The Frontstretch: No "Mind Games" Intended Towards Kyle Busch – Just The Truth by Tommy Thompson -- Wednesday August 13, 2008

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No "Mind Games" Intended Towards Kyle Busch – Just The Truth

Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Wednesday August 13, 2008


Wholly based on genuine observations and candid comments made by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson leading up to Kyle’s convincing win last Sunday at the Watkins Glen International road course, some in the news media and apparently Kyle Busch himself believe that his former Hendrick Motorsports teammates are engaging in some form of psychological warfare against him to distract him from his task at hand – winning the 2008 Sprint Cup championship. However, it is doubtful that either four-time Cup champion Gordon or the current back-to-back defending champion Johnson, neither with degrees in psychology, but with Masters in wheeling racecars, were up to anything more diabolical than analyzing theirs and others chances of wrangling the driver points lead away from the 23-year old Busch by Homestead in November.

Gordon observed that in his estimation Busch and his No. 18 Toyota team had not “…shown me what they were showing earlier in the season,” a seeming reference to Busch’s all-or-very-little performance over the last 10 races beginning at Dover. Over this span of two and a half months, the Las Vegas native has won half of the Sprint Cup events, but in the remaining five has shown vulnerability, finishing outside the Top 10 with 43rd, 13th, 25th, 15th, and 36th place results, respectfully. Busch’s results give credence to Gordon’s belief that if the wins can be minimized during the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and Kyle Busch’s otherwise inconsistent finishes give him and the other championship contenders reason to be optimistic.

Kyle Busch has hoisted a lot of trophies this season, but the Hendrick Motorsports camp is not ready to hand him the Sprint Cup yet.

Losing a championship during the 10-race playoff is something that Jeff Gordon, the win leader amongst active NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, can speak of with a certain amount of credibility. Last season Gordon had a terrific season going and had amassed a 312-point lead after the 26th race of the season at Richmond, Virginia, only to see his regular season lead wiped out — and teammate Johnson leading him by 20 points when driver championship points were reset under the Chase points format.

The end result of the 2007 season was that Johnson, who had finished the first 26 races of the season fourth in drivers points and 410 behind the series leader and owner of his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, repeated as the Sprint Cup Champion. As for Gordon, he faded following his impressive start to the season.

When Jimmie Johnson agreed with Gordon’s assessment that Kyle Busch was far from being crowned NASCAR’s Sprint Cup champion for 2008, he also was only stating what he knows to be true. Johnson, winner of the last two Chase format championships knows that Kyle Busch can be beat – and beat by him in the all-important points column. The last 10-race span of good, consistent runs by Johnson has had to convince him that not only can Busch be overtaken…he is a guy that can do it.

Despite the five wins starting ten races ago at Dover, an amazing 50 percent win ratio, Jimmie Johnson has actually closed the points gap between he and the Joe Gibbs Racing phenom. Johnson, now third in the drivers point standings, finds himself 244 points behind Busch and securely inside the Top 12 Chase eligible points positions. Following Kyle Busch’s Dover win, Johnson was 406 points behind the young points leader, a deficit that might have appeared insurmountable, but one that he has reduced by 162 points while Busch has been capturing the lions share of attention for his five wins since the first of June.

What Gordon and Johnson have stated when asked is nothing more than the truth. Kyle Busch, even if one were to believe that he could continue to win at his current prolific rate, is vulnerable and can be beat. It’s simply two guys, knowing a thing or two or four about winning championships, offering honest opinions.

They not only know about winning championships, but about Kyle Busch, as well. After having been teammates for three full seasons with the first year driver for Joe Gibbs Racing at Hendrick Motorsports, both have had close-up and ample opportunity to size up their adversary. Clearly they have concluded that he is not invincible.

What the two past champions know is that the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship requires good consistent finishes week in and week out. Though going for wins is the object of the sport, an all-or-nothing approach will lead to poor finishes – something that no driver can withstand more than possibly two of during the 10-event finale to the season.

