2009 Ride: No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2009 Primary Sponsor: M&M’s / Snickers / Interstate Batteries / Pedigree
2009 Owner: Joe Gibbs
2009 Crew Chief: Steve Addington (Feb. – Nov.), Dave Rogers (Texas, Phoenix, Homestead)
Stats: 36 Races, 4 Wins, 9 Top 5s, 13 Top 10s, 1 Pole, 13th in Points.
Best Finish: 1st, four times (Las Vegas, Bristol – Spring, Richmond – Spring, and Bristol – Fall).
Average Finish: 15.4.
High Point: Busch’s high point of the season came rather early in the schedule when he dominated the Spring race at Bristol. He led 378 of 503 laps and scored his second victory of the season in just five starts, marking the first time he’d won more than once in his career at any Sprint Cup track. Even with a 41st place in the Daytona 500, Busch left Bristol fourth in points and looked as though he was poised for a second straight year spent contending for the championship.
Low Point: But as we know now, Busch’s consistency surprisingly fizzled throughout the spring and early summer. Handling issues and untimely wrecks ultimately proved too much to overcome, with Busch missing the Chase for the Championship after showing so much promise in 2008 and early in 2009. After winning three of the first 10 races, he only found the top 5 three more times, with one victory in the next 16 races of the regular season to miss the cut by just eight points. The slump proved the death knell for crew chief Steve Addington, replaced by Dave Rogers in November as the No. 18 took no consolation in finishing the highest in points among non-Chase drivers (13th).
Summary: Busch came into the season as one of the favorites to unseat Jimmie Johnson as champion of the series following an eight-win season the previous year. Unfortunately, Busch was never able to fully regain the momentum he found in 2008, and spent most of the year chasing good runs with subpar finishes — an inconsistency which ultimately doomed his Chase chances. He did finish the season on an upswing with two top 5s, four top 10s, and eight top 15s over the last 10 races, enough to secure “Best of the Rest” honors of 13th in points.
But a year’s worth of struggles caused crew chief Steve Addington to pay the ultimate price. Joe Gibbs Racing made a change with three races to go, axing the veteran in favor of Nationwide guru Dave Rogers for the final three races and 2010. Rogers started things off nicely, with three top 12 finishes in the three races he crew chiefed at the end of this season. However, he found out quickly how temperamental his new driver can be; after a fuel-mileage gamble cost the No. 18 team a win in Rogers’ Cup debut, it was the crew chief left out to face the media while Busch walked off in a huff.
Despite a roller coaster season, Busch led 1,157 laps during 18 races this season. He finished on the lead lap 24 times, but his four victories were offset by four finishes of 31st or worse, victimized by both mechanical failures and wrecks not of his making. He did have a strong year in the Nationwide Series, capturing the season championship and setting or breaking eight different records in the process.
Team Ranking: Joe Gibbs Racing had a decent 2009, putting Denny Hamlin in the Chase, capturing the Rookie of the Year with Joey Logano, and winning the Nationwide Series championship with Busch. Overall, the organization won nine races during the season and scored 27 top 5s and 40 top 10s, with Busch falling second in line statistically amongst the three. But while Hamlin ran circles around his teammate on-track, in the pits it was Kyle who may have had the faster crew, frequently gaining crucial track position with lightning quick stops.
2010 Outlook: Busch is considered by many to be the best raw talent in the series. His personality can be brash, and his dislike for losing is interpreted by some as immature. However, plenty of others recognize the man behind the madness, finding his honestly a refreshing characteristic that is greatly missing among today’s corporate spokesperson personalities in the garage. Maturing in his own way each race, Busch appears to be learning more about handling adversity — and the addition of Rogers to the pit box might just be the impetus necessary for him to make a serious run at the championship in 2010. One thing is for sure: people will be talking about Kyle Busch each week no matter how he finishes.
2006 Frontstretch.com Grade: B.
2007 Grade: B-.
2008 Grade: A.
2009 Grade: B+
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