Kyle Busch has been an enigmatic figure throughout his rise as one of the best drivers of his generation. He’s as fast as he is brazen, and he sees little need for varnish when the stark truth works just the same. Fans love him or they hate him, but the results are obvious: The 2015 Cup champion owns a collective 194 NASCAR national series wins at age 33.
Yet, this season may offer the biggest hurdle yet for Busch’s relentless need to prove himself. He’s made it abundantly clear that he’s no fan of NASCAR’s decision to implement a rules package at most races this season that saps horsepower and increases downforce. NASCAR hopes the package leads to closer, more TV-friendly racing.
“Obviously I think it’s for more parity, allowing the opportunity for more drivers to be able to go out there and have opportunities to win, kind of closing up competition a little bit,” Busch said in November. “I think it randomizes us all a little bit more than what we want it to be.”
In those words is a softer version of what Busch said when deliberations about the package first began last spring: “That’s not what I signed up to be a NASCAR driver for, to scrunch the field up and take the advantage away from those guys that are fast.”
He now realizes it’s just something he will have to deal with. “In the beginning you’re trying to put a squash on it, and then the squash doesn’t happen, so it’s coming,” Busch says. “You’ve got to live with reality and you’ve got to be able to go out there and race with it. So, you might as well not make your life miserable by talking bad about it.”
Busch says he remains “signed up” because of his contract at Joe Gibbs Racing that goes through at least 2019. Busch acknowledges that he’ll be starting the renegotiation “soon.”
Assuming Busch isn’t entirely put off by the 2019 rules, he’ll enter that renegotiation phase as perhaps the most desired target in the NASCAR garage. Though not the title winner last year, Busch led the series in average finish and average start, and he was tied with Kevin Harvick for most wins. He’s a flagship driver who overperformed in a Joe Gibbs Racing operation that clearly took a step back in performance last season, Busch excluded, as Erik Jones took over Matt Kenseth’s seat in the No. 20, Denny Hamlin went winless and Daniel Suarez showed little improvement.
There’s reason to believe JGR will see a lift as Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn arrive as full-fledged teammates alongside Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens.
“Adam and Cole’s offices will be right next door to one another rather than them just kind of being on a chat together all the time,” Busch says. “Those two individuals, I think, will have a key opportunity for us to strengthen our program at JGR, like it was a couple of years ago when we had Matt [Kenseth] and Carl [Edwards] as teammates when we were really strong.”
Busch believes that the Cup series racing in 2019 will compare most closely to the competition in the Truck series, so he’s bound to be good at it, even if he’s not a fan of it. He’s won more than a third of his Truck series starts (51 of 145), and he finishes in the top 10 79 percent of the time in trucks.
“It’s going to boil down to the best of the best,” Busch says. “I mean, the best drivers are going to figure it out. The best crew chiefs are going to figure it out. The best pit crews on pit road are going to be those guys that help you in that regard.”
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2019 Cup Championship: 9/2 (per Sportsbook.ag)