Just one driver is left in the NASCAR Cup Series that’s had multiple championships in NASCAR’s premiere series. That driver is Kyle Busch. He won the title in 2015 and again in 2019 and is just one of seven drivers in the series right now that’s even won a championship.
While everyone is kind of handing the torch to Chase Elliott now, maybe we shouldn’t overlook Busch. His 57 wins are one-shy for the most among all active drivers for career trips to victory lane in the Cup Series.
Could this be his NASCAR?
Well, it all depends how 2021 goes. See, Busch enters this season with some momentum from how the end of 2020 went as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had eight top 11 results over the final 10 weeks.
The problem is though, all that momentum may or may not be for not. Busch essentially has a new team for this year. Yes, he’s back with the No. 18 Toyota, but most of the guys that’s been on this car in terms of crew chief and crew members are now with Christopher Bell and his No. 20 Toyota instead.
JGR made a radical change at seasons end to split Busch and Adam Stevens up. Following two championships and 28 wins over six seasons together, the tandem broke up.
That’s because Busch had kind of stalled out over the last couple of years. It took him 34 races to get a win a year ago. If you go back to 2019, he’s had just two wins in the last 58 races. By comparison, his teammate Denny Hamlin has won 13 times in his last 72 starts.
Busch was trending backwards so a change was obviously needed. Without having practice last year proved to be costly and was a big contribution to the decline. But, change was coming on the horizon.
Now, Busch inherits what he calls a brand new team essentially. He said it’s similar to when he left Hendrick Motorsports back in 2007 to join JGR in 2008. It’s that radical in the sense that he’s got a new team around him.
The car may have the same sponsors and the same number from the past, but if you take the paint off and strip the number away, this is the 20 team.
“Kind of feel like I got fired from the 18 car and moved over to the 20 guys with the way everything played out,” said Busch on Friday.
“So there’s this whole thing mentally in my head that I kind of got fired and rehired. Maybe that’ll hold true with how it looked in 2007 to 2008 from Hendrick to Gibbs, and I went off and won eight races. It’s a new challenge; it’s a whole new group, but looking forward to it.
“Last time this all went down was 2015 when I had Dave Rogers. We were transitioning from Dave in 2014 to Adam in 2015. Adam, obviously he brought in kind of a whole new group of guys beside the car chief. Nate Bellows is the car chief, and the same thing kind of happened again where Adam went over to Christopher Bell and took all of his guys, the number one, the number two engineer, interior guy, the shock guy, the front-end mechanic, the underneath guy, everybody. The whole team stayed with Adam besides Nate.
“Nate and I, we’ve had a working relationship over the years, so he and I have stuck together again. So, Ben brings in himself, and he’s working with the No. 20 team engineer from last year and then the number two engineer as well from that group, and then pretty much all the guys are all 20 guys.”
Busch, will have Ben Beshore as his crew chief now. This relationship isn’t totally new. They worked together for three races in 2017 to where Busch had three top 10’s in as many tries. They’d also won four times in seven chances in Xfinity competition in 2019 as well.
Can they hit the ground running at the start of ’21 for Speedweeks?
Trends say that they have time to gel if not. Just look at Team Penske as a prime example. Once the pandemic hit last spring, it took them time to get with one another with their crew chief swaps that they’ve had last year due to limited on track time. There’s a similar schedule on the front with very few races having practice this year. Will that be a deterred to Busch/Beshore?
It actually pays to have a slower start to a season for some reason, so if they do come out struggling, it’s not all lost. Last year, Chase Elliott had just one win through the first 22 races. He won the title. In 2018, Joey Logano had one win in the first 32 races but won the championship. Martin Truex Jr. had one trip to victory lane in the first 17 races of the 2017 campaign. He won the championship still. Jimmie Johnson in 2016 was 2-for-29 in 2016 and Harvick 1-for-30 in 2014. They both were champions in those seasons.
The hot start trend doesn’t lead to a championship. Busch has been the opposite though. In his two championship seasons, he started out of the gates hot. So, what gives this year.
Time will tell.