(Photo Source : Twitter.com/KyleBusch)
Written by AJ Appeal
Kyle Busch is the reigning NASCAR Cup Series Champion. He is one of only 16 drivers in the sport's history to have more than one cup title, and is the youngest on that list. Racing Refresh made a prediction at the start of the year that Kyle Busch (often known as 'Rowdy') would go winless in his 2020 campaign, and after 29 races he still has not found victory lane on a Sunday.
We often joke on our radio show about the curse that was started on-air by saying that he would not win, but the reality of the situation is that things aren't adding up for him and the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team. The season as a whole has been as up-and-down as the stock market and there are a million excuses as to why they are not in their usual form.
Kyle in his interviews often times will mention that he feels the current package that is run in the cup series prohibits passing for lead position. While that may come with evidence at some of the tracks we see, it never stopped him from winning in 2019. The Covid-19 era of the world put a halt to so many things and we can only assume that every NASCAR team is having to regroup and re-organize their efforts as they return to the race track each week. It is certainly possible that the lack of practice and qualifying has hurt them the most. The #18 team is known for making great car and setup changes, and we saw that most recently at the Bristol race on Saturday night.
Let's fast-forward a little bit and assume Kyle Busch's car doesn't finish first in the remaining 7 playoff events. He'll certainly lose the championship without a victory; only Matt Crafton's 2019 Truck title has been won without a race win. A streak of 15 consecutive seasons with at least one win in the Cup Series would also come to a finish. A rebuilding stage would start for Kyle, the #18 team, and their sponsors. They would have the most challenging off-season they've had since starting together in 2008.
Some fans would look over the 2020 season and think Kyle has finally met his match. Rowdy Nation would mourn by the millions, while the other half of NASCAR's fanbase would dance in the streets celebrating the most infamous driver's lack of success. When driver's go winless, we often times consider it to be the beginning of the end to their career. For Kyle Busch, this is only the beginning.
Busch's talent level and nearly 20 years in NASCAR have already made him go down in history as one of the sport's greatest drivers ever. He has won everything (except the elusive Daytona 500) there is to win in NASCAR. There are two recent drivers who are in a similar talent group as Kyle that had multiple winless seasons only to rebound. Let's take a look at some recent examples before we jump to any conclusions with Kyle's future.
Jeff Gordon is the first driver that comes to mind. The 'Wonder Boy' as he was called for the first half of his career is now a Hall-of-Famer and a 4-time NASCAR Cup Champion. He's one of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport and still remains involved in NASCAR in many different ways. Gordon's career wasn't all perfect, though. He had a couple of hiccups along the way.
Gordon's first full season in 1993 was a year that came with no trips to victory lane. Once he started to win beginning in his sophomore season, though, his #24 Chevrolet was on top of the leaderboard more often than most. He earned at least two wins per season from 1994 to 2007. A total of 81 Career wins in that 14 year stretch.
In 2008, Wonder Boy wasn't as fortunate. In 36 starts Gordon failed to win a race, despite 4 poles and 13 Top-5 finishes. Many wondered if Gordon had started to trend downward or if he had lost his stride. From 2008 to 2010, Gordon won only one race in total. As speculation increased that retirement may be near, Gordon assured fans and friends that he still had more to prove.
In 2011, Gordon returned to where he had been for so many years. In his final 5 seasons of full-time racing, he earned 11 more wins. Only 58 drivers in history have 11 wins in their entire career...Gordon added 11 after a slump. He managed to make the playoffs every remaining season of his career as well, and finished third in the standings after making the finale with a surprising final career win at Martinsville. Jeff Gordon managed to prove that with hard work and talent, you can rebound from a bad season or two.
The other driver that should be mentioned when it comes to amazing career rebounds is a young man named Kevin Harvick, ever heard of him?
Happy Harvick's Cup Series career has been well documented for his succession to the iconic Dale Earnhardt following his tragic crash at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500. Harvick was promoted into stardom and awarded a large portion of Dale's fanbase overnight. In only his third career start at Atlanta, Harvick won by passing above mentioned Jeff Gordon for the win. At the time of the feat, a win in his 3rd start was a modern-era record.
Harvick won 5 races in his first 5 career Cup Series seasons, this included a winless season in 2004. In 2006, it appeared he was in championship form as the #29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team won 5 cup races, the most in a single season for the team since Dale Earnhardt won 5 in 1995.
Unfortunately, the 2006 season was not the start of a magical dynasty. Between November of 2006 and April of 2010, Harvick found victory lane only one time in his memorable Daytona 500 victory from 2007. The winless streak ended at Talladega in the spring of 2010. Harvick defeated veteran Jamie McMurray by a margin of 0.11 seconds that day, his first win in over three years. This win started a trend that is still very alive today.
Since the 2010 campaign, Kevin Harvick has won 3 or more races in a single-season 9 times. He switched teams from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and won the NASCAR Cup Championship that season with new crew chief Rodney Childers. He has won 47 career Cup races since the end of his 3-year winless streak. As of the time of this article, he has won 9 races in the 2020 season alone, a new career high.
Kevin Harvick has shown along with Jeff Gordon that legacies can still be added to after moments of defeat. At the rate he is winning races, he may be the next driver to pass some key Hall of Famers on the all-time win list.
So what does this mean for Kyle Busch?
Kyle Busch is the most recognizable name on the race track. He may not have the most fans, but between his fans and his haters combined, he demands the most attention no matter what track or series he is running. He continues to win in the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck levels on a somewhat regular level where he holds the all-time win records in both series. As a driver in the Cup Series he has earned the respect of the media and most of his competitors for his charitable and interactive nature off the track. On the track, he is a fierce, and challenging personality with everything to prove in his own heart. If he cannot win, he is unsatisfied. This is what makes him a 2x Cup Series Champion.
He is in an awkward part of his career, where as a reigning champion, he is expected to contend for victories. Unfortunately, his winless streak continues. There will be a day when we see Kyle Busch back in the Cup Series victory lane. Maybe in 2020, probably in 2021, and certainly by 2022. When that day happens, he will win more often than we have ever seen. Expect the number 18 to do unbelievable things once he gets that monkey off his back.
Kyle Busch is a winner. He's a champion. He's the past, present, and future of NASCAR.