The Frontstretch: Kyle's Chase Crumbles Around "Points Racing" ... Will He Be Next? by Thomas Bowles -- Monday September 14, 2009

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Kyle's Chase Crumbles Around "Points Racing" ... Will He Be Next?

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday September 14, 2009


Kyle Busch’s No. 18 pulled into the pits Saturday night… and everyone from fans to first aid held their collective breath. It was five minutes after the checkered flag at Richmond, the last laps of a regular season that ended without his name in lights as a Chase contender. In the end, the difference between in and out could be counted on less then ten fingers; it was the equivalent of two positions on the race track, or one slipup by Brian Vickers as he came to the line ahead of both Sam Hornish, Jr. and Kevin Harvick by a less than half a second. Busch was fifth, but Vickers was seventh, the smallest of margins to get Team Red Bull over the largest hump.

For Busch to come that close only to come up short by eight, no one could fathom the disappointment of a man who entered this race last year leading the points. A worst-case scenario like this one would usually end up with someone (or some car) getting shoved out of the way, Busch whining while on a “no comment” sprint to the hauler, or a combination of the above. Everyone in attendance held their breath and expected the worst from a driver living his life embracing the role as NASCAR’s Bad Boy.

Instead, Busch faced the music, and to his credit, gave perhaps the most eloquent and professional interview of his career – one in which he admitted consistency was the ultimate culprit in leaving him on the outside looking in.

“It’s a conglomerate of points that we sacrificed all year,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for the whole M&M’s organization. We picked up at some tracks that we needed to and we faltered at some tracks that we thought we were good at.”

Nowhere was that roller coaster more blatant than after each one of Busch’s four wins, in which he piled up finishes of 18th, 24th, 34th, and 13th. The last time he put together back-to-back top 10s at California and Las Vegas, Michael Jackson was still planning his comeback tour and Brett Favre had just recently retired.

Kyle’s post-race comments after missing the Chase were well…quite un-Buschlike. Could that be because the boss was standing not too far away?

But while the Nationwide Series has been a distraction and the CoT’s handling hasn’t always been to Busch’s liking (“I’ve been struggling a little bit this year with these cars for some reason,” he admitted) a reputation as the most aggressive driver on the Sprint Cup circuit just can’t be overlooked. You’re forced to wonder that as the crowd emptied out and reality sunk in, if the “What ifs” in his mind overshadowed the “What must be” …

  • What if Busch hadn’t blocked Tony Stewart coming off turn 4 at Daytona, stomaching a second-place finish instead of flipping across the line in 14th?
  • What if Busch had backed it off a bit at Darlington, satisfied with a top 5 finish instead of slamming into the wall while trying to push the car too hard, ending up 4th instead of 34th?
  • What if raw speed and not random rain had decided the Coca-Cola 600, a race Kyle dominated only to finish 6th after a handful of cars gambled on strategy calls?

Every driver has a long list of examples they look back on when a season fails to meet expectations; but when four wins are only good enough for 13th-best, it’s enough to cost you more than a little sleep at night. Through Richmond, only Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson have led more laps than Kyle’s 916, and only Johnson and Mark Martin have more bonus points than his 100. There’s the old philosophy, “To finish first … you must first finish,” but after leading so much and so often, shouldn’t that just be enough to get by?

Over on the other side of the garage, Juan Pablo Montoya was looking as doofy as Busch was disappointed. One of those guys that should just never wear a hat, he was donning a Chase for the Sprint Cup cap for the first time in his career after two years of roughed up race cars that never seemed to translate into real results. Yet the man once known for using his bumper more than his brain now looked awkward while acknowledging the real reason for his sudden surge in stock car racing: playing it safe.

“It’s weird,” he said as an immediate reaction to a 19th-place finish on a night where a “C+” was plenty good enough for his first playoff berth. “We work all year for this and [tonight] we ran pretty conservative … but we did what we had do to get in. I should be really pumped up and excited; [but] right now I’m just thinking about [the fact] we need to run better every week.”

It was a strange changing of the guard this year, Montoya taking the mantra of Chase contender while Kyle was fully stealing his superlative of “most aggressive.” Yet a quick look at the stats shows Busch still beats Montoya in the categories that should count the most: Wins (4 to 0), Top 5s (7 to 2), races led (14 to 6). In fact, if you take the Brickyard 400 out of the equation, Montoya’s led just 48 laps all year … an average of a little less than two per race. It’s not exactly the type of dominating performance that won him a title in Champ Car and made him the international superstar capable of running competitively in Formula One.

