Kyle Busch isn’t exactly charging into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with his Toyota engine roaring and the spotlight squarely on him.
I suspect that the outgoing, sometimes outlandish Busch would love just such an entrance.
Instead, he’s slinking into the “playoff” very quietly and largely unnoticed – highly unusual for him.
Lately, Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team haven’t been performing as well as expected. Well, that might be an understatement.
Since Charlotte in May, Busch has scored no wins and just four finishes among the top 10 – three of them at No. 2.
Otherwise it’s been a drought. Busch’s best finish of the summer was a 12th at Pocono.
In his last six races the record has been dismal. Busch has finished 42nd, 40th, 39th, 36th, 16th and 14th.
When the run for the Chase ended after the season’s 26th race, at Richmond, Busch was 17th in points.
The only reason he’s still in championship contention is that he won at Fontana in March. That victory figured in when the standings were reconfigured. Thus, Busch received the No. 8 seed.
It’s not that Busch has forgotten how to drive – good heavens, no. He’s won four Nationwide Series races this year and holds the NASCAR record with 67 career victories.
And he’s won five of just seven starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
On the Sprint Cup tour Busch has experienced what almost every driver has. Namely, somehow, someway, things just haven’t gone right and it’s hard to put a finger on a single cause.
“It’s tough, but we all have to get better as a company and where that comes from we don’t know,” Busch said. “If we could have figured that out a while ago, trust me we’d be running better.
“The guys are working hard, they’re all putting in the hours and doing everything they can, it’s just we’re not reaping the benefits of that yet.”
Busch used the Richmond race, the last before the Chase begins this weekend, as a good example of his team’s problems.
He said the needed performance wasn’t there.
“We struggled a bit there, but we struggled as a company as well,” said Busch, who never led and finished 14th.
“We all didn’t fare very well and Richmond is normally a place that we like coming to that we run well at and it just wasn’t it. We definitely missed.
“I haven’t felt like we’ve been as strong as we need to be this year. Matt (Kenseth, Busch’s JGR teammate) has definitely done a great job of salvaging good finishes and good runs and stuff. We haven’t done that.”
For the record Kenseth did not fare well at Richmond with a 41st-place finish. He hasn’t won, is seeded 14th for the Chase but has more than twice as many top-10 finishes as Busch.
For the 16 drivers in the Chase the slate has been wiped clean. Points were reconfigured, starting at 2,000 each with three bonus points for each victory.
The “playoff” will be an elimination process. Drivers will fall out, based on performance, in segments over nine races. Four drivers will enter the 36th race of the season, at Homestead, with a chance to win the championship.
Well, to be more succinct, it’s a whole new ball game. Anyone could win.
Busch knows this.
“It’s important to win, but I don’t think you need to be ultra-aggressive to get those wins,” he said. “If you finish second every week, it’s going to get you to Homestead, but you have to win Homestead.
“Last year, we started out with a second and a second – those would be two great finishes to have again this year if we could have them and try to move on and get into the second round.
“That’s all we need to think about right now.”