You hear coaches say you learn more from failure than you learn from success. Put another way, it is said in racing that to win a championship, you must first lose one.
It wasn’t too many years ago, Kyle Busch was reeling off wins, smashing guitar trophies, talking smack to Dale Jr., and making friends and enemies in equal numbers. Then, adversity showed up; Busch got busted for tangling with the opposition, he got parked by NASCAR and the burning Busch probably came a little closer to getting his career at Joe Gibbs Racing snuffed out than anyone would care to admit.
A humbled Busch toned down his act in 2012, in spite of the fact there was ample temptation to blow his lid through a number of trying stretches. After missing out on the Chase, he and crew chief Dave Rogers took a hard look at what they were doing. “But with last year’s frustrations and everything and coming down to that race in Richmond, we didn’t execute that as we needed to. But we learned from that one. We put that in the memory bank and we talked about it a lot,” Busch said after Saturday’s win. “We learned from those things and Dave and I talked a lot through those weeks and through the off-season. So what do we need to do to better execute the end of these races to put ourselves in a position to win and close them out like tonight and California, you know, being able to do that.”
Busch was quick to thank Interstate Batteries’ Norm Miller for hanging with him when M&M’s pulled their sponsorship for a period in 2011. He also thanked Joe Gibbs for his investment in bringing winning cars to the track in 2013.
That’s one of the lessons losing teaches you, especially if you’ve fallen from the heights that Busch did: you learn to appreciate winning a little bit more when and if you taste it again. Running his own Nationwide Series team, and knowing what’s involved in being competitive as an owner has not doubt given the fiery 27-year old a new perspective. Crew chief Dave Rogers says “There are several hundred people that work at Joe Gibbs Racing that build these race cars. When we can come out here and knock out a couple wins pretty early and put ourselves up front in points, it lets us start doing some long-term planning, and making sure when the Chase comes around, we have some of the best race cars sitting on jack stands, so we know how to build.”
At the rate things are going, Kyle Busch is well poised for a showdown with Jimmie Johnson that never materialized in Busch’s breakout season of 2008. After lighting it up in the spring and summer, he fizzled in the final ten races. Five years later, with the battle scars to show for it, a more experienced Busch showing all the signs of making a serious run.
For any fan not ready to see Johnson or another Hendrick driver walk away with a trophy, Kyle just might be your man. The whole Joe Gibbs team has looked competitive, even with Denny Hamlin on the shelf, Busch is getting it going earlier on, and the continuity his team has forged has created a real sense of unity others are beginning to pick up on. While you can’t win a championship in April, you can sure set yourself up to lose one. Kyle Busch has been there and done that, and is setting his sights on the prize. Busch says, “You have to be able to execute through the first 26 and get yourself a playoff spot and be able to go battle with the rest of the guys to be able to win a championship.”
Keep your eyes on the number 18 car. This could be his year.
An avid NASCAR fan, Jim McCoy is an award-winning TV and radio sports reporter living in the Medford, Oregon area with his wife and three children.