NASCAR: Kyle Busch’s struggles didn’t just start in 2020

Kyle Busch’s winless 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season comes on the heels of a five-win 2019 season that saw him win his second championship. But his slump didn’t start in 2020.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch was eliminated from 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship contention following the round of 12, marking his earliest elimination ever in the modern playoff format and the earliest elimination ever for a reigning champion under this format.

The two-time and reigning champion had not failed to qualify for the Championship 4 since the Championship 4’s maiden season in 2014, and he could not even qualify for the round of 8.

“It’s still 2020” has been the go-to phrase for the driver of the #18 Toyota when asked about his struggles.

The driver who entered the 2020 season with 15 consecutive winning seasons, each of his 15 season as a full-time driver at the sport’s top level, is at risk of losing that winning streak, which is just three shy of Richard Petty’s all-time record of 18, a streak which lasted from 1960 to 1977.

But despite the fact that the 35-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native entered the year coming off of a second championship, five consecutive Championship 4 berths and five consecutive seasons with at least four victories, including three straight with at least five wins, it is obvious to anybody who saw how the #18 team performed down the stretch last season that his struggles didn’t just start in 2020.

After an eight-win 2018 season and a start to the 2019 season that saw him win four of the first 14 races, Busch has now won just one race in his last 54 starts.

While it is so easy to point to the fact that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 season has featured no practice sessions since March when discussing Busch’s struggles and pointing to why the 56-time race winner hasn’t been able to find victory lane since last November, his struggles clearly began far before the 2020 season began.

That one win in 54 starts just happens to mask those struggles because of the fact that it happened to come in a winner-take-all championship race that made him just the sport’s 17th multi-time champion of all time and the second multi-time champion among active drivers.

Before that win, he had been on a 21-race win drought, his longest since going more than a year without a win from 2016 to 2017, despite the fact that he had won 13 of the 44 races leading into that 21-race span.

His active drought is up to 32 races, and a driver not in championship contention has not won a playoff race since Matt Kenseth won the round of 8 race at Phoenix Raceway in 2017 after he had been eliminated in the round of 12. A total of 27 playoff races have been run since then.

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Will Busch right the ship and win at least one of the 2020 season’s final four races? All four races are at tracks where he has won at least once since 2016, with those races set to take place at Kansas Speedway (Sunday, October 18), Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, October 25), Martinsville Speedway (Sunday, November 1) and Phoenix Raceway (Sunday, November 8).