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The Case for ... Kyle Busch

Sept. 07, 2015
Sept. 07, 2015

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Sept. 7, 2015

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The Case for ... Kyle Busch

RIGHT NOW THERE isn't a driver in NASCAR with a hotter hand or heavier foot than Kyle Busch. Through 24 Sprint Cup races, Busch has won four times—his last coming on July 26, at Indianapolis. That's a nearly unheard-of success rate in the current era, especially considering that Busch started just 13 of those races. Only Jimmie Johnson, who has contested every race, has as many victories as Busch in 2015.

This is an article from the Sept. 7, 2015 issue

Johnson is also the only other Cup driver in the Chase era to win three races in a row, which Busch did at Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indy. Add in his checkered flags from the Xfinity (three) and Truck series (two), and Busch looks even more formidable. What sets Busch's three-race run apart from Johnson's two such streaks (in 2004 and '07, the latter on JJ's way to the second of his six championships) is that it came during a stretch in which NASCAR was experimenting with two different aerodynamic rules packages. On July 11, on Kentucky's 1.5-mile tri-oval, the cars were outfitted to provide less downforce—rendering them more maneuverable. On Indianapolis's unique rectangle-shaped, 2.5-mile layout, the cars were given more drag—making them less maneuverable. (Meanwhile the second race in Busch's streak, on Loudon's 1.1-mile oval on July 19, was run with the standard high-downforce package.) Each time, Busch started inside the first five rows of the grid and claimed the checkered flag. If there's a stick-and-ball achievement that Busch's approaches, it's Serena Williams winning Grand Slam titles on hard courts, clay and grass.

Busch's success could not have seemed less likely six months ago, when the season began at Daytona. Near the end of the Xfinity race there, Busch veered off track and rammed his Toyota Camry nose-first into a solid concrete interior wall. He sustained a compound fracture in his lower right leg, a small fracture in his left foot and a sprained left finger. The injuries parked him for four months, a setback that looked like the first in a series of hard-luck trials for his team, Joe Gibbs Racing. A month after Busch landed in the hospital, JGR announced that J.D. Gibbs, the team president and 46-year-old son of owner and Hall of Fame football coach Joe Gibbs, was undergoing treatment for "symptoms impacting areas of brain function" that most likely stemmed from an earlier head injury that went undiagnosed. The two incidents clearly took a toll on the four-car Sprint Cup franchise. With Busch out, JGR struggled to just two wins in 11 races.

But when Busch returned to the track on May 16, everything turned around. Not only did he quickly find his way back to Victory Lane—after winning just once last year, at Fontana—but he also lifted his teammates along the way. Since Busch's return JGR's three other drivers—Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards—have zoomed into the top of the standings and booked spots in the Chase. Whether Busch will join them, however, remains to be seen. By NASCAR rules he must remain in the top 30 in points to qualify, even with those four wins.

Right now Busch, having missed so many starts, is 29th (46 points ahead of 31st place Cole Whitt) with two races left in the "regular season." If for some reason—accidents, a mechanical failure or two—Busch falls below the playoff cut, NASCAR should make a special exception for him. He's more than proved himself to be exceptional already.

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4

Cup wins in 2015 for Busch, tied for the most by any driver

11

Races missed this year by Busch after a February crash

PHOTOJARED C. TILTON/GETTY IMAGES