2008 Ride: No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2008 Sponsor: M&M’s/Interstate Batteries
2008 Owner: JD Gibbs
2008 Crew Chief: Steve Addington
Stats: 36 races, 8 wins, 17 top fives, 21 top 10s, 7 poles, 10th in points
High Point: Kyle Busch‘s bow after taking an unbelievable win at Darlington Raceway. Kyle hit the wall so many times during that event that the car afterward looked more as though it had been hit with an IED than as if it had just won a race. There were also many other high points in what looked like a fantastic season before the Chase started: wins at Talladega, Atlanta, Dover, Daytona, Sonoma, Chicago and Watkins Glen seemed to foretell a dominant season ahead for the No. 18.
Low Point: At Dover Downs in September, the No. 18’s engine gave out and the car finished last following a Loudon race where a broken sway bar bolt caused the M&M’s Toyota to finish 34th. The performance at Delaware’s Monster Mile effectively ended any championship hopes that Kyle had after an eight-win regular season with the Chase format. As a result, the life appeared to have been sucked out of the team the rest of the way. They scored no more wins in 2008; and although there were some strong performances, the team looked nothing like it had for the first 26.
Summary: Busch was stomping on the competition so hard for the first 26 races of 2008 that the big question before the Chase was whether Carl Edwards or Jimmie Johnson could even mount a serious challenge. In all, he led 1,673 laps on the year, second to only Johnson, and held the points lead throughout most of the regular season. Once the Chase began, however, the No. 18 team fell victim to deadly mechanical malfunctions and was nearly out of it in the blink of an eye, leaving the title hunt to Edwards and Johnson. The No. 18 team seemed almost cursed by the resetting of the points for the postseason – Kyle averaged a 9.9 finish before the Chase, and a 19.1 finish once it started.
2009 Outlook: With wins at all different types of tracks, Busch showed himself to be one of the sport’s top drivers today following a breakout regular season last year. He also appears to work well with Steve Addington, who at this writing is still going to be atop the pit box in 2009. However, given the team’s struggles late in the season, along with similar problems for the No. 11 and No. 20 teams, the Joe Gibbs stable seems to have lost just a bit of its mojo. We’ll have to wait until next year to see if Kyle can pull an encore and put on a similar show as he did in 2008 – and whether the team can avoid the mechanical pitfalls that destroyed their championship hopes this season.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: B
2007 Grade: B-
2008 Grade: A