MARTINSVILLE, VA — At one point during this new NASCAR Cup Series championship format, you could Sharpie Kyle Busch into the final round. He had been there five times in a span of five years with a pair of championships to show for it. When he took home the title in 2019 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, it showed that he could be the next driver in this era to take a bulk of the titles.
Jimmie Johnson was retiring in 2020 which left Busch as the only driver left to have won multiple titles. The thing is, for the second straight year, he didn’t make the final round now to snatch another championship. He’s just not had the cars the last two years to do so and it caught up to him again on Sunday at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway.
“We just missed last week,” Busch said on Sunday after being eliminated from championship contention in Martinsville. “That’s where we lost all the ground. Could have come in here with 15 more points, we would have been fine on the cut. Just wasn’t it. Wasn’t meant to be. Obviously it was Truex’s day. We had a Hail Mary opportunity there at the end. Just didn’t materialize.”
Busch, is proud of his team for dialing his car in all day but frustrated in the sense that he can’t get his car dialed in to compete each week for wins like he used to. That’s holding him back for another year.
“All in all, just proud of the effort for sure,” Busch continued. “We slung everything and anything at this thing today, couldn’t really make it come alive. Great effort. That was there for sure. We just got to get better, everybody included, the whole team, in order to be able to go race with the best and race for a championship. We’re not going to do that this year.”
Busch, still came close on Sunday to getting by. He just fought his car all afternoon before finally getting into the top five in the end. The one he was battling for the final spot in Martin Truex Jr. entered Sunday’s race three points behind Busch for the fourth and final spot to advance to the final round. Truex, did exactly what he had to do to put himself in a position to get by via 15 stage points. Busch, only had seven which had Truex in the transfer spot heading to the final stage.
Then Truex’s issues started compounding. An overheating problem, a loose wheel, a tire rub then contact with Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch both in the end put Busch back in the drivers seat.
Then you get all the late race chaos that allowed Truex to nurse his car back up towards the front and finish fourth. Busch, had to win at that point. So did Brad Keselowski who was riding behind. On the final restart in overtime, you had Alex Bowman and Busch sharing the front row.
Busch, tried hard to get the win but his car just didn’t have it. Bowman, drove it in deep which allowed him to beat Busch by time we exited Turn 2 and he’d clear him and never let Busch get back to his bumper for a bump and run to propel him to his fourth win of the season and Busch’s second runner-up. Keselowski, tried too hard to get to the lead but got into Busch coming to the line as a result which triggered Busch to get upset with his former foe.
Unfortunately though, after a Round of 12 exit last year, he’s a Round of 8 this one.
“Anytime you go into a season with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing, this 18, M&M’s team, myself, you expect to be Championship 4, in contention, eligible. Anything other than that is a failure. Guess you get an F,” he said.
The last two years have been rough for him on track. He has just three wins in the last 71 races. But, if you even count his win at Homestead for that 2019 title but go further back, that’s four wins in his last 93 times he’s suited up in a Cup car.
By comparison, he had 17 wins in 93 starts prior. Which is why it sparked a crew chief change for 2021. The thing is, the stats are still similar to that of 2020.
He had one win, 14 top five finishes, 20 top 10’s and 516 laps led a year ago.
This year, he has two wins, 14 top fives, 21 top 10’s and 334 laps led.
The regular season finale and postseason just weren’t kind to him. He was 34th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. He was 35th after an early crash in the Southern 500. He had a pit road penalty in Richmond and finished ninth then a tire issue in Bristol to finish 21st. He still managed to get by to the Round of 12 though.
In the second round, Busch was third in Vegas and fourth on the Charlotte ROVAL to negate the 27th in Talladega and advance to the Round of 8.
This round though saw him finish eighth, 28th and second respectively.
Even if he would have escaped by, could he have done anything with it at Phoenix. His car just hasn’t been to his liking this season again but maybe a new car and some practice time added back for 2022 can help Busch get back up to the top again where he belongs.