Busch came to Kansas Speedway ranked third in the Sprint Cup championship standings, but suffered through the kind of competitive collapse that has marked his Chase efforts so many times in the past.
He totaled his primary car in the opening minute of practice, and was so unhappy with the backup car that the team was forced to fly a new transmission to the speedway overnight.
He wrecked Brad Keselowski in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, then engaged in a war of words with the defending Sprint Cup Series champion that ended with Keselowski vowing to exact revenge the following day.
His Joe Gibbs Racing team struggled to clear pre-race inspection Sunday, making him the final driver to arrive on the starting grid. And once the green flag flew, he experienced three different off-track excursions during an afternoon that was anything but championship caliber. Busch tangled with Juan Pablo Montoya in the race’s middle stages while defending an attempted pass by an IndyCar-bound driver who has nothing to lose and rarely shies away from physical contact.
"He won't be missed," declared Busch on his in-car radio, ignoring his own role in an incident that fellow title contenders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson would have quickly backed away from, before it ever occurred.
Busch crashed out for good on Lap 199, tangling with Brian Vickers and demolishing his No. 18 Toyota in a Turn Two SAFER barrier wallop that left him 34th at the drop of the checkered flag.
"I have no idea what happened," said Busch afterward. "All I know is we're in Kansas, right?"
Rather than address his team’s competitive struggles and his own lack of big-picture thinking, Busch chose instead to blame others, calling both Kansas Speedway and Goodyear's new multi-zone tire “the worst I've ever driven on.
"You can't do anything unless you're out front," he complained. "I'd say it's pretty pathetic."
Busch’s solid start to the 2013 Chase – second at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, fifth at Dover -- is now long gone. He leaves Kansas fifth in the championship standings, 35 points behind Kenseth and must now display a degree of focus and mental toughness that has not been part of his repertoire in the past.
In 2008, he won eight regular-season races and led the points at the start of the Chase, only to fold like a house of cards en route to 10th in the final rundown. In 2011, he again entered the Chased ranked number one, but again suffered through poor performances and a NASCAR suspension for wrecking title contender Ron Hornaday, Jr., under caution in a meaningless (for Busch) Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Poor performances, questionable on-track decision making, unnecessary distractions and off-track feuds. It all seems so familiar.
Apparently, Busch’s competitors also see signs of another impending meltdown.
Lowe’s Chevrolet crew chief Chad Knaus commented today on Busch's penchant for off-track distraction, telling Sirius XM NASCAR Radio's The Morning Drive, "if you think Brad Keselowski is in Kyle Busch's head, you don't know how many other voices are in his head. He's got a lot of stuff going on in there, man."
"We'll try to get back in it,” vowed Busch after Sunday’s race. “We’ll try to work hard and see what falls our way. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."
“New and improved,” or “same old same old?”
Time will most certainly tell.