What a long strange trip this season already has been for Kyle Busch

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At this rate, it won’t be long before someone comes up with a parody version of “12 Days of Christmas” for Kyle Busch.

A little more than a third of the way through the Cup season, Busch is accumulating quite a list to count down. Consider:

Seven top-10s finishes.

A six-word press conference.

Five top-five finishes.

Four-race suspensions (for his crew chief, rear tire changer and rear tire carrier).

Three races lost (in the final 10 laps).

Two catchphrases (“Everything is great’’ and “I’m not surprised about anything.’’)

And a memorable mic drop … or punch thrown … or bloody forehead … or commitment line violation … or All-Star win.

The former champion has packed more into 14 races than some drivers do in a year. Or two.

Despite the hurdles, Busch is fourth in the points heading into this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway.  Of concern, though, is that Busch’s woes have left him with only four playoff points. Nine drivers have more playoff points — earned through stage wins or race victories — than Busch.

While Busch was challenged to make the Chase after missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season, he went on to win the title. The challenge this year is different.

This isn’t about his body healing but his mind.

What’s happened to Busch this season can only add to the frustration from last year. He’s gone 30 races since his last Cup victory. For a driver who knows how close he is to 200 total wins in Cup, Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series (he’s at 173), a winless drought of more than 10 months in Cup can be aggravating.

It’s not just him. His three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates also have yet to win a points race this season. Busch has been close with multiple near-misses and leading 703 laps, second only to Martin Truex Jr. (876 laps led).

Many in the sport say momentum can play a key role in a team’s success. Strong runs can prove uplifting to team members and carry them and their driver through the tasks they face. Poor or frustrating results can wear on a driver and team.

That’s the challenge for Busch and his team in what has been a season full of lowlights and soundbites of frustration.

It started in the Daytona 500 when a tire issue caused Busch to spin and collect Dale Earnhardt Jr., Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth and Ty Dillon.

“Obviously, Goodyear tires just aren’t very good at holding air,’’ Busch told Fox.

Two weeks later, Busch was in a bigger controversy. A last-lap duel with Joey Logano led to contact that spun Busch and cost him a top-five spot (he finished 22nd). Afterward, Busch walked up pit road to Logano and immediately swung at his competitor. Busch missed. In the ensuing melee, he fell to the ground and cut his forehead. With blood trickling down his forehead, he was led away.

“I got dumped,” Busch told Fox. “Flat out wrecked me. That’s how Joey races. He’s going to get it.”

The following week, Logano made Busch miserable again, but in a more indirect way. Logano blew a tire and crashed to bring out the final caution with Busch leading. Busch gave up the lead to pit for two tires. Ryan Newman stayed out, inherited the lead and held it the final six laps.

It was one of three times that Busch has lost the lead in the final 10 laps. He lost the lead on the last lap at Talladega and watched Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrate his first career Cup win. Busch lost the lead with 10 laps to go to Ryan Blaney last weekend at Pocono. Blaney went on to score his first career Cup series win.

Busch finished second in the Coca-Cola 600 but walked away upset with that result. Austin Dillon scored his first career Cup victory, winning on a fuel gamble. A frustrated Busch performed his now-famous mic drop in the media center after that race.

“Different people show their emotions in different way,’’ Busch said five days later at Dover. “Unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious, and I don’t know if it will ever be.’’

Busch won the pole at Dover but saw his race change dramatically on Lap 18 of the 400-lap race. The jackman dropped the jack, signaling Busch to exit his pit stall, but the left rear wheel had not been attached. Busch sped away and the tire rolled off. The Cup Rule Book states that a wheel coming off a car is a four-race suspension for the crew chief, along with the tire changer and tire carrier responsible. They’ll be able to return for the July 8 race at Kentucky Speedway.

Other issues include his runner-up finish at Martinsville after he lost a duel with Brad Keselowski. Earlier in that race, Stenhouse moved Busch out of the way on the final lap of the second stage. Busch moved up the track, allowing Chase Elliott to slip by to win the stage and the playoff point.

Richmond also was frustrating for Busch. Running second, Busch followed Logano on to pit road on Lap 378 of the 400-lap race. Logano turned late on to pit road and just crossed the commitment line. Busch followed but his right side tires ran over the orange box at the end of the commitment line. The rule states that a driver must have all four tires below the box. NASCAR penalized Busch, who had to start at the tail end of the field. Instead of vying for the win, he finished 16th.

In this season of chaos, Busch did win but it doesn’t count as an official victory since the All-Star Race is a non-points event.

“Hopefully this is a little bit of momentum, a little bit of wind in our sails, something we can build on,’’ crew chief Adam Stevens said at the time.

The only thing they’ve been able to build on the past two races is disappointment. The question is how much longer will it last?

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NASCAR America: Don’t count out Kyle Busch at Kansas (video)

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Kyle Busch is ranked ninth, seven points below the cut-off line to advance to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, heading into Sunday’s Round of 12 finale at Kansas Speedway.

