire, fearlessness and a lack of maturity.

Busch pushed his cars beyond the limit, taking risks that often ended in a wad of crumpled sheet metal. He pouted when he didn’t win and threw temper tantrums when things went against him. Team owner Rick Hendrick tried to tame the wild child, but finally cut him loose at the end of the 2007 season to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

So Joe Gibbs Racing snapped him up, and Busch has steamrolled his way through NASCAR since. He won 21 races last season spanning the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series.

His pace has slowed a bit this season – partly because of a monthlong slump he brought into Richmond – but he’s only struggling by his own lofty standards. He now has eight wins on the year: A series-leading three in both Cup and Nationwide, and a series-leading two in the trucks.

“He’s pretty good,” said Jeff Burton, who finished third Saturday night. “You are what your record says you are. I just saw that stat most wins before the age of 25 and that’s pretty impressive. Everything he sits in, he goes fast in. That’s a sign of a really good race car driver.”

Busch is also one of NASCAR’s best at capitalizing on momentum, which he now takes into Darlington Raceway as the defending race winner. He tends to knock down wins in bunches, each victory nudging him closer to a feeling of invincibility. When he gets on a roll, the competition knows Busch is tough to beat.

“When you’ve got that confidence going, it carries a long way,” said Tony Stewart, who spent one year as Busch’s teammate at Gibbs. “I know what he’s been driving … (but) we all drive for good race teams and we all have good equipment. There’s just guys that got that momentum on their side and got that confidence, that little extra that you need to be on top right now.”

But Busch is not immune to setbacks, and spent the last month trying to recapture his mojo. A week after winning Bristol, he wasn’t competitive in Martinsville and finished 24th. Driver error put him two laps down in Texas, where he finished 18th. He was flagged for speeding off pit road on the final stop at Phoenix, dropping him from contention to 17th, and, appeared to have the car to beat last week in Talladega until a late accident left him 25th.

A month without winning is enough to drive Busch mad.

“Four or five weeks does feel like an eternity, and that was bad,” he said. “We didn’t like it at all. At least just not finishing well.”

But crew chief Steve Addington says the team learned a lesson last season, when it collected all its wins early and then faltered when the Chase for the championship began. Busch led the point standings most of the year and started the Chase at the top, only to finish 10th after two bad races broke his spirit.

With a NASCAR ban on testing this season, Addington needs to try new things to prepare for the 10-race push to the title.

They’ll forgo meaningless early season wins if it means being stronger when it counts.

“We’re trying to be better and trying different things to get better as the season goes on,” Addington said. “I think that we’re headed in a good direction. We got to give up something. Last year’s deal, it was just unacceptable. We’ve got to get better all year long and that’s what we’re working on.”

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