If there’s one thing a NASCAR novice should know, it’s don’t count out Kyle Busch.
The two-time Cup Series champion has been known to make improbable comebacks. After all, his first Cup title in 2015 came nine months after he broke his right leg and left foot in a massive crash at Daytona International Speedway. After multiple surgeries and a months-long rehabilitation process, Busch missed 11 races and still finished the season with a championship. He didn’t win any races during the second half of 2019 and still made it to Victory Lane for his second title last year.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned this year, though, it’s that even the most insane scenarios can become reality, including a possible playoffs without Busch. Crazy, yes. But Busch said it best on NBCSN after crashing out of Sunday’s race at New Hampshire: “It’s still 2020.”
The No. 18 driver exited the race on Lap 16 when the right front tire of his Toyota Camry blew out and he went sailing into the Turn 3 wall. It was another DNF on the season and another race weekend off the calendar without a win for Busch.
“The fight that we’ve been having this year seems to be continuing,” Busch said. “Last time I was here in a Pedigree car, we blew a right-front tire for no reason as well too. Just seems to be our luck with the Pedigree scheme for some reason here at New Hampshire.”
“It’s still 2020, but sooner or later we have to turn this stuff around.” Busch added.
There are now six races remaining in the regular season but the defending series champion is far from content with his team’s performance. After the mid-July race won by Cup rookie Cole Custer at Kentucky Speedway, in which Busch finished 21st, a popular Reddit thread appeared: “So Kyle Busch fans, is it time to panic?”
Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. used a word other than “panicked” to describe Busch’s attitude.
“He’s been pretty grumpy, to be honest with you,” Truex Jr. said Sunday with a slight smile.
“Kyle is a great competitor, a smart guy,” Truex Jr. continued. “He’s really not been too down on things. I think he knows he’s got a great team and they can overcome this.”
When asked if it was bad luck or performance issues that accounted for the poor results for the 18 team, Truex Jr. said he thought it was “both.”
“Seems like in this sport, when it rains, it pours,” Truex Jr. said. “When things aren’t going your way, seems like you can’t do anything right. I feel like they’ve been competitive, strong. They just have had a lot of weird things happen.”
JGR driver Denny Hamlin, who’s been on an almost polar opposite path of Busch this year and leads the series with five race wins, said he didn’t know why there’s been such a discrepancy between the two teams’ performances. He said that every car in the organization could use more speed, his No. 11 team included.
“I think we get our cars a little faster, you’ll see better results from all of our teammates,” Hamlin said. “I think Kyle is just kind of in a slump right now where things aren’t going his way. All the great drivers have had off years.”
After Sunday, Busch still sits three places above the 16-driver cutoff, in 13th, but he now has only six races left in the regular season to lock in his spot without relying on other teams to post a worse performance. Drivers such as Cup rookie Tyler Reddick and the No. 24 of William Byron, who are ranked below Busch in points, have had strong runs recently and are more consistently running in the top-three, indicating their potential to win a race before Busch and further jeopardize his postseason changes.
So, is it time to panic, Kyle Busch fans?
At this time last year, Busch had four race wins. He currently has none. And without practice or qualifying sessions for the remainder of the year, that’s certainly not ideal for the No. 18 team, which has admittedly struggled without the extra time for adjustments. Still, it’s hard not to refer to the past when looking toward the future.
“We saw it last year, right?” Hamlin said. “(Busch) didn’t win a race all second half of the season, then he won the last race of the season and was the champion. Just gotta win the last race to win this whole thing.”
There’s still time.
“You don’t want to draw any conclusions ‘til the final one.”
©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)