CREW CHIEF: Ben Beshore
TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing
POINTS: Ninth in NASCAR Cup Series
WINS: Two (Kansas I, Pocono II)
LAPS LED: 334
TOP 5s: 14
TOP 10s: 22
QUALIFIED FIRST: Once (New Hampshire)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Kyle Busch sought to reclaim his championship form with new crew chief Ben Beshore leading his No. 18 team this season. That didn’t quite happen, but all parties involved can look back on 2021 with optimism – which certainly beats the frustration that marked Busch’s 2020 campaign.
In the spring, a rash of late-race restarts at Kansas Speedway put Busch in position to steal a win from the dominant Kyle Larson. Later in the summer, he scored an equally dramatic victory at Pocono Raceway, as he overcame transmission issues on his Toyota before surviving a classic fuel mileage derby.
During the playoffs, Busch stayed in the hunt despite up-and-down results.
His opening Round of 16 saw him wrecked at Darlington and fined $50,000 for his actions after the incident. He later avoided elimination in the first cut race at Bristol despite suffering a late-race flat tire.
In the Round of 12, top-five runs at Las Vegas (third) and the Charlotte Roval (fourth) were enough to offset a crash at Talladega and push him into the Round of 8 – giving him a shot at reaching the Cup Championship 4 for a sixth time.
Busch also won all five of his Xfinity Series starts this season. That run included claiming his 100th series win at Nashville Superspeedway in June. He later won Xfinity races at Road America and Atlanta Motor Speedway to push his series record win total to 102.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Busch would’ve been in better position to reach the Cup title finale if not for a dismal day in the Kansas playoff race. A 28th-place finish, caused by two run-ins with the wall and subsequent pit stops for flat tires, gave him just a one-point lead over Ryan Blaney for the final Championship 4 spot entering the cut race at Martinsville.
There, Busch had a chance to punch his ticket to Phoenix with a win in overtime but failed to get ahead of leader (and eventual winner) Alex Bowman on the restart. Unable to reel Bowman in, Busch was then hit and turned around by Brad Keselowski coming to the checkered flag.
In post-race comments, he used the R-word in describing his incident with Keselowski. Busch later apologized, while NASCAR responded by requiring him to take sensitivity training.
Outside of the playoffs, his most notable near-miss came in July at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He won the opening stage and led a race-high 91 laps, but was outdueled in the end by older brother Kurt Busch (with a little help from Kurt’s teammate, Ross Chastain).
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022: Another win would give Kyle Busch an 18th consecutive season with at least one Cup victory, tying Richard Petty’s record. But while equaling “The King” would be impressive, Busch and the No. 18 team are focused more on returning to the Championship 4 – and, in the interim, getting back to Victory Lane more often. It will also be their last season with longtime sponsor M&M’s, whose parent company, Mars, Inc., is leaving the sport after 2022.