The ability to win races has never been a problem for the talented Kyle Busch. No matter which division of NASCAR, Kyle Busch has won consistently and sometimes even in dominant ways. However, except for a Nationwide championship back in 2009 when Cup drivers were still able to earn championships in multiple divisions, Kyle hasn’t shown he can be a title contender, especially at the top in Sprint Cup. Is it possible Busch will never win a championship in the nation’s preeminent racing class?
At 28 years of age, Kyle Busch has quite a bit of racing left in his career. Still, so far in nine Cup seasons, Busch has failed to win the title with this past year his best finish (fourth place overall).
It’s not that he hasn’t performed. For instance in 2013, he tied for the most top fives and was runner-up for the most Top 10s, plus he was victorious four times. Kyle also was tied for second amongst all drivers for the most poles this past year with three. Yet, for all these achievements this season, he could only manage a fourth place in the standings when it was all over.
Kyle has actually had better years. In 2008, his first year at Joe Gibbs Racing, he led just about the entire regular season in points. Busch was second overall in wins, top fives and laps led, along with being third overall in Top 10s. However, when the Chase (playoffs) started, he had three straight finishes outside the Top 20 and his chance at the title was lost. And therein might lie the problem Kyle has that could keep him from winning a championship – he does poorly at the end of the season.
When watching Kyle Busch, there’s no doubt that the talent he has is as good as any past champion. Nonetheless, when the pressure to win is highest at the end of the year, his seasons tend to come apart.
Now, to be fair, Busch didn’t exactly come apart in 2013. Kyle started the Chase with two runner-ups that had him in close pursuit of his teammate Matt Kenseth who won both races. However, a couple crashes at Kansas sent him back to 34th, which he was never able to recover from. This is not to say that Kyle doesn’t do well at the end of the year. Having missed the playoffs in 2012, Busch managed seven top fives with only two finishes outside the Top 20, garnering more points than he did this year.
Looking further back in 2011, Kyle ended the year with four straight finishes outside the Top 20 and in 2010 he had three of his final four races outside the Top 20. And yet that’s not the full picture.
If he is so talented, then why does he falter? Kyle Busch has a temper and knack for getting in trouble – just ask his team owner Joe Gibbs. He may be a front-runner, but his failure to stay out of trouble has dogged Busch. He makes enemies on the track frequently including multiple spats with Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne. However, mistakes on the track like being careless with pit stops have hounded Kyle; plus, his tendency to overdrive the car has knocked him out of races and shots at championships.
In should be pointed out that his pouting and lack of respect for the public and press goes without question. That inability to understand the public relations end of things may not hamper his on-track performance, but it has affected his ability to earn and keep sponsors on his own team, which is why Kyle Busch Motorsports programs in Truck and Nationwide struggle to stay in competition.
Jimmie Johnson just won his sixth championship and while he too can make a mistake now and then, his polish and class hasn’t hurt his climb to the top of the ranks. Sure, Dale Earnhardt Sr. is sometimes used as an example of someone who wasn’t good with the public and made enemies on the track. However, Earnhardt never complained and in fact, invited others to do to him what he did to them. Kyle Busch, on the other hand, just blames his mistakes on someone else.
I’ve written about Busch’s attitude in the past, including last year when Kyle had the nerve to blame the manufacturer (Toyota) for his problems. Joe Gibbs had to do damage control to keep from losing everything. Still, I always thought that when Busch learned to focus his attention, he could be a champion.
A true champion relishes challenges and takes them on. Yet Kyle Busch, an enigma who arguably has to be one of the most perplexing figures in motorsports, would just as soon run off or whine than accept responsibility. The mental aspect of being a champion is what can be a deciding factor for who wins titles. As most of us know who have delved into sports, the primary attribute isn’t so much physical talent but what’s going on between the ears.
Whether Kyle Busch can eventually develop the mental toughness to rise to the occasion remains to be seen. If not, Busch will likely go down in the annals of racing history as the best driver never to win a Cup championship.
Additional sources: Racing Reference