2015 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch is not a happy camper.
How do I know this? Are we super-secret pen pals and he shared this with me in confidence? No. Did he tell someone else, and I saw it on Twitter because people can’t keep anything to themselves these days? No.
But I definitely know that Kyle is not only unhappy, but downright ticked off. You know it, too, and you know the reason why just as well as I do.
He isn’t winning.
For probably 70 percent of the competitors in NASCAR’s Cup Series, putting up the numbers that Busch has earned in 2017 would constitute a successful season. Two poles. Four stage wins. Nine top-10 finishes. Six top fives. A current ranking of fourth in the driver standings. Not too shabby, right?
Wrong. I can’t help but think that for someone like Kyle Busch – if in fact there is anyone else like him – a no-win season so far feels more like a bed of nails than a cushy La-Z-Boy recliner. The guy is much more than a driver; he is driven.
Back in 2010, Denny Hamlin went on a bit of a racing rampage, taking eight checkered flags and finishing the season in second place, behind – who else? – Jimmie Johnson. When he crossed the start/finish line at Darlington, Hamlin radioed his crew these five words: “All we do is win,” a phrase that ran as a headline in media outlets all across the country and eventually ended up on team T-shirts.
Anyone can have a great season, but a great career is a different matter entirely … which brings us back to the subject at hand. I am frequently asked that if I could choose just one driver to root for over the course of an entire season, who would it be?
I don’t even hesitate; there is only one answer to that question, and it is Kyle Busch.
Yes, he tends to be emotional and volatile. He’s outspoken, and a lot of people don’t like him, but as far as pure talent goes, I believe that you could search the world over without finding anyone currently racing that can equal him. The guy is just a beast behind the wheel.
Let’s set our personal feelings aside and and take a hard look at just a few of Busch’s accomplishments over the course of his career.
In 2005, he became NASCAR’s youngest-ever pole winner in a Cup Series race, at California Speedway. In 2006, he became the youngest driver to quality for NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup.
He holds the record for most wins in an Xfinity Series rookie season, and is the only driver to win four straight spring races at Richmond International Speedway. He is one of only four drivers to have won championships in both the Cup and Xfinity Series, and the first driver to win races in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series in the same weekend.
He is a great driver, but he’s done OK as a team owner, as well. In 2010, Kyle Busch Motorsports recorded eight wins, 16 top fives and 21 top 10 finishes, and became the first Camping World Truck Series team to win the owners’ championship in its first year.
Those are stellar numbers, but the past is in the rearview, and what matters now is the present. With 10 races left in the regular season, only a trip to Victory Lane will guarantee Kyle, who hasn’t had a winless season since he began racing 12 years ago, a spot in the playoffs.
Nearly a year has passed since Busch’s last win, at The Brickyard in July 2016. For him, I expect that feels like an eternity.
Let’s face it. Regardless of how you feel about him personally, there’s no denying that a race with Kyle Busch in it is a race worth watching. Never knowing what he might do or say is part of the fun in today’s NASCAR. I think most of us would agree that a Chase without Kyle Busch in it would be much less competitive, and therefore much less interesting, than we’re what we’re accustomed to seeing.
It’s no secret that he tends to be rather hot-headed, and the fact that his crew chief is currently serving a four-race suspension will likely add more fuel to his competitive fire. I believe we’ll see – and hear – some scorching performances from Busch in the next 10 weeks. I’ll be watching with both hands over my eyes, because I fully expect the remainder of the 2017 NASCAR season to be hot, hot, hot.