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.
“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?