While many of his fans may fear that with back-to-back poor finishes at Charlotte and Talladega, Busch will be eliminated at Kansas, the NASCAR America crew on Monday felt exactly the opposite.

They’re bullish on the younger Busch’s chances of advancing to the third round of the playoffs – very bullish.

Here’s why:

Dale Jarrett: “Other years, you have two bad races like he’s had, he wouldn’t have a chance of going to Kansas other than winning. I think he’s very capable of winning at Kansas. He has two opportunities here: he runs well in both stages, let’s say he earns 17 to 20 points and he gets himself in a good position and then he runs in the top-five, which he’s done on a regular basis recently. I think he has great opportunity and gets through (to the Round of 8) with no problem.”

Nate Ryan: “At one point, Kansas Speedway was a house of horrors for Kyle Busch. It took him 10 years to get his first win there. Now, he’s had five straight top-fives there. He had 16 stage points in the race there at May. And because Toyotas are running really well on mile-and-a-half speedways, he’s qualifying well, I think you can count on him amassing a significant number of stage points and probably more than the guy he’s below on the cutline right now, Jimmie Johnson.”

Kyle Petty: “I know we’re looking at the points; don’t look at the points. In the first 26 races, he was in contention almost every week. Honestly, I don’t think the stage points are going to matter … Kyle Busch can go there and win this race and all this speculation, all this doubt, can be thrown out the window. He’s still a favorite, as far as I’m concerned.”

NASCAR America: What Talladega win meant to Yates family (video)

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It was a heartwarming day Sunday for engine builder Doug Yates.

While he was happy that Brad Keselowski and his Ford – powered by a Roush-Yates engine under the hood – won the Alabama 500, it was also a strong reminder of his father, Robert, who passed away nearly two weeks ago.

“My dad and I loved racing here together so much, from the time we started with Davey Allison back in 1987 when he won here,” Doug Yates said. “It’s an emotional time.

“It’s a great place, I’m glad I’m here, feels like coming home, and I know he would be so proud of us and all the hard work that everybody at Roush-Yates Engines put in, and Ford Performance and the drive that Brad Keselowski and Team Penske put on was really special.

“We’re really proud to be here and I know my dad’s smiling today.”

Also, check out what Dale Jarrett, Nate Ryan and Kyle Petty had to say about the significance of the Yates family legacy to NASCAR over the years.

 

 

NASCAR AMERICA: How working radio, Joey Logano helped Keselowski win at Talladega

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Sure, Brad Keselowski had to dodge much of the mayhem Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway to win the Alabama 500.

But there was more to it than just Keselowski crossing the finish line.

His win also proved the importance of spotters and radio communications at Talladega. When Keselowski lost an antenna on top of his car, the team was forced to pit and give up track position temporarily to allow his team to fix the radio for the long haul.

That moved proved pivotal as it’s likely Keselowski wouldn’t have won if not for his spotter steering him away from problems and to keep him abreast of all the cars around him on the final laps.

The NASCAR America crew discussed that on Monday’s show. Check out the video above.

And then, check out the video below, where Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, helped get Keselowski to victory lane.

Sure, Logano wanted to win himself, but when it appeared that wouldn’t happen, Logano helped keep Keselowski at the front of the field all the way to the checkered flag.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about how Logano and Keselowski worked together in the video below.

 

NASCAR America: Talladega brings Dale Jr. retirement into focus (video)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans that have been in denial about his retirement at season’s end may have been slapped with a huge sense of reality in Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

There’s no other track that has been as synonymous with Junior and his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr., than NASCAR’s largest track, the 2.66-mile facility about 50 miles east of Birmingham, Alabama.

Now that Talladega is in Junior’s rearview mirror, reality is quickly setting in that he has just five races remaining in his NASCAR Cap career: this Sunday at Kansas, followed by Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, our team of analysts explored the reality that Junior’s storied career is indeed coming to a conclusion.

“This weekend really felt like this was it,” said NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan. “It had the right amount of sentimentality, there were the feel-good moments, and even though he didn’t win, there’s no other track where you can hear the roar of 100,000 people over the engines going down the frontstretch at Talladega.

“I really feel like you had that this weekend. Giving him that No. 2 car his father owned and him being on the pole, this really felt like this was the moment when there was a great appreciation for everything Dale Jr. has done in his career. It felt like this was the race this season where we’re really finally honoring Dale Jr.’s  last year.”

Added Jarrett, “With everything I saw the entire weekend, you could tell just from his voice the appreciation he felt of everything that was being done for him and I think it’s finally setting in to him that this is coming to an end.

“But I think he also realized that realistically, yesterday was going to be their best opportunity to get back to victory lane that one last time. Sure, he has a chance at the rest of these races, they’ve been running better and we know anything can happen, but I think that would have been more special to him if he had been able to do that.”