With Danica Patrick possibly gone, NASCAR needs Kyle Busch more than ever

NASCAR, while unique in many different ways, is like any major sport in that it needs superstars to keep fans interested and push the limits. It's no different than Tom Brady and Odell Beckham in the NFL, or Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in baseball, or LeBron James and Stephen Curry in the NBA, or Connor McGregor in MMA.

We need superstars who make us take sides and tune in.  

Auto racing has been gifted with its fair share of superstars across the years. There's all-time race wins leader "The King" Richard Petty as well as "The Intimidator" Dale Earnhardt. Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarbrough also come to mind. Then there are drivers that the newer generation grew up with like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin, as well as seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who is pursuing an eighth title.

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Jimmie Johnson and NASCAR legend Richard Petty are legends of their own eras. USA TODAY Sports

Then, of course, there are two of NASCAR's most popular drivers today, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick. Junior plans to follow in the footsteps of Waltrip and Gordon when he retires, making a move to the broadcast booth where he most likely will thrive given his witty personality and connection with fans. As for Patrick, with news surfacing she will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing next season, her future is unclear. Regardless of what happens next for Patrick at the Cup level, she certainly broke many barriers as the first woman to start on the pole at a Daytona 500, among other milestones.

With one wave of drivers moving out, NASCAR needs its entertainer, Kyle Busch, now more than ever. Nicknamed Rowdy, Busch's post-race Twitter rants, controversial participation in the Xfinity and Truck Series and even fights in the pits are --- like it or not -- what make headlines these days. Couple that with the fact that he's in the running for a championship every season, still in his early 30s (32) and has 40 career wins, and it's clear Busch is the superstar that NASCAR needs going forward.

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There are other active successful drivers who are just as important to building the sport. Heck, 37-year-old Martin Truex Jr. has been arguably one of the most dominant drivers we've seen in years this season -- but it's hard to believe he only has 11 career wins. Drivers like Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer have been responsible for keeping fans interested in many ways as well. 

But sports need superstars to thrive. Other than Busch, one could argue that Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have that star quality of already established drivers while Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez bring an influx of youth. Alex Bowman and William Byron also will be moving into big-time roles next season with Truck Series star Christopher Bell on the horizon. However, even with their potential and already-shown talent, it is still yet to be determined whether they will resonate as superstars to the casual fan.

Keselowski, 33, fits the mold and his rivalry with Busch on the track is going to be critical in growing the sport. He has two wins this year and a championship under his belt as he pursues another title this season. NASCAR fans will remember the 2012 Daytona 500 when Keselowski used Twitter from his car as well as his infamous fight with Jeff Gordon in the pits in 2014. 

Like we mentioned earlier, Logano, the youngest of the three at 27, is an established talent that has superstar qualities about him, but he just hasn't been good this season. One year removed from nearly winning the championship (he finished second to Jimmie Johnson), Logano is out of the playoffs. He won at Richmond earlier this season but the win became encumbered after penalties. He nearly shot himself back into the conversation last week by finishing second to Larson at the same track. If he were to have won, we would have had Logano, Busch and Keselowski in the playoffs, making for an extremely interesting narrative where two Penske teammates would battle Busch for a championship and could lead to moments like these.

But for now at least, Rowdy needs to carry the torch for the sport and bring others on board. A championship this season would do exactly that. Busch enters the playoffs this weekend third behind Truex and Larson and was extremely consistent in the regular season, posting two wins, six poles, 1349 laps led, 10 top fives and 16 top 10s in just 26 races. 

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