Did You Notice? Kyle Busch could still easily make the Chase with a waiver? Let’s break down how and why following Tuesday’s announcement that he’ll return to the sport, driving the No. 18 Toyota in Saturday night’s All-Star Race along with the rest of the 2015 regular season.
For Busch, he starts from scratch, missing 11 races and scoring exactly zero points. To make the Chase, he’ll have to close a 177-point gap on 30th-place Tony Stewart in the standings while winning at least one race. Scoring a victory though should be the least of Busch’s problems when you take two factors into consideration. First, the Joe Gibbs Racing organization he drives for has swept the short-track races this season. Busch has been strong in the past at both Bristol and Richmond, two easy apples off the tree he could grab in late summer, once his leg injury is sure to be fully healed.
Making up points, in theory, is going to be far more difficult. But it’s also far from impossible. Right now, Kyle’s brother Kurt is averaging a ninth-place finish since returning from his three-race suspension. Let’s say, just for kicks, that Busch averages that ninth-place result over the next 15 races. That’s an average of 35 points per race, giving him a total of 525 by the regular season finale. Stewart, by comparison is on pace to score a total of 418 points over the regular season.
To be fair, JGR hasn’t been as strong as Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick or Hendrick Motorsports equipment. So, by comparison let’s use teammate Matt Kenseth’s average finish of 15th through 11 races. That would give Busch an average of 29 points per race, adding up to 435 in total – still slightly more than Stewart without taking into consideration bonus points earned for wins and laps led.
I think Busch will easily match Kenseth’s average finish, a consistency that’s left his teammate seventh in the Sprint Cup standings. Kyle, unlike some who have already “clinched” a playoff bid, needs every point possible and will never “settle” for fifth or sixth if a win is not in the cards. That extra 10% effort will be there every single week, good for another two to three passes over drivers that simply don’t need to make the same push until September. Also, take into consideration that Busch is one of the most aggressive drivers on the circuit. This predicament allows the team to “green light” his driving style for pretty much the next four months. Desperate drivers with talent can be some of the sport’s more successful, and Kyle? Post-injury? He’s desperate to prove himself.
There’s no guarantee that Busch will make the Chase. But if NASCAR grants the waiver, he’s far from counted out. I’d say it’s a 60/40 shot.
Did You Notice? There hasn’t been a pass for the lead inside the last five laps of the All-Star Race since 2009? That’s when Stewart took the lead with two laps left and powered to victory, giving him the “mulligan” needed to make the All-Star event this year despite a horrible season. Need we say more about why the event has outlived its usefulness in Charlotte?
Teams always like to take the All-Star weekend to “breathe” during a schedule of 38 race weekends condensed into nine months. Well, if you need a weekend for crews to take a breath, why not hold the All-Star Race at a short track close to home? Bristol’s the most obvious choice, but could you imagine a race at South Boston (Va.), Hickory (N.C.) or even Bowman-Gray? The speeds there would be slow enough for drivers to beat, bang and enact revenge against each other for past offenses. It’s a new oval on the schedule, a new challenge which would eliminate the aero push and put success purely within the driver’s hands.
Sure, seats would be limited at a South Boston, but isn’t it time we finally made a ticket worth something in NASCAR again? What would you like to see; fans openly competing for one of 20,000 open seats or 35,000 fans making a once-lively Charlotte Motor Speedway look like it’s empty? Clearly, the All-Star Race needs to be revamped when even the competitors themselves don’t get amped up for it anymore. So many privately treat it as a test session for the “real” race the following weekend, Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600, which is still looked at as one of the sport’s “crown jewel” events.
You also wonder whether the sport should tweak eligibility for the All-Star Race at some point. Consider…
- Kyle Busch will be in the big race despite not competing in a single Cup event all season.
- Martin Truex Jr. will have to race his way in despite sitting second in Sprint Cup points, notching 10 top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
- Stewart has made the “main event” despite no wins in two-plus seasons. He’s currently 30th in Sprint Cup points.
I don’t think major tweaks are needed; I would keep Stewart in the field as he is a former series champion, after all. But if a driver like Truex has surged to second in points, that should be a consideration for entry. Maybe any winless driver inside the top five in points could make the starting field? It would be a shame to see the No. 78 team locked out after all they’ve achieved so far in 2015.
Did You Notice? Quick hits before taking off…
- As of now, 11 races in Aric Almirola, is in position to make the Chase without scoring a single top-10 finish. (His best: 11th three times.) You would think that the law of averages would catch up at some point, but what if it doesn’t? Almirola’s numbers also include not a single lap led, not surprising during a season that’s been dominated by a select few.
- Casey Mears openly wondering about his Germain Racing future, faced with a contract that expires this year was a bit of curious timing. You don’t publicly question your future employment these days unless you’re feeling a little desperate and insecure. After a strong start, Mears finds himself 30 points outside of the final Chase position… and fading. Germain is no Furniture Row Racing, but you wonder if ownership is looking at how Truex Jr. has soared to second in the standings while their program is decidedly still second tier.
- Yes, the owners (what few of them are left) complained openly about NASCAR’s 2016 rules package. Nobody wants to spend more money… and yet, isn’t the All-Star Race the perfect time to experiment with different things? The 2015 rules package, Kansas aside, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with intermediates. Wouldn’t you try something with a free exhibition weekend to do whatever you want? It seems like NASCAR blew off skydiving to play on the kids’ playground instead.
- If Kurt Busch ran the three races he missed this season, scoring his average finish of 9.0 he’d be second in the standings, 40 points behind teammate Harvick. That’s why the struggles of Stewart, whatever the reason, have become so troubling. Even third Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick has benefited from Hendrick Motorsports chassis and engines, sitting just two points out of a Chase bid. With the four other Hendrick cars comfortably in playoff position, Smoke sticks out like a sore thumb.