Busch hasn’t had cars capable of winning all season, Hamlin notes how much work will have to go into the 18 team winning again, an in-depth look at Busch’s 2020 winless season so far

Kyle Busch knows that his active winning streak may be coming to an end in a couple of weeks. For the first time since 2014, the first year of this Championship 4 format, Busch enters the Round of 8 without a shot at a championship in the end of the season. This is also the first time that a defending series champion didn’t at the very least get to the Round of 8 as well. It’s rare that Busch is the one that this is happening to.

Busch, has always come into this time of year as a championship favorite in the NASCAR Cup Series as of late. In six of the last seven seasons, he’s finished in the top four of the final standings in each. Now, the best he can do is fifth.

Busch, was eliminated from championship contention last Sunday on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. He entered the Bank of America ROVAL 400 in a all the likely must win situation. The problem was, Busch hasn’t done much of that lately. In fact, he’s not won a race all season. The last trip to victory lane came in last year’s season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway which netted him his second career championship.

But, did that victory and title combination overshadow some deficiencies in their No. 18 Toyota program? 


Busch, had a 21 race winless streak prior to that win at that point of the season last year. Couple that with a 32 race winless streak so far this season and you get one win over his last 54 starts in NASCAR’s premiere series.

Now, he only has four chances left to find a victory in 2020. If he fails to do so, it would mark the first time of his Cup career that he went a full season without a win.

With 56 NASCAR Cup Series wins to his credit, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch – a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion – is a lock to make the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But the Las Vegas native is currently is now putting his 15-year streak of consecutive seasons with a win in the NASCAR Cup Series – the longest current active wins streak – in jeopardy. Busch is currently tied for the sixth-most seasons with a win in the series at 15 with NASCAR Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip (1975-1989), Dale Earnhardt (1982-1996) and Tony Stewart (1999-2013).

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty holds the series record for the most consecutive seasons with a victory at 18 from 1960 to 1977.

Consecutive Years With Victories

Rank

Drivers

No.

Years

1

Richard Petty

18

1960-1977

2

David Pearson

17

1964-1980

3

Ricky Rudd

16

1983-1998

 

Rusty Wallace

16

1986-2001

Jimmie Johnson

16

2002-2017

6

Darrell Waltrip

15

1975-1989

Dale Earnhardt

15

1982-1996

 

Tony Stewart

15

1999-2013

Kyle Busch

15

2005-2019

He doesn’t think that a win is in the cards now anyways.

“Certainly it would be nice to do more, and to have a win for this year would be the only consolation prize for the way this year has gone,” Busch said following last weekend’s race in Charlotte. “But do we even have a shot to win? I don’t think we have a shot.”

Busch didn’t think that he had a shot of advancing to the Round of 8 anyways. Following a runner-up in the Round of 16 cutoff race at Bristol, Busch issued a shot at himself and his team saying that they’ll be eliminated in the next round.

It’s not that he was issuing a warning or not going to try. That’s not Kyle Busch. He’s as competitive and wants to win as badly as anyone else in this sport. One could make a case that the fire burns inside of him more than anyone else. It’s just the fact that he knew that the speed hasn’t been there this season to comfortably compete for a win. He’s won 56 times in Cup and over 200 times overall in NASCAR. He knows what it takes to win. Because of that, he also knows what a race car that’s not capable of winning feels like too.

Yes, Busch has scored four second place finishes this season and four more during his long winless drought last year too. Yes, Busch has seen 10 of his 32 races this season put him in the top four of the final finishing order.

But, just look at what he’s said after those finishes too.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Busch said after the Fontana runner-up. “Interstate Batteries Camry wasn’t a second place car, but thankfully we got a good finish out of here and try to get some points. Guys are doing all they can, I know along with everybody at TRD (Toyota Racing Development). I appreciate all the hard work, we just have to get a little bit better. We finished the end of last year so strong, I don’t know what we’re missing here. Obviously, it’s a little bit of something here and maybe a little bit of something in a few different areas.”

Then there’s this after Indy.

“We just kept getting off on pit strategy with the Skittles America Mix Camry,” Busch said following a sixth place run in July 5’s Brickyard 400. “We had a valve stem come out fo the left rear on a stop and that put us in the back. Then we had vibrations at various points throughout the race with different sets of tires so we had to stay on top of that and make sure we changed those. Each time, that would put us on the back. I struggled to pass anybody most of the day, but somehow got spots on restarts. I was able to salvage a sixth-place finish and will head to Kentucky next week.”


A few weeks later, he said this in Texas. Key here is “second place car.”