But where Busch fell apart, Montoya made an extra effort to succeed this year. He found that mixing it up with the sport’s top contenders wasn’t as successful as sitting back, playing the game, and scoring a 10th place finish instead of nearly wrecking while battling for 9th. “Points racing,” he called it, to the chagrin of fans used to him mixing it up but forced to watch him mesh seamlessly with his peers — an overriding trend of conservatism in a sport preaching better safe than sorry.

“I think I learned that actually in Formula 1, that you have to be aggressive when you have to be aggressive and you have to be smart when you’ve got to be smart,” he explained. “When it’s restart and it’s time to go, you have to go and when it’s time to save the car, you have to save the car. Saving the car and the brakes and the tires [ in NASCAR races]… I’m not used to that. I was like flat [out] all the time and here, you have to look… a lot of people are giving you advice, don’t use the car so hard; try to go as fast as you can without abusing the car. It’s really weird.”

About as weird as Busch finishing his comments without a hint of anger or bitterness at missing out on the playoffs despite four men – Montoya, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Ryan Newman – scoring a goose egg in a Victory Lane Busch has visited more than any other since the start of February last year. Yet after being in the spotlight for much of the past two years, he sounded more than willing to step aside for someone else.

“All of the focus is going on the No. 11,” he said. “I’ll do my best to help Denny [Hamlin] out and bring Joe Gibbs Racing a championship; and hopefully, I can do my part on the racetrack as well as on just giving the best advice from my car and helping those guys.”

When those words were spoken, you couldn’t help but think of the man Busch is often compared to but can never quite replace: Dale Earnhardt. For four plus years, Earnhardt had a teammate … and for every single one of those days, he never budged from the theory of every man for himself.

But this is a different time and a different type of competition, and a driver who may win a championship in the Nationwide Series the way men used to race has already learned his lesson on how that won’t work in Sprint Cup.

“You can look at a whole different scenario or a whole different slew of things,” he claimed. “But what it boils down to is we missed.”

Now, the question is if he’s already figured out why; and with Montoya setting a shining example of a way to beat the system, you wonder if this day could prove the beginning of a different type of Kyle Busch in Cup.

Let’s just hope that’s not the case. For when NASCAR’s lone loose cannon stops resisting the surge towards plain ol’ vanilla, that’s the only flavor we’re going to have left.

Bowles Bits

  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t congratulate Brian Vickers on his first ever Chase bid. I worked with Vickers on a project last year for another publication, and can tell you he’s one of the most intelligent, well-spoken drivers on the circuit. That cerebral nature made the difference Saturday night; while Busch didn’t much care for where his rivals were on the track, Vickers was constantly calculating, making sure he had just enough positions to land 12th in points. Do I think TRB can win the Chase? It’s going to be tough. But as a team with the most momentum and nothing to lose on top of it that makes for a pretty dangerous combination, don’t you think?
  • With Jamie McMurray all set with Chip Ganassi, that whole Bobby Labonte-to-Childress rumor appears to have some merit. And if stays on board with their driver, it’s almost a no-brainer after Labonte turned down the opportunity to join the team last year only to see Petty Enterprises fall apart.
  • Roush Fenway Racing on a short track right now is like an underdog playing Florida in college football: overmatched, beaten down, and praying for the day to be over so the embarrassment will simply stop. Check out more on Roush’s short track struggles — as well as where it all went wrong for Matt Kenseth — in Did You Notice? later this week.

Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower… even though he’s still learning how to use it (be patient on that one!)

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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09/14/2009 08:30 AM

Quote: “What if Busch had backed it off a bit at Darlington, satisfied with a top 5 finish instead of”

Quote: What if Busch hadn’t blocked Tony Stewart coming off turn 4 at Daytona, stomaching a second-place finish instead of flipping across the line in 14th?

Quote: “Busch still beats Montoya in the categories that should count the most: Wins (4 to 0), Top 5s (7 to 2), races led (14 to 6). In fact, if you take the Brickyard 400 out of the equation, Montoya’s led just 48 laps all year … an average of a little less than two per race.”

Enough said about the sad state of “POINTS RACING as exhibited in the NA$CRAP scheme of things?


SIMPLY! How can ANY fan of motorsports thinks this is “REAL RACING”?


09/14/2009 09:04 AM

In 2003, Matt Kenseth won only once all year but managed to clinch the title before the final race of the season. NASCAR officials adopted the Chase system the following year. Consistence won that champsionship.

