Kyle Busch has high standards. With 57 career NASCAR Cup Series wins, not to mention 213 total victories across NASCAR’s three national series, he expects to win and win a lot.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup season did not meet those standards. After winning 27 races and his first two Cup championships between 2015-19, Busch won just one race last year and slumped to eighth in points, his worst points finish since 2014.
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Now, with a new crew chief and a whole new team at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch, 35, is looking to bounce back in a big way and make up for lost time. Anything less than five wins this season will be a big disappointment.
“To me, a five-win season is a good win season,” Kyle Busch said Friday in a Zoom conference at NASCAR Media Day. “That has always kinda been my number of what you should have. And if you are ever short of that, then hopefully there are years where you are past that, your seven-win seasons, your eight-win seasons, in order to rebuild those years you were short on wins. I feel like I am probably behind the 8-ball not having as many five-win seasons as I would like to have had through my career, so there is definitely some catching up to do, for sure.”
Prior to last season, Kyle Busch averaged 5.4 wins per year over the previous five seasons, including matching his career-high with eight wins in 2018. He has won at least one Cup race in each of his 16 full-time seasons and has had just five seasons with only one win. After four of those single-win seasons, he bounced back and won big the following year, starting with his first eight-win season with Gibbs in 2008.
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Kyle Busch confident he will bounce back in 2021
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Kyle Busch has a habit of bouncing back after lean seasons.
“I have had one-win seasons before,” he said. “Fortunately for me, the following seasons, we have come back and been able to win three, four, five, eight, whatever it’s been in those following seasons.”
This, though, might be Busch’s greatest challenge. He will enter 2021 with a new crew chief after Adam Stevens, who led him to his two championships, moved to Gibbs’ No. 20 team to work with new driver Christopher Bell. Busch will work with Ben Beshore, his former team engineer and Xfinity Series crew chief.
Most of Kyle Busch’s crew from last season followed Stevens to Bell’s No. 20 car, while the No. 20 crew that worked with Erik Jones last year moved to Busch’s No. 18. The drastic moves have left Busch feeling like he has moved to an entirely new team, which, in a sense, he has.
“I kinda feel like I got fired from the 18 car and moved over to the 20 guys with the way everything kinda played out and how it looks in the shop,” he said. “There is this whole thing mentally in my head that I kinda got fired and rehired, so maybe that will hold true with how it looked in 2007-2008 from Hendrick to Gibbs and I went off and won eight races. It’s a new challenge, it’s a whole new group but looking forward to it.”
Why did Kyle Busch struggle in 2020?
Kyle Busch had a wildly inconsistent season last year, scoring just 14 top-five finishes, his lowest total since 2014. He didn’t win until the 34th race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway. He attributes his struggles to there being no practice and qualifying during a strange season disrupted by COVID-19. Because of the virus, NASCAR had to take six weeks off and scrapped all practice and qualifying to reduce time at the track and contact in the garage area.
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Kyle Busch is one of the best drivers in the garage at making quick adjustments to his car and dialing it in for race day. But with no practice, he and other drivers had to rely on race simulators in the shop to figure out the right setup for each track. That process threw Busch and his team for a loop.
“I feel like my team, Adam especially, they always do a really good job of preparing and giving me the best race car they can at the race track, but sometimes you don’t just don’t quite read the exact information or pick up on the exact information that you need to from simulation because the simulator can’t tell you what the car is doing, if it’s bouncing off the tire or sliding the tire. It can’t tell you how the car is reacting to the tire and the race track.”
Having Kyle Busch and his 57 career wins worth of experience behind the wheel is the best simulator a team can have.
“I am the best computer we have got,” he said. “Having me be behind the wheel to describe what is happening in that race car during practice sessions is pivotal, and we just didn’t have that last year. We didn’t have that opportunity last year so we had to resort to different circumstances to make ourselves better and we just kind of fell short on that I feel like.”
How Kyle Busch finally won in 2020
The team hit on something, however, with its victory at Texas. Busch said his team implemented a “philosophy shift” late in the season and built a brand-new car for Texas using a method it had not employed before. It worked, with Kyle Busch leading 90 laps and holding off teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the win.
“I feel like that’s what we are all looking for and striving for,” he said. “… I feel like that kind of opened up some eyes around JGR as a whole and what we can do in order to get ourselves back into the right frame of mind in order to go out there and have a more successful season as a group, as a four-car group. … We want to get JGR back at the peak to go out there and win races.”
The last time Kyle Busch switched crew chiefs, he bounced back the following season to win five races and his first championship. Three years later, he won eight races, and then bagged his second championship in 2019.
He hopes his latest change launches another championship run.
“Obviously, being with a new crew chief, that is going to be an interesting play,” he said. “It’s going to take a little time to get used to, but there is not a whole lot of time for us to get used to one another and working with one another at the race track. It’s just get in and go. It will be interesting to see how all that plays out.”
Published 06 Feb 2021, 05:49 IST
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