By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 16
Career Wins: 51
Biggest Accomplishment: 2015 Cup Series Championship
A part of the “Big Three” in 2018, Busch seemed destined to add a second Cup title to his resume after scoring eight wins on the season, but ultimately fell short of that goal in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, finishing fourth in the final season standings.
In addition to the eight wins, which were a tie for the series best last season, Busch tacked on a career-high 22 top-five finishes and 28 top-10 finishes, along with four poles, 1469 laps led, and an average finish of 8.3, which was also a career-high.
Despite the massive success that 2018 brought, the disappointment of not being able to close the deal was all over Busch’s face when the checkered flag flew in South Florida and he was already turning his attention toward 2019.
“Bummed for all of our guys, Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job,” Busch said. “This M&M’s Camry team was really, really good – just not good enough on the night we wanted the most. We finished fourth, last of the Playoff guys. That’s not what it takes these days.
“It’s all for not, we won eight races, but forget about it now and move on.”
Heading into 2019, Busch should be a lock to make the Playoffs, unless there is just a complete collapse over at Joe Gibbs Racing. After missing the Championship 4 in 2014, Busch has been a part of the championship battle every season since and no doubt will be in the mix once again this season.
The only hurdle that could be standing in the way of Busch and his No. 18 team could be the new aero package, but the Las Vegas native was able to get some time with it in a two-day test last week at his home track as all of the teams and drivers worked to wrap their hands around the new normal for NASCAR racing heading into the 2019 campaign.
Busch was quick to compare the new package to that of the Truck Series, but also didn’t mince words about the package when pressed further.
“It reminds me a lot of the Trucks,” Busch said after the first day of testing. “When we were here with the Truck race last spring with myself and Brett Moffitt, we ran 1-2 and kind of drove away. We could get in a draft together and drive away from the rest of the field. We were the ones that weren’t lifting as much as some of the rest of the competition was and I had a hard time passing Brett. I couldn’t get by him. I was behind him for 30 laps and could do anything to get by him.
“There’s just not enough off-throttle time for handling to come into play. You’re driving through the corner under the limits of the tire, so your speeds are just too slow and that doesn’t allow you to get big enough runs to be able to blitz guys on the inside or the outside or whatever it might be.
“We’ve taken the driver’s skill away from the drivers in this package. Anybody can go run around out there and go wide open.
“So, it’s a lot more of a mental game. It’s going to be a lot more skill. It’s going to be a lot more chess match. Thinking how you’re going to make moves. How daring you’ll be in making some of those moves. How hard of a time the guy you’re trying to pass is going to give you back and suck you around or spin you, or whatever it might be. We’ll see how all that plays out, but overall, it’s going to be interesting.”