With his win at Michigan, Kyle Busch is heating up in a fashion similar to his brilliant summer of 2008. Since winning at Kentucky on July 9th, he’s had one bobble (a 36th at Dover), a 10th place run at Indy, and thee top fives, capped off by Sunday’s run to the checkered flag in the Irish Hills.
Critics may say they’ve seen this before. True enough, after snapping up wins right and left in his first season at Joe Gibbs, Shrub collapsed in the Chase, prompting him to say his team couldn’t find its “butt with both hands.” We weren’t three races into that Chase, and Busch was functionally finished.
Given the historical dominance of defending champ Jimmie Johnson, the veteran savvy of four-time titlist Jeff Gordon, plus the stiff competition coming from Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, it may be tempting to be skeptical. Add to that, Kyle’s previous capacity for self-destruction- especially on the inevitable bad days- and you can easily see the ready ammo for the skeptic’s argument.
This year will be different. Here’s why:
To win a championship, you must first lose a championship. The truism has played out in NASCAR more than once, and certainly Busch’s fortunes quickly unraveled like a ball of string in the aforementioned 2008 Chase. Say what you will about his personality, but there’s little denying that as the Las Vegas native crosses into his later 20s, he is mellowing some. One could argue his 2009 season- where he won four races, and STILL missed the Chase- was an even more salient learning experience for Busch.
Some days, you’re not going to have a winning piece, and the smartest thing you can do is nurse the car home to best possible finish. Instead of wrecking his ride in an attempt to over-achieve-or worse yet- just wad a car up out of frustration-Busch is better learning how to hold it together.
The influence of Dave Rogers. Don’t get me wrong, this is no slam on former pit boss Steve Addington, but Rogers won’t tolerate any guff from Busch on those days when things go wrong. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but some pairings just seem to click, like Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, or Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham. Not every race is sunshine and roses, but at the end of the day, they make it work.
It’s wide open now. Now, more than ever, there’s no clear cut favorite for the Chase. Some drivers have the wins, but the consistency is uneven (see Kevin Harvick for reference). Drivers like Johnson and Carl Edwards have consistency, but not nearly the wins. In fact, if the Chase started to day, the seeding order would be Kyle Busch, Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Gordon, Johnson, Edwards, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart. Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski go in as wild cards, but mark my words, I think Bad Brad will crack the top ten.
They say those that fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. Things can happen over 13 race stretch to prove smarter people than this observer famously wrong, but with each passing week, it becomes more apparent that Kyle Busch has learned from history, thus rendering it irrelevant.
23 races is a pretty decent body of work from which to judge performance. Based on the results, and the lessons learned from the last three seasons, it appears experience has proven an effective mentor for one Kyle Thomas Busch.
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