Monday, March 20, 2017

COMMENTARY: Just Four Races In, Busch Faces Critical Juncture

With just four races complete in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Kyle Busch finds himself at a competitive crossroads.

Despite a season-best third-place finish Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, the 2015 series champion finds himself a disappointing 13th in the championship standings, embroiled in the sort of controversy that has sidetracked him more than once in the past.

Two weeks ago, Busch and Joey Logano tangled while battling for fourth place on the final lap at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Busch spun in the final turn, finishing 22nd before confronting Logano after the race, throwing a punch and triggering a wild melee that left him with a bloody cut on his forehead.

Busch vowed revenge immediately after the scuffle, saying of Logano, “He’s going to get it.” 

NASCAR declined to sanction either driver, with Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell saying, “Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are two of the most passionate and competitive drivers in the sport. Both competitors are very clear on our expectations going forward and we will be meeting with them in person prior to practice on Friday in Phoenix.”

Little is known about Friday’s 15-minute meeting. O’Donnell made it clear that the sanctioning body will not look kindly on any further incidents between the two, saying, “If it escalates beyond to something intentional on the race track, we were very clear that we'll react."
Busch and Logano tangled in Las Vegas
Logano, meanwhile, struck a conciliatory tone, saying, “I tried to explain that I made a mistake underneath him. He asked for some data (and) I was able to show him that. It was pretty clear in my opinion what happened, so that's that. I hope he's able to see that and know that I was sincere about it. Time will tell."
Busch chose a different path, taking a page from the playbook of Seattle Seahawk running back Marshawn Lynch, who once filled an entire press conference by answering every question with a terse, “I’m only here so I don’t get fined.”
“Everything’s great,” said a tight-lipped Busch after emerging from the NASCAR hauler Friday. “Looking forward to getting back in my race car and having a fantastic weekend here in Phoenix.”
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver repeated his "everything's great" five times -- in response to five different questions – before being ushered away by his PR reps, raising the art of sarcasm to a whole new level.
Busch then dominated Sunday’s race in Phoenix, leading a race-high 114 laps and leading the final stage by a comfortable margin until a caution flag with six laps to go – ironically triggered when Logano blew a tire and crashed – led to a pit-road bump with brother Kurt Busch that cost him what appeared to be a sure trip to Victory Lane.

"Everything's great..."
“Everything’s great,” said a clearly unhappy Busch after rallying to finish third. “We got a Top-5 (finish), and that’s what we set out to do today. We should be pumped about that, and how good this Skittles Camry ran.”

He did offer one fleeting moment of candor, saying, “It seems like every finish that’s destined for us seems to end in a worse finish.”

Busch’s unhappiness is understandable. No one climbs happily out of a wrecked race car. No one speaks calmly after being pulled from the depths of an eight-man, pit road Battle Royal. No one celebrates a third-place finish, snatched from the jaws of victory.

Busch’s No. 18 team – and Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole – is off to an uncharacteristically slow start to the 2017 campaign. Their 22nd-place showing in Las Vegas followed a 38th in the season-opening Daytona 500 and a 16th at Atlanta. Prior to Sunday, the four car JGR stable of Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and rookie Daniel Suarez had managed just one Top-5 finish in 12 combined starts.

By his own admission, Kyle Busch is a lousy loser. Anything less than a checkered flag on race day leaves him crabby and on-edge.

It is simultaneously his worst trait, and his best.

The same “refuse to lose” mentality that has made him a champion has also produced a series of distractions that compromised his championship efforts in the past. Now, Busch must overcome the urge to let his slow start – and his issues with Logano – become a distraction. He must display the maturity and focus that have characterized his last two seasons by refusing to be lured off track, both literally and figuratively.

This week’s race at Auto Club Speedway offers Busch a tailor-made opportunity to refocus and reload. He recorded four consecutive podium finishes at the Fontana oval from 2011 to 2014, winning in both 2013 and 2014.

The next few weeks will prove whether the “kinder, gentler” Busch can keep his eye on the prize, instead of being swept onto the same emotional rocks that have sunk his ship so many times in the past.


  1. Anonymous11:43 AM

    Makes you wonder if he believes in karma. Lol

  2. Really Dave. 4 races in and Kyle is in trouble? I can't stand him but won't let that take away from his incredible talent behind the wheel. We will probably look back and laugh at this article by the time the season is half over as it is not a matter of if but a matter of when he will be winning

    1. Think Dave's just pointing out the issues might run deeper, since Kyle's the highest ranking Gibbs car at #13. Yes, the "win and your in" means Kyle will likely make the playoffs, but if Gibbs can't find speed, their playoff run will suck.

    2. Anonymous8:25 AM

      Completely agree. A little over dramatic I would say. He can win any week and you would expect him to at some point before the playoffs, so he's fine, regardless of his bad races. I'm sure he's not worried.

  3. Further proof that people dont ever really change

  4. With "win and your in" I don't think he is to worried right now. Like him or hate him the man can flat out drive a race car (or truck).

  5. Dave

    I don’t think I will ever understand how a person with as much talented as a Kyle Busch can be upset to the point he punches another competitor in the face. The move Logano made on Busch was one that Kyle himself has done several times and had the rolls been reversed would have made it again and thought nothing of it had Logano spun down pit road.

    While this “sport” certainly needs a Kyle Busch and a good rivalry in my eyes he’s an idiot who is getting a heaping dish of “what goes around comes around”. Back when that boy was learning to drive a car and how to win, someone should have taken the time to teach him how to lose.

    Hold my watch

  6. The piece takes on more relevance now that ten races have elapsed and Busch's self-important sanctimony burst free after losing to Ricky Stenhouse at Talladega. While having contempt for another competitor is to be expected in sports, Busch's trash talk about "going to a real racetrack" the week after Talladega was the wrong kind of trash talk, basically ripping Stenhouse (in admittedly cleverly oblique fashion) because Stenhouse had the temerity to pass him for a stunning win.

    Busch obviously will never figure out how to be a man.