18 – Kyle Busch
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Crew Chief: Dave Rogers
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Best Finish: 4th (2013)
Chase History: 6th Chase Appearance, Best finish of 4th in 2013
Regular Season Recap: Busch held off rookie Kyle Larson to win at Auto Club Speedway at March, which didn’t seem such a big deal at the time – “The Shrub” is usually good for three or four wins and a solid position in the standings. As it turned out that was his only regular season win. He’s in the midst of a late-summer slump, with an engine failure at Pocono, back-to-back finishes of 40th and 39th at Watkins Glen and Michigan and his wreck at Bristol dropping him from sixth to 17th in the points. It’s been a strange reversal of fortunes as in three of the four races prior, he’d finished second.
Chris’ Take: Busch’s refusal to pack it in during the 2013 Chase after a bad finish at Kansas should have me more confident in how he can fare during the post-season. But his ongoing feast-or-famine stretch, combined with a few dollops of drama (Bristol with crew chief Dave Rogers, Atlanta with Martin Truex Jr.), has me worried instead.
Not that Busch can’t recover and do well in the post-season; we were wondering about Jimmie Johnson’s problems going into last year’s Chase and he ended up a champion for the sixth time. But that 48 group has proven that they can turn it on pretty much at will. Busch and the 18 camp have not. They’ll get out of the Challenger Round, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them eliminated in the Contender Round.
Jerry’s Take: While Kyle Busch finished a career-best fourth in the Chase last season, it wasn’t so much what he did, but what the other Chase contenders didn’t do. He excelled because they failed. This season, with the field expanded from 12 to 16 drivers, Busch is going to be a non-entity. Frankly, we don’t see him getting past the first round. He might catch a break at a place like Dover to sneak into the second round, but there’s no way the younger Busch brother gets any further than that. Once again, it will be a case of talent and promise unfulfilled when it means the most.
Tony’s Take: Perhaps Busch and the 18 team are employing the Jimmie Johnson “Hey, let’s get our bad run out of races out of the way before the Chase” strategy. Otherwise, following the Busch-Dave Rogers Bristol blowup, confidence and momentum is low for this camp which makes the Chase but with very little in the way of positive vibes.
Busch in the past has always enjoyed strong regular seasons, with multiple wins. But form has fluctuated lately and generally trended downward. Week-to-week, you never know if the 18 team will be a victory contender or barely crack the top-15. It’s for that reason and with Busch’s consistent struggles in the Chase that it’s hard to see this group as a title contender, and leaves them vulnerable for early elimination.
Kyle Busch’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – One wins, 4 Top-5s, 4 Top-10s in 9 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – One win, 7 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 19 starts
Dover (1 mile) – Two wins, 9 Top-5s, 12 Top-10s in 19 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 2 Top-10s in 14 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – No wins, 9 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s in 21 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – One win, 4 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 19 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – No wins, 8 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 18 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – One win, 7 Top-5s, 8 Top-10s in 18 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – One wins, 3 Top-5s, 12 Top-10s in 19 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – No wins, 1 Top-5, 3 Top-10s in 9 starts