DOVER, Del. – Kyle Busch is known for being fearless in pursuit of victory – and grouchy when he doesn’t achieve it.
When he’s second or worse, look out. Other teams’ crew chiefs and crews often ask Busch why he’s so prickly, even when he’s running as high as second place and always a threat to win.
“Well, I’m Kyle Busch,” he said. “I’m supposed to win races. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m supposed to be the guy that everybody’s chasing. I’m supposed to be the guy that’s hardest to beat out there.”
But the driver to beat is beating himself up over an underachieving season in Sprint Cup that has him positioned on the outside of a Chase for the championship spot with five races remaining before the 12-driver field is frozen. Busch is the one who finds himself doing the chasing. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely not over.
“If you don’t make the Chase, ultimately you run the rest of the year for nothing,” Busch said.
He is a tick outside the cutoff in 13th place, 101 points behind Greg Biffle for the 12th and final spot. His three wins for Joe Gibbs Racing are tied for second in the Cup series, and he’ll need a few more to bolster his chances of making the Chase. It’s championship or bust for Busch – who does lead the points in the second-tier Nationwide Series.
Busch has nine consecutive top-two finishes in Nationwide, tying the series record set by Jack Ingram in 1983.
Could the grind of competing in the trucks, Nationwide and Cup series be affecting his preparation and performance for the Chase? Busch says he doesn’t feel tired, even as he shuttles between races some weekends. Among other long-distance trips, he flew in a helicopter between Pennsylvania and Iowa this month and Pennsylvania and Kentucky in June.
“Maybe it’s taken a little bit away from the Cup effort, but I don’t feel like it has,” Busch said.
Owner Joe Gibbs has talked with Busch about scaling back the Nationwide schedule next season. Busch would drive in 22 to 24 races on Cup tracks and eliminate crisscrossing the country to pull double-duty. Winning the Nationwide title (he has six wins) would make it easier for the highly competitive driver to ease off the workload. He’s fully committed this season to winning the Nationwide championship, even if it slices into Cup preparation with crew chief Steve Addington.
“I don’t think it’d be worth giving up a Nationwide Series championship just to lock yourself into the Chase,” Busch said. “I don’t feel like our Cup effort has diminished any because of the Nationwide Series stuff.”
Busch’s next chance at making his Chase push is this weekend in Watkins Glen, N.Y. where has one win and three top-10s in four career races. He spent Tuesday and Wednesday at Dover International Speedway for a tire test in preparation for the Sept. 27 race on the concrete track. Dover is the second Chase race – and Busch intends to make it count.
“We haven’t hit it this year,” Busch said. “We really missed on something.”
Busch appeared at ease over a Tuesday night dinner of chicken saltimbocca with Dover International Speedway officials. He cracked jokes, shared childhood stories of growing up in Las Vegas, and poked fun at how his left shoulder is lower than his right. When Busch noted he was gaining weight, he told Dover Motorsports president Denis McGlynn, “maybe I should sleep upside down.”
“Great guy,” McGlynn said.
It’s all part of Busch’s attitude adjustment that has him making strides in keeping his fiery personality in check. He’s talked of growing into a better leader at JGR, and not being so temperamental after losing races. And when the No. 18 is simply not co-operating, Busch vowed to communicate the car’s issues more clearly to his crew.
“A lot of it is, I fight myself throughout a race instead of fighting the car,” Busch said. “When you explain things to the crew chief, instead of just saying, ‘Man, this car is junk,’ well, they don’t know how to fix junk. They can fix ‘loose in,’ ‘tight centre.’ They can fix whatever you explain. It’s just a product of not getting frustrated on the radio. It’s so easy for me to do. I always like to be the guy going forward, but whenever I’m the guy going backward, it’s not much fun.”
Denny Hamlin is the only JGR driver in the Chase field. It’s not the only aspect of his teammate’s performance that Busch would like to emulate.
“I think Denny has done a great job over the years of kind of realizing what really matters,” JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. “Stand for that, fight for that. Kind of let go every once in a while, on and off the track.”
Busch is slowly coming to that realization. Harness his aggression and perhaps he can add an extra win or two – or more – to his total.
He’s filled a trophy case in his house already and is forced to place new ones on the floor.
“Maybe I need to build a 10,000-square foot warehouse and see if I can’t fill that baby up,” he said.
Or he could keep smashing them,
“Well, I could do that,” Busch said, smiling.
McGlynn told Busch not to worry about the hoopla surrounding his Pete Townshend-like performance of smashing a custom-made guitar at a Nationwide race. That was just another reason for critics to attack Busch.
“That will get better in time once the initial shock wears off,” McGlynn said. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Busch has bigger concerns these days.
Making the Chase would wipe out one of them.
“Ultimately, man, we’ve got to be in it,” Busch said.