What young Mr. Busch needs to learn is that if he wants titles then he’s going to have to learn to drive for points. If he wants wins, then he’s doing a find job just the way he is.

Maybe he needs to stop racing on Saturday and give the Nationwide guys a chance to earn a living. If Nascar wants to do something that will make a difference, they’ll make the Sprint drivers ineligible for Nationwide points.

2003 was also the final year of Winston Cup sponsorship.

09/14/2009 09:07 AM

I think Kyle not making the chase has the potential to make the last 10 races more interesting. He has nothing to lose by going for a win every week and experimenting with new ideas. He won’t mind mixing it up with a chaser while the chasers would be scared to take a risk against him.

09/14/2009 09:48 AM

LOL. With the pressure off, Kyle wins the next 10 races.

Dave in NJ
09/14/2009 10:05 AM


You’re always bad-mouthing Kyle for running in the Nationwide series. Yet, I never hear you say the same thing about Carl Edwards. And he already has a Nationwide Series championship. Why the double standard?

09/14/2009 10:25 AM

Couldn’t have happened to a bigger chump…

09/14/2009 10:48 AM

You know I am not a Kyle Busch fan at all, in fact I am a Dale Jr. fan. But after saturday nights race I will have to say I was very impressed with Kyle Busch and his interview. In fact I was a little annoyed with the guy asking questions because Kyle responded to the chase issue very well and the guy just kept asking the same basic question, almost as though trying to prod him. Good job Kyle very solid interview, keep it up and fans will warm up.

09/14/2009 11:28 AM

Douglas: Your comment is right on!

Wow—did I just say that? What’s happening?

09/14/2009 12:22 PM

a “playoff” like every other sport…but i’ve never seen any team EVER make the “playoffs” without winning during the regular season

Joe W.
09/14/2009 12:49 PM

Racing is different than other sports. No Keith no football or baseball team is going to make the playoffs without winning games but they play one other team at a time, not 42. That is the big difference. Lets compare this in an apples to apples method. You think Busch should be in because of 4 wins. Even though other drivers got more consistant good finishes.(Which is like a win in other sports.) Then with that mentality a football team that wins 4 games but does it impressively like winning 42 to 0 should make the playoffs over a less spectacular looking team who wins 10 games but by only a small margin. Wins and losses are different in other sport. One opponent is easier to beat that 42. You want spectacular feets go watch extreme sports. I like the consistant being rewarded. As for Kyle Busch, the only way I could be happier about him missing the chase is if Mat Kenseth had made it instead of Vicars.

09/14/2009 01:28 PM

We all know what would be said and done if Jr. were in Kyle’s place after Richmond.

And you KNOW it’s the truth. Changes have been made in the past for lesser reasons.

Mike In NH
09/14/2009 01:54 PM

The same year Kenseth won the championship with 1 win, Ryan Newman had either 6 or 8 wins, I forget – he came in SIXTH in the points. So it’s ALWAYS been more about consistency than wins. People just forget that. At least now, if they wanted to they could add a wild card for the winner of the most races not in the Chase, or they could make wins worth more points to make sure winners have a better shot getting in, whereas with the old system, neither tweak was either available or very effective.

09/14/2009 02:21 PM

I hope we don’t see a mild mannered Kyle Busch. The chase has taken trying to win out of the equation. This sport desperately needs drivers to wear the “black hat” and the current system discourages it. Even Tony Stewart seems to have “mellowed”. I hope Kyle doesn’t “mellow” too much. Beings Burton didn’t make the chase, I’ll have to root for my second favorite driver. Brian Vickers.

09/14/2009 02:44 PM

Hey Joe W. first, before I get started, I will profusley apologize to you in advance for what I am about to say!


Quote: “No Keith no football or baseball team is going to make the playoffs without winning games but they play one other team at a time, not 42.”

Quote: “You think Busch should be in because of 4 wins. Even though other drivers got more consistant good finishes.(Which is like a win in other sports.)”

Quote: “ You want spectacular feets go watch extreme sports. I like the consistant being rewarded.”

HOLY SH*T! You really believe that?

You pay GOOD MONEY, and LOTS OF IT, to watch a few drivers just circle around gathering up points?

Candidly, how many races DID YOU ACTUALLY ATTEND?

And you say WINNING is not the least bit important IN A SPORTING EVENT?


You must be the ultimate DETROIT LIONS fan!

Now that’s CONSISTENT!

