By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the 2020 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: 56
Biggest Accomplishment: Two-time Cup Series Champion (2015 & 2019)
Rolling into Speedweeks as the top dog of the NASCAR Cup Series is Kyle Busch.
What can be described as a roller coaster championship campaign, Busch continued building his legendary career. Like going undefeated (5-0) in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races he entered and surpassing Richard Petty as the winningest national touring driver in NASCAR history after winning the Cup race at Fontana.
More importantly, shutting the detractors by securing his second Cup title and legitimizing himself as a true Cup champion as those detractors felt his 2015 title, where he missed the first 11 races due to injuries, isn’t something to be revered.
“It’s been awesome all year. We had one issue, but man it’s so much fun to work with these guys and this group,” Busch on his second championship. “Everybody that puts it all together for me. There’s always your doubters. There’s always your haters, but you know what, this one is for Rowdy nation because you guys are the best. Thank you so much.“
The most intriguing part of Busch’s title run was that he was no worse than fourth in the 36-race championship trail. It proved that 2019 was Busch’s strongest season from a consistency perspective, but the quest for top honors was anything but easy.
Little did people knew that his fourth win of the year at Pocono in June would be the last time he visited victory lane for quite some time. While Busch’s winning ways were hard to come by, guys like his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex, Jr., and even Kevin Harvick, came into the title picture.
During the playoffs, he had massive hurdles to go through like the lapped car of Garrett Smithley at Las Vegas and two sub-par results at both Talladega and Martinsville. Those instances kept Busch from being considered as a true title favorite compared to Hamlin, Harvick and Truex. Also, a suspension failure at the Roval denied him from approaching Jeff Gordon’s record of most top-10s in a season at 30 set in 2007.
Through it all, Busch persevered as a runner-up at Phoenix was solid enough to get him into his fifth straight Championship 4 appearance via points, leaving 2018 champion Joey Logano out in the cold.
Finally, Busch ended the drought by winning at Homestead and captured his second title as his JGR teammates (Hamlin and Truex) crumbled under pressure due to pit road miscues.
While that factored into the outcome, there no denying that Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry was the car to beat, leading a race-high 120 of 267 laps that November 17th evening.
A subdued celebration followed as Busch let the moment sunk in with his family and race team joining part of the monumental moment. When it came down to it, Busch credited the clutch performance in Miami to his crew chief Adam Stevens, who also earned his second title.
“Just communicating with him and talking with him and being able to get the right adjustments on the race car to be able to get it to where we needed it. Then, when the lights came on, our car came to life,” Busch on Stevens. “I think the 19 (Truex) was really fast too. If it would’ve been a straight up race I don’t know there at the end. But, man, he (Truex) restarted fourth on that restart and we drove away so I don’t know. I think we earned this one.”
Stevens said that after his No. 18 team finished an agonizing fourth in the final standings, it was pretty obvious that 2019 won’t have any shortcomings.
“You’ve got to keep it in perspective, man,” Stevens said. “The goal from the time we left Homestead last year was to win it this year and that’s all we’ve tried to do and keep that in mind. I wish we had another dozen races to go with it, but we got the big trophy.“
His championship campaign consisted of five wins, 17 top-fives, 27 top-10s, led the entire series in laps lead at 1582, and had a series-best average finish at an 8.9. One of only three drivers to have a single digit average (Hamlin at 9.5 and Truex at 9.8).
Busch’s title was also bittersweet for car owner Joe Gibbs as it not only marked his fifth Cup title, but it was also a tragic year as his son and team co-founder, J.D. Gibbs, passed away last January.
“I just want to say that J.D. (Gibbs) spent his entire professional life building our race team and this whole year I think is just a tribute to him,” Joe reflects on J.D.’s legacy. “Everybody that saw the Daytona 500 and everything that’s happened this year would have to think the Lord had his hand on what has taken place. I believe J.D. had a great view of it. This whole year we’re celebrating his life.”
To say Busch has kept himself super busy is definitely an understatement. He’s been a workhorse as people noticed his ventures outside of NASCAR. Such as appearing on WWE’s Monday Night Raw in Nashville, becoming at one point the WWE 24/7 Champion after defeating R-Truth.
He also launched his own energy drink called “Rowdy Energy,” and of course, tackling the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Acura GTD in the Rolex 24 where a valiant performance led his car to an ninth-place class result.
With 208 national touring wins (56 in Cup), there’s only one major piece missing on Busch’s accomplishment list and that’s winning the Daytona 500.
This year’s “Great American Race” will be the champ’s 15th attempt as last year’s running was the closest he’s been from hoisting the Harley J. Earl Trophy, finishing runner-up to Hamlin.
Time will tell how Busch will fare at Daytona, but one thing is certain, he’ll be a threat at any track and with momentum on his side, the grid better watch out for the No. 18 machine.