“We came a long way today,” Busch said in July. “We got a lot of damage on the frontend of the car that you can’t see with the eye. Going through the grass, it killed it. I thought early on in the first stage, second stage maybe that we had a second-place car and then as the day went, we just kept getting further and further behind. Still a lot of work to do. The car didn’t drive very good at all. Just was able to get something out of nothing there at the end.”

He remained consistent with that message all year. Cars just weren’t good enough. They unloaded off and fought it all day just to get to the finishes that they had. He never had a car off the truck capable of winning.

“Yeah, we weren’t that great on Sunday so we had to make some adjustments to our car,” Busch said after a runner-up back in May in Darlington. “I actually went to the simulator on Tuesday and ran about four hours trying to work on some things.  We freed it up on the simulator thinking that’s where the rest of our teammates were.

            “When we unloaded here tonight, it was so loose I could barely hang onto it.  Obviously I can’t quite drive it as loose as my teammates can.  That was kind of surprising for what we were able to do on the simulator to how it translated here on the real racetrack.

            “Overall we worked on some things.  I definitely want to go back and sit down with Adam and kind of pick and choose and look at what things we changed, what things make sense and what things don’t make sense so we can try to make more out of what our simulator is and the information it’s giving us.”

He said this after a top five at Dover in August.

“Yeah, I don’t know really,” Busch said. “Man, we just fought loose, fought tight.  There was never really a balance.  One run I guess I felt like we were our best was when we took tires under green flag conditions there.  I believe it was the second stage, not the last stage.  That was the best we were.  We made up some ground there.

            “I guess they said I was catching the leaders.  I couldn’t see them, they were so far out.  We were third, kind of running them down a little bit better than them in the long run.  We came in, made a slight tweak to it for the next run.  Kept up with Martin there for a little bit, then it just started to fade.

            “We were really loose, couldn’t keep it where I needed it to.  Came down for tires for the final run under green flag conditions, did a small minor adjustment, went tight.  We were really all over the place with balance being very finicky, just not quite ever able to get it to where I needed it.

” It’s just all right.  I mean, we’ve had seconds and thirds and fourths and fifths.  Earlier this year plenty of top fives, top 10s, none of them wins.  That’s where the frustration sets in, not getting the wins.  Seeing your teammates, even though they’re good, fast, they have it all under control.  I also want to be one of those teammates winning races.  We’re kind of missing the boat on that unfortunately.”

When asked then about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of speed, Busch’s answer summed up his season.

I mean, today I would say no, not really.  That’s about all the speed we’ve had all year.  I don’t know how many seconds I lost in that final run to the 11.  He ran me down and passed me and drove on and passed the 19 to win the race.

            “Those guys are flying, they’re fast.  That’s where the speed is at.  Trying to figure out what they’re doing, what they’ve got going on.  Their setups are good, car drives good.  It’s a matter of making sure we can kind of find some of that stuff.

            “The 18 had it, right?  The 11 was missing it.  Now the 11 has it and the 18 is kind of missing it.”

The 11 in Denny Hamlin has been here before. He went winless in 2018 then has went on to win 13 races over the last two seasons. He said that in order for Busch to get this ship righted, it’s going to take a lot of hardwork.

“You have to look at yourself, and every person on the team,” Hamlin said on Thursday’s zoom call. “You have to find all your faults. You have to figure out where you can be better as a driver, where can you be better as a leader, where you can be better as a team. 

“There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of work going on, and a lot of analyzing going on figuring out why the results have been what they have been. It’s not all just luck. Luck is just a stupid word in racing. 

“You’ve got to analyze and figure out where your deficits are and go to work on them, and then sometimes, it’s how you respond that makes you a great leader or not. It’s how do you respond to it when you do have a tough year or a tough week or a tough race. The response is the most important part, not necessarily the immediate result.”

Busch, admits that changes to the team could be coming soon. They can’t keep going on like this. The cars aren’t to his liking and with a majority of the 2021 races without practice too, how can they get everyone on the same page?

This drought made Busch question himself even.

“There’s certainly been times this year where I thought, man, there’s something wrong with me, I’m not doing it right, I don’t know what I’m doing, said Busch. “Or the car is not quite right. Or I’m not trusting what the car is really doing and telling, and I should drive it harder and then I’m crashed. I don’t know what to think.”

That mindset is what Hamlin is talking about for Busch. It’s not going to be easy. A two-time champion with that much success is doubting himself at times. It’s a football equivalent to a quarterback saying that he’s seeing ghosts.

Busch needs to get comfortable in the car again and feel like he has race winning pace. Without practice, the only way to do this is through hardwork and figuring out how to make his race car roll off the truck with race winning speed and comfort right away.

Right now, that’s what’s lacking for Busch and that’s why I can see changes coming to this team soon.

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