Previews, predictions and stats for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team
Misbehavior and poor decision-making again ran rampant in 2012 from NASCAR’s Busch family. NASCAR’s charitable foundation added to its coffers thanks to levied fines, probation was handed out, and even a one-race suspension was in play. The sport’s largest television partner followed it all with a one-sided, made-for-TV special complete with a coronation of potentially the worst and most contrived nickname NASCAR has ever seen.
Fortunately for Kyle Busch, it was his older brother Kurt providing the controversial theatrics. In a far cry from his worries of a year prior, when his Texas suspension left plenty of explaining for the Las Vegas native, the 2012 season saw a mature, muted version of the younger Busch off the track.
Professionally and quietly (save for one small incident), he experienced a season that may have been more demoralizing than his complete detonation during the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2008. A year removed from an 18-win season across NASCAR’s top three divisions, Busch sprayed NASCAR Victory Lane champagne only once. (To be fair, Busch’s schedules in both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were limited after the 2011 Texas incident. He ran a grand total of just 25 events, 22 with a self-owned team started from scratch.)
“I’ve got to start living different, I guess,” a melancholy Busch said late last season. “I don’t know what it is.”
But Busch shouldn’t be so hard on himself. He did start living differently in 2012, and it could very well be the catalyst for his career to reach the championship level he’s long been close to achieving. Outside distractions, like his KBM organization, have either been managed or kept to a minimum, leaving Busch in the right frame of mind to focus on a title run.
It’s not like he starts 2013 with a race team that’s far beneath 2012 title warriors Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. In fact, Busch outscored everyone in the Chase, save for the eventual champ. And how about his final 10 races? Despite not being eligible for a championship, he scored seven top-5 finishes and was the one non-Chaser consistently threatening to spoil the party up front. Only twice down the stretch did the No. 18 team suffer from internal issues — yet both came at the most inopportune times, while leading in Loudon (engine) and Dover (fuel mileage). The latter fueled a profanity-laced tirade tossed in Toyota Racing Development’s direction, as Busch broke ranks and proclaimed that “TRD (expletive) us out of another one.”
A public apology followed, but the message was delivered. That’s where a sliver of old-school Busch still works.
Otherwise, Busch was as focused and driven in 2012’s final two months as at any time in his career. One reason may have been because he was driving for a contract, so understanding why Busch suddenly kept his foot on the accelerator when there was nothing else to race for isn’t so hard to do. That the relentless drive came from a pilot known for throwing in the towel once a title was out of reach makes all too much sense.
After being contacted by two other teams late last year, Busch decided to stay home, re-signing with JGR for what can be assumed is a three-year deal. There will be no weekly hounding by the media, inquiring about his future, nor distractions of any sort along those lines. At the track, Busch can focus on the task at hand — which is a good thing for the mercurial driver.
Now, Busch will just have to hope that quality control within the JGR operation, particularly the engines, finally becomes a real thing. At the very least, the mechanical failures can’t continue, especially during the bad luck moments of races in which the No. 18 is running up front.
Busch is admittedly a bit of a wild-card pick at No. 2 in our rankings. On one hand, the mechanical durability and the driver’s temperamental personality give cause for concern. On the other, Busch proved last season — as he has many times in the past — that when he has something to race for, raw talent makes him nearly unbeatable.
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
There’s no doubting the talent that Kyle Busch brings to the seat of the No. 18 Toyota. But talent is only half the ballgame.
“Kyle Busch probably has the most God-given talent of anyone to ever sit behind the wheel of a race car, but he can’t control his emotions,” a crew chief says. “Unfortunately for him and his race team, that’s a problem. Talent-wise there is no one close to his level, but he shoots himself in the foot too many times.
“His emotions also trickle down to the team and, whether they admit it or not, that comes out in their performance in the end.
A NASCAR media member says that the Kyle Busch on display last season was born out of the 2011 Texas dust-up with Ron Hornaday:
“Kyle learned from that experience that you’re only one bad decision away from losing your sponsor, and thus, your ride. And his brother’s issues have only driven that fact home. … Dare I say Kyle was a little more mellow last year? It’s not because he’s lost any of the fire that makes him great, it’s because he’s been shown where that line is that you can’t cross. We’ll see if it sticks.”
Looking at Checkers: The banked short tracks of Bristol and Richmond, where Rowdy has totalled nine Cup wins in 32 stars.
Pretty Solid Pick: Surprising stat: Busch has multiple wins at only three Cup tracks — the aforementioned BMS and RIR — plus a pair of Miles the Monster trophies from Dover.
Good Sleeper Pick: Has failed to record a top-5 run at only one Cup track: Kansas.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: His No. 18 Toyota ran on seven cylinders quite often in 2011. TRD and JGR must get the kinks worked out.
Insider Tip: Always known as one to swing for the fences, Busch seemed to find a happy medium between over-aggression and consistency in the 2012 Chase. Can he and the team achieve this balance over a full season?
Click here to order the 2013 Athlon Sports Racing annual.