By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It’s hard to imagine a caliber driver like two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch being winless after 26 races, but here we are.
Several pit falls such as lack of practice, crashes and not having the outright pace to battle his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, the duo who have put on a stranglehold on the competition, have made things very frustrating for Busch.
That became evident after being collected in a multi-car crash last Saturday at Daytona, simply describing his rotten luck as “still being 2020.”
Now entering the playoffs as the 14th seed and not visiting victory lane since Homestead last November, Busch is viewed as a dark horse contender with some folks saying a Tony Stewart 2011 run is doable.
Busch commented Thursday about the analogy, but doesn’t exactly know what made things click for “Smoke” to rise on the occasion nine years ago when he won five out of the last 10 races to score his third and final Cup title. That didn’t meant it can’t happen to him because that’s where he feels his No. 18 squad entering his 13th Cup playoffs.
“Anything is possible for sure. We’ve seen it done before. Maybe there’s another way of being able to do it again,” said Busch. “It will certainly be different than his time was or any time that I’ve ever been in the Playoffs under this structure being on the outside looking in to try to get through each round. The opportunity is there.
“That is certainly where we’re at is a Tony Stewart-type performance here and in the final 10 weeks we’ll certainly get it done and the last time I checked, we’re still last year’s reigning champions so we’ve got that opportunity to be able to do that. We’ve got the team behind us – the crew chief, the sponsors, everybody that we can make anything happen. We just have to go out there and do it.”
Busch followed up his response by saying due to that feat, it brings him much needed confidence, citing the Round of 16 as a time period where strong results can be achieved.
“I look at Darlington as a place we can go to and we can run top-five pretty good there. Richmond, Bristol – those are great opportunities for us to score a victory,” Busch on the opening round. “You get two stage wins and a win at Richmond and Bristol both and boom, you’re right back in the Playoff picture. That should put us up to fourth or fifth I believe on the Playoff points structure.
“That would give us a good opportunity to be right back in the ballpark. Obviously, coming into that second round, we struggle at Vegas, Talladega is an unknown, we struggle at the Roval so that is definitely a round that we look towards as being a possible hiccup.”
Should “Rowdy” return on top of the leaderboard, it’ll extend his win streak to 16 consecutive seasons which will put him in a four-way tie with Jimmie Johnson (2002-2017), Rusty Wallace (1986-2001), and Ricky Rudd (1983-1998) for the third longest win streak in NASCAR history.
Busch understands the importance of having such an investment of scoring wins on an annual basis, hoping it’ll continue for many years to come as the all-time record is 18 straight years currently held by seven-time champion Richard Petty (1960-1977).
“It would be nice if I’m able to keep winning races all the way through my career each and every single year that I’m out there,” said Busch. “This year has just not lent itself to our favor so far, but the Playoffs start now and we’re still in this thing. We’ve got an opportunity to go out here, obviously being on the bottom side of the spectrum rather than the top side of the spectrum during the Playoffs so it’s going to be a different Playoff for us that what we’re used to.
“Looking forward to the challenge and if we can win it this year then there’s no reason why any year we should ever not have an opportunity to win it.”