I’ll even bet you have season tickets to the LIONS! Your DREAM TEAM!

What better way to describe “consistency”?

THE DETROIT LIONS! Joe’s most favorite sports team!

And your “Racing is different than other sports.” is right on!

ALL the other sports crown a TRUE CHAMPION, a CHAMPION BASED on WINNING!

Not like NA$CRAP where a casual Sunday afternoon drive gets you into the payoffs!




09/14/2009 02:51 PM

Hey Tom Bowles, re: your poll question for today!

How much do you want to bet that if the driver mentioned not making the chase was a certain Dale Jr., the poll would reflect a whopping 99% saying yes the points system needs changed?

And 1% would say “no, he just was not good enough”?

09/14/2009 02:54 PM

hey jaymatt, big thanks!

But it’s just common sense! Right?

Joe W.
09/14/2009 04:28 PM

Douglas, you once again prove how incredibly ignorant you are!!!! Nascar championships have always been about consistancy. Being consistanly GOOD!! You really tick me off with your crap. I have tried to stay civil but you have now crossed the line. How many times has the driver with the most wins not won the cup. Lots of times. Do you know why? Because his other finishes were not as good as the person who did win it. So let me get this right. You just want the person with the most wins to get the championship, even if his other finishes suck? I have attended races at Bristol, Martinsville, Michigan and Daytona smart guy. You want to insult someone? Well bring it on big guy. I never run from a fight. Oh and by the way I am not a Lions fan. I like the Titans and Cowboys. Go ahead and insult them too. That seems to be all you are good at. Once again I will ask you, if Nascar sucks so bad why don’t you just GO AWAY!!!!!!!? Oh one more thing. I never said winning was not important but was trying to show how other sports differ. You really need a life dude. Is it all that bad where you are? Nothing but gloom and doom. You are a very sad person.

09/14/2009 04:38 PM


09/14/2009 06:59 PM

Just know one thing, folks: Kyle Busch will be winning races and championships long after Tom Bowels is rotting in his coffin in the bowels of the earth.

And yes, NASCRAP has always valued consistent mediocrity over excellence. There is no other sport where a non-winner can be a champion.
The Detroit Lions are consistent – they have now lost 18 in a row over three seasons, so they should be given an automatic playoff berth in the NFL.

Consistency is crap, or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “the hobgoblin of little minds.” There are no smaller minds than those who write about NASCAR for Frontstretch.

09/14/2009 07:05 PM

So the snot nosed, booger eating punk from Las Vegas didn’t make the chase, big deal.
Others have missed it, he can too.

Wins are not everything.They are worth extra points, granted, which they get. But where, tell me, do all the teams in any sport, except racing, all participate in one venue, all at the same time. A football field or a basketball court wouldn’t even begin to hold everybody. Thus, consistency is very important.
And Douglas, much to your dismay, ol KB is getting just plain vanilla.

09/14/2009 07:07 PM

Douglas, Personally, I was hoping Favre would go to the Lions. There could be plusses for both sides of this; morale, energy, and money just being a few of them. Marybeth

09/14/2009 07:12 PM

And are you Kyle-bashers ready for some racing? Well, tighten those belts, you wimpy little Chasers, Kyle is unleashed and without worrying about points, here’s hoping he takes out all 12 of you in each of the next ten races. And start with JJ who took a dive to let little Brian into the Chase.

And Marybeth, how many Super Bowls have you won?
How many NFL records do you own? Do you get paid 12 million dollars a year just because you scare the crap out of the competition? I didn’t think so.

Doug in Washington (State)
09/14/2009 07:21 PM

All the tweaking they’ve done to the Chase hasn’t done squat to “reward wins” like they claimed it would. In fact, only the first chase in 2004 did all Chase participants have a race win before the chase started. In 2005, Rusty Wallace made the chase and went winless all year. In 2006, it was Mark Martin. In 2007, Clint Bowyer went winless the first 26 races- but then promptly went and won the first Chase race at New Hampshire. In 2008, 4 drivers qualified for the chase without a win (Kenseth, Stewart, Gordon, and Harvick) and only Stewart would go on to “win” at Talladega via an official call. This year it’s Edwards, Newman, Montoya, and Biffle. It’s not the first time a multiple-race winner has missed the chase either. Jeff Gordon missed with 3 wins in 2005 (and won another during the final 10 to make it 4), 2006 it was Tony Stewart (2 pre-chase wins, missed, won one more).

So it’s nothing new.

