NASCAR 2018 – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch having top Cup series season even by his lofty standards

NASCAR


If it appears Kyle Busch has had a typical Busch season, think again.

He has earned 14 top-3 finishes in 26 NASCAR Cup Series races. Busch has never recorded 14 top-3 finishes in any season (most 36-race seasons) throughout his career.

Busch finished the regular season with 1,073 points. Last year (the only year with a similar points system), he had 932 points.

This year, he enters the playoffs with 50 points. Last year? He entered with 29.

Then there are the wins. He has six wins already this year. His most in one Cup season is eight, which he earned in 2008. Since then, he’s never had more than five in any one year.

What’s the difference?

“It definitely feels like there’s more times of us running top-three, running top-four, just being up front,” Busch said. “I wouldn’t say that besides Charlotte [in the 600] that we’ve been the dominant car.

“Charlotte was obviously kind of that way. We’ve just been really good and we’ve just been closer to the front overall.”

That’s it?

“I venture to guess we have a lot less DNFs,” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “We generally have been capitalizing on our good days.

“Last year, we led a ton of laps before we got to Victory Lane. It wasn’t until second Pocono until we won a race … This year, it seems if we can get close, more often than not, we’ve been able to capitalize. It’s easy to score points when things generally have been going our way this year.”

Stevens is right about finishing races, but Busch had only three regular-season races that he didn’t finish last year, compared to two this year. Besides those, he had finished every lap of every race he entered. He even led 18.22 percent of all laps entering the 2017 playoffs; this year he has led “just” 15.52 percent.

Here’s the key: When Busch won the championship in 2015 after coming back from a broken leg and a broken foot, he appeared to take what the track and car gave him, rarely pushing it over the edge by trying to carry the car on his shoulders.

This year, if he pushes it over the edge, he does it by trying to take advantage of an opportunity rather than create one.

“We’ve had cars and more capability to go out there and attack a little bit more to get more,” Busch said. “Sometimes you feel like when you attack, you put yourself in a position where you make more mistakes and you end up backing yourself up.

“Right now, I feel like I can push a little bit harder and I can get more out of it.”

He points to his recent Bristol weekend as a perfect example. He felt he had everything under control in the Xfinity race and just messed up with his wreck. In the Cup race, he tried to judge how big the area was where traction compound had been sprayed, slipped out of it and ended up spinning.

“It seems like he has a lot of trust in his ability and a lot of trust in his equipment,” Stevens said. “He knows when he puts himself in a situation, what he can expect to happen.

“That’s a good spot to be in. Having worked together with him, fourth year on the Cup side and two years in Xfinity and by and large the team itself staying intact, you know what you’re up against, you know what to expect. That stability translates to the racetrack.”

The other reason could be that this has been a relatively calm, drama-free season — at least by Busch standards. Oh, he has had his moments for sure — his back-and-forth with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. following Daytona and his “pure talent” boast following a Charlotte Truck race where he felt his truck was awful — but nothing that has appeared to have lingered or anything that would stick in NASCAR’s craw.

“I feel like it has been calm,” Busch said. “We have succeeded when we should have succeeded and we overachieved some of the times that we shouldn’t have achieved so much.

“Richmond, we shouldn’t have won. Chicago, we shouldn’t have won. Then there have been races that we felt we should have won and we didn’t. The 4 [car of Kevin Harvick] has gotten the most wins, but they probably have given up the most wins. That just shows how good they are.”

Like most top teams, the main worry for Busch is the format. While the 50 playoff points help, they don’t guarantee he will advance, especially out of the third round to be among the four drivers vying for the championship.

“In a three-race slice, you can make anybody’s season look pretty good or pretty bad if you just, say, focus on these three races or those three races,” Stevens said. “It’s very important to get what’s coming to you and not make mistakes these rounds.”

And there could be one more thing that might make Busch hard to beat in the playoffs. He remembers last year at Homestead, how a frustrating late caution didn’t help him and his pit strategy — plus the tough time getting around Joey Logano near the end that used up his tires and made him unable catch Martin Truex Jr. on the final run.

“Every year we’ve been really, really good and ready to go,” Busch said. “We should have won the damn thing last year.

“Even as good as the 78 car [of Truex] was, we had him beat at Homestead. So that’s where I’ll leave that.”



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