Kyle Busch was frustrated throughout much of Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. See, this track is his home venue. He always wants to perform well on the 1.5-mile Nevada oval. But, when his No. 18 Toyota is lacking in the speed department for much of the 267 lap event and has been that way for over a year now, his attitude starts to slip.
I mean, how can you blame him? Busch, is a generational talent and it’s not him that’s lacking. It’s the race cars. That’s why a crew chief swap occurred in the offseason. He and Adam Stevens, despite two championships together, weren’t clicking anymore.
A new voice was needed. So, in came Ben Beshore and over to the 20 car went Stevens. In fact, the 20 car is essentially Busch’s old team. The only thing the same is Busch is driving the car number 18. Think of this the 20 car of last year as it was basically a team swap too.
So, to come out with two straight top 10 finishes over the last two weeks including a third place run on Sunday is definitely encouraging for Busch. His car came alive in the final stage, which is a testament to he and Beshore.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s all about building blocks,” Busch said after scoring his fifth top seven result in his last seven Vegas starts. “I felt like today was a good building process for us. I just always kept trying to give the best feedback I possibly could. Being able to tell him what the car was doing, where we were coming from with the adjustments we were making. He was making good adjustments all day. Seemed like the first two or three of them really didn’t do anything. We started taking swings with wrenches in the back window, stuff like that.”
Normally, without practice, it could be tough for a new driver-crew chief combo to get up to speed. Changes to the race cars are going to have to be made as the races go on and without any experience on the Cup level for these two together yet prior to this season, this is all trial by error. So, to be able for Busch to get his cars better in the final stage in each of the last two races bodes well for he and Beshore’s future together.
Part of the other problem is just the lack of on track time. The simulator isn’t helping. See, that’s how teams are setting their cars up now. It’s all sim work. But, sim work isn’t the real deal. Errors can be made. When they’re made, it sends you off on the wrong footing.
“Last week we were on the simulator for Homestead, same thing for this week for Vegas,” Busch continued. “It’s just not correlating close enough for us. If we can get that better and closer, I feel like there’s something there.
“Off on balance to start. Got way better towards the end. Still there was room for improvement there at the end. Overall our speed was a little off. We weren’t going to keep up with the 5 or the 2. Definitely on restarts we could see that I was really slow, just getting attacked on by everybody, drove backwards. Took me a while to fight my way back up front, but that was our day.
“I mean, every track is different. Every week it seems to be close or far away, whatever. It’s interesting on how we can figure it all out.
“But, yeah, I mean, last year, once we lost practice and everything like that, we knew we weren’t going to go back to practice, we would go to the simulator every single week. I spent five hours there working on things, trying to get us the right balance that I feel like on a sim and a raceable one where I feel like I can drive the car a particular way that you need to drive it in the race on there, then in real life. It’s just not quite correlating between the two.
“This week we came to the racetrack super, super tight. I mean, eight numbers tighter on the racetrack than it was in sim. Typically when you’re good in sim, you’re about two numbers loose. I don’t know. That’s a 10-number difference, right? It’s just a big deal.
“I mean, a lot of it is tire. We have to figure out the tire model, and try to make what we think is right there. I don’t know, we’ll keep working on it. That’s the only tool we’ve got.”
As to how long it until the communication can get better in terms of setups at the start of the race, Busch says that it could be a few more weeks till.
“In my opinion, I would think that as we probably go a few more races, we would just have to look at our setup, how we start, how we end some of these races, then what tracks we’re going to that mimic this,” he said. “We go to Kansas, I would take this setup right there, look at the two Vegas and Kansas setups from last year, look at this Vegas setup and see how we want to build our Kansas setup. Try to come up with a way of being able to do it, forget about the simulator, you know what I mean?
“That’s where it gets complicated and challenging, we’re trying to utilize and make that tool better so we can really come out here and look like heroes.”
With four different winners in as many races, Busch knows that eventually they’re going to have to win. They went 0-for-32 to start 2020. They can’t afford to do that this year.
“It’s definitely putting pressure on some of the other teams, some of the teams that have had a rough start like ourselves first few races being terrible,” Busch said. “We kind of had a hole that we had to dig ourselves out of. We’ve been working on that each week, getting closer.
We keep starting these races too far back or too far off on balance with the race car, we miss points in the first stage, and that’s just been killing us.”