If you want “wins” to count, you might as well just run head-to-head elimination races all year. Like drag racing. But reality is, in any motorsport where it’s more than 1 against 1 there’s the possibility of winning the championship without winning a single race. It’s never happened in Cup Series, but the possibility was always there. Chase or no chase.

You want to look at a screwed up ranking system, look at the BCS.

09/14/2009 08:33 PM

Hey Joe W., thanks for the challenge!

But let me get something straight? PLEASE?

You said “Even though other drivers got more consistant good finishes.(Which is like a win in other sports.)”


Now you say wins are important!

I am confused my friend, thoroughly confused!

So, what is it! A “good finish” is “just as good as a win”?

Or is a win a win?

Or is a 5th place finish a WIN?

oh, wait, I always thought the one that BEATS EVERYONE ELSE is a WINNER!

BUT! Aparently in the world of NA$CRAP, an 8th place finish can be considered a WIN?

Oh Joe, your killin me!

And for Rachel, your “The Detroit Lions are consistent – they have now lost 18 in a row over three seasons, so they should be given an automatic playoff berth in the NFL.”

Only in Joe’s world me thinks! Nice observation by the way!

Lets see the crawfish get out of this one!

Bring it on Joe!

And may I remind you I did apologize in advance! But, I guess you have no sense of humor! Darn!

Brian Farce was counting on you!

09/14/2009 11:25 PM

Please Douglas, whoever you are, please go away. You are the most negative person I have ever seen when it comes to NASCAR. If you don’t like it, then please take your B.S. to another sport and start bashing it. Frankly, I think NASCAR this year has been great. Interesting, good racing for the most part, and some new faces in the chase. I agree with one of the people that commented above. You must be a miserable person with no life.

Managing Editor
09/14/2009 11:35 PM


A couple of things …

- I certainly don’t agree with everything Douglas said, but his comment about Dale Jr. in the poll made me laugh… and I thought it was spot on.

- Getting a lot of email about how I’m being mean to Kyle. Just to clarify, this column was about how I hope Kyle DOESN’T get less aggressive next year like Juan Pablo Montoya in order to make the Chase. That was the central theme … if anything, I was attempting to PRAISE Kyle’s aggression and how his personal style can be good for the sport at certain times. My head’s scratching a bit on that one …

Also, gotta put my editor’s hat on and remind people to keep the personal bashing to a minimum. We like to keep it nice and loose here, but I see wayyyy too many attacks in this thread. Keep it civilized, please …

Thanks all for reading and commenting.

09/15/2009 12:35 AM

The one thing they should have shown after Kyle’s interview was Daddy Gibbs holding the Sippee Cup with the Kool-Aid. They’re gonna tame him, you just know it.

09/15/2009 07:56 AM

Hey Tracy! FYI! I am not miserable, I am a happy retired guy that just happens to know good racing when I see it. I just want to see real racing once again.

And obviously I love being the “voice of reason” (is that a crass statement?). Oh well.

Second rate racing, and a second rate points system, and a second rate race car just isn’t cutting it with me, and many others. Please look at the stands at each of this years races!

We stand united in our concern over the current state of “stock car racing”!

Notice I said “stand united”, cause we sure aren’t “sitting united” in the grandstands!

To each his own, and for every viewpoint, there is another viewpoint! Mine just happens to be more pointed!

This, I love!

And for our dear Managing Editor, I will try my best to be civil in my attempts at “righting the ship” as far a Stock Car Racing goes!


Joe W.
09/15/2009 02:22 PM

Well Mr. Smarty Douglas. I think anyone who thinks they will win every race is STUPID.(Kyle Busch). You try to win them all but being realistic you know you can’t. So you try to get the best possible finish. Now answer me this Mr. Racing, Do you see any other sport where you compete with 42 other teams every week? NO!!! you don’t. There are 32 teams in the NFL, that means there will be 16 winners every week. In Nascar Cup races there are 43 teams and only one winner every week. Sometimes that winner lucks into it with rain shortened events and the like. So you must look at good finishes like top 5s and top 10s as a win when compared to other sports. This is not rocket science. It is simple math. Oh and I do have a sense of humor when something is actually funny. Who rights your stuff anyway, Kanye West?

Joe W.
09/15/2009 03:18 PM

Douglas, you got me thinking about humor and racing. I guess you must be a HUGE fan of Ricky Bobby, right? If your not 1st your last. Right? The words of a drunk stoner(Ricky’s father) in a Will Ferrell movie. Oh well Shake and Bake!!


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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