Going Green · Garrett Horton · Wednesday May 30, 2012
For the last several years, it seems like the words “new” and “Kyle Busch” have been paired up annually around this portion of the season. It’s usually around Charlotte or Darlington where Busch has his first major episode and we quickly laugh at the notion that it was even possible for him to sincerely do a 180 with his anger management. Just like previous years, Busch has started the first few weeks off without incident, and has even gone longer than the past without making headlines for the wrong reasons. However, we haven’t heard anything about a “new Kyle Busch” this year. Maybe it’s because some people can only be tricked so much and have finally stopped falling for this gimmick, or because of his episode with Ron Hornaday in the Truck Series last fall, along with his brother Kurt realizing what can happen for bad behavior, Kyle has been forced to play nice for good.
I will go ahead and bring the term “new Kyle Busch” back for this year, but before you stop reading and yell and cuss at me, hear me out, because it’s not in the sense we are accustomed to hearing it. As a person, he is still the same; it’s just that he has been forced to hide. I’m sure he will return in the later months of the year, when the grueling schedule finally takes its toll. As a competitor, he still looks to be the same, remaining one of the most exciting drivers to watch.
It’s Kyle Busch, the racer, who seems to be new. After a sluggish start, Busch was off the radar for the first seven events, with just one top 5 and a 14th-place hold on the standings. In addition, he hasn’t competed in any Truck Series races and a limited schedule in Nationwide that has produced no victories had Busch winless in all three divisions for the first three months of the season. That’s quite the dropoff, considering he has won a total of 83 times in the three series since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008. His laps led are down this year as well – having paced the field for just 264 circuits in 2012, Busch is on a rate to fail to lead at least 1,000 laps for the first time since 2007. However, it’s not necessarily an off year for Busch, but rather a new one as a racer, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Instead of seeing Busch dominating the races, going for checkers or wreckers, we have witnessed a more slow-and-steady type driver in 2012. Busch may not always be the fastest at the beginning, but slowly finds his way to the top towards the end, much like his season has been. After Martinsville, he had more finishes outside the top 30 (two — Bristol and Martinsville) than he had in the top 5 (one — Fontana), but has since slowly turned things around. He hasn’t finished worse than 11th since, with a win and four consecutive top-5 outings — one short of his personal best that came in 2008 — and he has completed every lap in the last six races. Busch has slowly made his way up to eighth in the standings, the highest he has been all year, and no driver has been hotter in the last six races — not even Kasey Kahne, who has scored 237 points to Busch’s 240 during that stretch. It’s a perfect example of his season when a driver like Kahne has been getting more notice the last six weeks, despite Kyle faring slightly better.
There is no doubt there’s a smoother, more consistent, but less dominant Busch this year. The big question is will that continue, and if it does, how will it affect him the rest of the season? With what we have seen in the past, Busch has never been a “closer,” having only finished in the top 5 in the final standings just once, and never at JGR, where his best finish has been eighth. There is no other explanation that seems to make sense other than that Busch doesn’t drive his best when mad, and every year we see him implode towards the final few races, causing him to tank in the standings. Even though I see him going incident-free this year — not because he is a changed person, but because he has no choice if he wants to keep his ride at Gibbs — expect Busch to have that annual frustration peak towards the Chase. If this new Kyle Busch stays consistent, but stays away from the win column, that is going to anger him. There is arguably no driver that hates running second more than this guy (just watch some of his post-race interviews during his ten-race stretch in the Nationwide Series in 2009 when he finished no worse than second, but only three times did he manage to win as an example). Clearly, a Kyle Busch that doesn’t win is certainly not a happy one. It’s likely that if he continues a consistent path, he will once again blow up towards the Chase.
Then again, if he can remain calm and content with steady, consistent finishes as opposed to leading laps with more wins and inconsistency, it could be the best thing to happen for the talented 27-year-old from Las Vegas. A huge cutback in racing in the other two series this year will limit the amount of opportunities for him to get in trouble and get frustrated. There’s the saying that slow and steady wins the race, and that appears to be what Busch will need to be for the rest of the season if he wants any chance at competing for a title. The old Busch hasn’t been working, despite all the talent and the winning percentage he has had to this point. It’s time to give a more consistent Busch a look, and maybe it’s this new “on-track personality” that will make his peers take him more seriously during the final ten races.
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