After Bristol problems, Kyle Busch needs good recovery at Atlanta

1 Comment

Last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway was the nadir of a horrendous month for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.

The Irwin Tools Night Race had Busch penalized early for speeding, collected in a multi-car crash, and engaged in a spat over the radio with crew chief Dave Rogers before finishing 36th – his fourth consecutive finish outside of the Top 35.

Busch may already be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by virtue of his win earlier this season at Fontana.

But out of the 12 drivers that have clinched post-season berths, he may be the one in most need of a good performance this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

He got a good start on the weekend yesterday when he qualified eighth for Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500.

“Our first [run] was by far our best of the three we made in qualifying,” he said. “We just were wrecking loose out of the turns and it made it hard to be aggressive.

“It’s still a good effort…And definitely better than where we were in practice today.”

Busch can take confidence from the fact that he won at Atlanta last season, aided by a superb late pit stop that allowed him to take the lead.

The bad news is that JGR’s former Midas touch on 1.5-mile ovals is no longer so, thanks in part to a lack of engine performance compared to those teams with Hendrick engines and the Roush Yates-powered Team Penske.

That part was something Busch had noted during the week.

“We’re not quite where we need to be with our mile-and-a-half stuff, but Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen,” he said in a release.

“You have to have good grip, you have to have good fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else – so you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early or save a little and be there late.”

Grip, pace, and patience are all important, but after last week’s frustrations, the last one will be most critical for Busch.

He sometimes seem to thrive on the controversy he generates (and you’ve shown in the comments section this week that he can generate a lot).

But with two races to go before the Chase and with his team in a tailspin, now’s not the time for that.

Now is the time for him to put up a big result and get the 18 camp back on solid footing before the championship stakes are raised.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.