He amazes and angers, riles and riffs, and leaves no one on the fence. One is either a Kyle Busch fan or not. Just as Busch rarely takes the middle ground, it is the same for those watching.
In a career in its 14th full-time Cup season — and likely another decade for the 32-year-old — Busch is headed for the NASCAR Hall of Fame having already amassed 43 Cup victories, 91 Xfinity wins and 50 Truck triumphs (the latest coming Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway).
There’s another way to judge what Busch has done. Look at his body of work since he returned from injuries in the 2015 Xfinity season opener at Daytona.
Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway marks Busch’s 100th Cup points event since coming back from the crash that broke his right leg and fractured his left foot. Busch has 14 wins in the previous 99 starts.
- No driver has won more Cup races than Busch in that time.
- Only one driver has more top-five and top-10 finishes in that span.
- Busch is the only driver to make it to the championship race in Miami each of the last three years, winning the 2015 title.
He missed the first 11 Cup races of the 2015 season after that Daytona crash, got a waiver from NASCAR to be eligible for the playoffs and won in his fifth race back.
Even in his remarkable championship season — he won four of his first nine races back from the injury — the haters said he shouldn’t have been competing for the title because he missed nearly a third of the season.
No matter what Busch does, there will be detractors. Just as there are his defenders. While not as loud, they enjoy his triumphs on the track and treats off it from him signing for unsuspecting fans at campsites or in traffic after a race and saying what he feels — even to a competitor (as he did on Twitter to Brad Keselowski last year after Keselowski’s comments about Toyotas).
For those who boo Busch, you will likely have plenty of more chances. Just as those who cheer him will have many chances to do so.
Here is who has won the most times in the last 99 Cup races (dating back to the 2015 Coca-Cola 600):
14 — Kyle Busch
13 — Martin Truex Jr.
10 — Jimmie Johnson
9 — Joey Logano
8 — Kevin Harvick
Those five drivers have combined to win 54 of the last 99 Cup races.
Among Busch’s 14 wins are back-to-back victories at Indianapolis (2015-16), the Sonoma shocker in 2015 for his first win since returning from his injuries, the 2015 Homestead finale to claim the title and two of the last four races at Martinsville.
Top 5s in last 99 Cup points races:
47 – Kevin Harvick
43 – Kyle Busch
43 – Joey Logano
40 – Denny Hamlin
38 – Brad Keselowski
Top 10s in last 99 Cup points races:
69 – Kevin Harvick
64 – Kyle Busch
64 – Joey Logano
62 – Denny Hamlin
62 – Brad Keselowski
2. IS A STORM COMING?
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is in the worst drought of his career. Consider:
He is on a 25-race winless streak, longest of his career.
He has eight consecutive finishes outside the top 10, longest of his career.
He has five consecutive finishes outside the top 20, longest of his career.
He comes to Las Vegas with four top-10 finishes in his last six starts at the 1.5-mile track. Can it undo the struggles he’s faced since last fall?
The drought began last fall at Talladega when he was involved in a 16-car crash late in the event. His race ended when the spotter told team members during a red flag that NASCAR was rescinding it, and they could work on the car. That wasn’t the case, and NASCAR parked the team for the infraction.
From there, it was on to Kansas.
Johnson spun twice at Kansas in the final 80 laps before rallying to finish 11th. He spun in morning qualifying before the Martinsville race and started at the rear for unapproved adjustments. He fought an ill-handing car to place 12th at a track he once dominated.
He then was 27th at Texas, finishing three laps behind the winner in a race Johnson had won four of the previous five years. A right-front tire went down and sent Johnson into the wall at Phoenix the following weekend, ending his title hopes with a 39th-place finish. At Miami, Johnson closed the season with an invisible 27th-place finish on the day the championship was determined.
3. Pit crew pirouettes
Take the time to check out the analysis by NBC’s Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton on how Cup teams are using different methods on pit stops.
Atlanta was a good testing ground for teams with so many four-tire stops required. Watch how teams do it this week at Las Vegas. In the race to shave time off stops, if a team sees someone else completing their stops significantly quicker, they’ll start doing the same thing.
Eventually, teams will settle on their best plan for the season, but there’s still experimenting and refinement taking place.
4. Kyle Larson one to watch
Kyle Larson finished no worse than second during the West Coast swing last year, winning at Auto Club Speedway. While it’s easy to discount the results of the test Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at Las Vegas because not every team participated, Larson posted the fastest lap each day.
Could Larson be the one to give Chevrolet its first win on a non-restrictor-plate track with the new Camaro this weekend?
5. The Final Word: Kevin Harvick
From the Stewart-Haas Racing’s weekly release for the No. 4 team with Kevin Harvick talking about having all four SHR cars run well at Atlanta:
”The thing I took away from it was the No. 10 car and Aric Almirola were more competitive for us and that is important for us to have that extra set of notes that we really hadn’t used the last several years because that car hasn’t performed well enough. It hasn’t been competitive enough to really bring anything to the table. To see that No. 10 car running well is great for myself, Kurt (Busch) and Clint (Bowyer) and, really, everybody at SHR.”