Additionally, Gordon and Johnson know their teams and what direction they are headed as the Chase approaches, inside knowledge that in itself may be cause for them to feel exceedingly hopeful about their own shots at overtaking Kyle Busch by season’s end. Certainly, no one can fault the two for their faith in the Hendrick organization, at least based on past performances.

Shortly after crossing the finish line in his convincing win last Sunday at Watkins Glen International Kyle Busch exclaimed over the radio, apparently in response to his former teammates’ comments in their belief of his vulnerability, “They can keep trying to play these mind games. We’ll just keep winning.”

To be sure, a good plan to have. Certainly, ten wins in the 10-race Chase will do the trick. But should Kyle Busch find that it isn’t possible to win them all, or even 50-percent of the races…he will still need a string of good finishes. Five wins and five mediocre to poor finishes might not only open the door to Gordon or Johnson ruining what has been up to now a dream season for Busch…but anyone of the other nine Chase-eligible drivers.

And…that’s my view from Turn 5.

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08/13/2008 02:10 PM

Each year as the “chase approaches” we see its flaws begin to surface. First off this year if the Daytona 500 is indeed the “super bowl” of NASCAR, its winner most likely will not be in the chase. Should the Daytona 500 winner automatically qualify for the chase? Or is the Daytona 500 over hyped, ditto for the Brickyard 400, besides the tradition of Indy was built on open-wheel not stock cars. In the end winning either of both of these races, means no more than winning one or both of the races at Martinsville. So what’s all the hoopla of winning the Daytona 500 and Indy worth?
All we hear now is about points racing, so if a driver actually wins the race, “Big Deal”. It’s because the “difference” in points between winning and top fives or top tens is not enough. In the races leading up to the chase, the bonus points for winning should be 50 points then maybe the desire to go for the win will return to the sport. I’ve had enough of these drivers looking for top 5´s and top 10´s it should be “go for it – win baby win”. Once into the chase the 50 point reward for the win should continue. This would certainly improve the odds that the champion in the end would indeed be a “winning” driver and not the best “average” driver. I hope I had made my point.

08/13/2008 02:41 PM

A couple more things come to mind. People often point that the New England Patriots had an 18-0 record going into the superbowl and lost. True. But the Giants actually “won” the game. As it stands now we will have drivers in the chase that will not have won a single race. And now worse these same winless drivers could emerge as the “best average winless” driver and claim the title. Just think folks, “A winless Champion” only in NASCAR. Would anyone argue that a driver must at least have one win to get into the chase regardless of the points he has accumulated. Remember the NY Giants actually did “win” the superbowl.

08/13/2008 03:09 PM

You certainly won’t run into Jeff Gordon or Jimmy Johnson at a MENSA meeting ( unless they are delivering the food ) so i don’t know that their opinions are something to get particularly excited about . You won’t find my name on the MENSA guest list either by the way . There are far better sources for inside opinion than those two . Regarding the column though , every season is different , every team is different every season , track surfaces change year to year , tire quality changes year to year , and rules change year to year . The bottom line is there is no reliable way to pick a Cup champion or to even handicap the championship .
I have a feeling that Kyle Busch doesn’t pay the slightest attention to what Gordon , Johnson , or anyone else says or thinks . You won’t find too many other drivers who are 100% focused on each lap of each race like he is .

08/13/2008 04:28 PM

I don’t think Jimmie or Jeff were saying anything they didn’t believe was the real truth…but of course they were also trying to get to Kyle with their comments. Any driver that isn’t trying to get to his opponents isn’t trying hard enough. ;)

And you are about the 10 millionith article to attribute Jeff Dickerson’s quote to Kyle Busch. His spotter said “they can keep trying to play these mind games, we’ll just keep winning”, not Kyle.

08/13/2008 06:35 PM

While I’m not the biggest Kyle Busch fan, (although his attitude is growing on me a bit compared to the usual generic drivers out there), I have to say that this season show’s once again how stupid this chase is. Another year of a driver having a great season only to have to go into some sort of a 10 race “play-off” to see who’s the best. sigh Pretty sure that the guy that was having a helluva a season up until race 27 was. On top of that get ready for the Bristol night race where only the chase could suck the life out of that. What’s next NASCAR, speed limits and car pool lanes?

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