“But [Kyle] Busch could also be peaking too early. Because if history is any indication, his early-season strength could end up faltering down the line.”
Man, I wonder what kind of idiot wrote that earlier this year.
In early May 2019, Kyle Busch was on a hot streak rivaling few others in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history. Entering the spring race at Dover International Speedway, he had 10 top 10s in 10 races, tying him with James Hylton (1972) and Cale Yarborough (1974) for the second-longest streak of top 10s to start a Cup season ever. Only Morgan Shepherd, with 11 in 1990, had more.
Busch eventually tied Shepherd’s mark with a 10th-place run at Dover, but following a disappointing 30th at Kansas Speedway, he settled for a tie with Shepherd rather than the all-out top mark.
It’s time, however, to talk about Busch and top 10s again. Because another record may be in jeopardy. Turns out “faltering down the line” hasn’t been an issue (yet).
That’s because entering Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, the 26th race of the 2019 season, Busch has 21 top 10s to his name. That’s just four finishes outside the top 10, and one of those — Watkins Glen International — was an 11th. His other subpar (well, by his 2019 standards) results? 14th at Daytona International Speedway’s summer event, 22nd at Chicagoland Speedway and the aforementioned 30th at Kansas.
Some drivers struggle to reach 20 top 10s in an entire career. Others are happy averaging, I don’t know, 15-20 in an entire season.
Busch? He could be pushing 30.
And it’s altogether possible. 11 races remain in the 2019 season, and Busch needs nine top 10s to hit 30. Given his performance thus far, he’s really only projected to finish outside the top 10 in two, maybe three races to conclude the year. It may be a nail biter, but it’s, again, very much possible.
Which can be crazy to even consider some years! For instance, in 2002, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman led the Cup pack with 22 top 10s each the entire 36-race season, and neither of them even won the championship; that distinction went to Tony Stewart, who snagged 21. The number even dips below 20 in 1992, when Ricky Rudd snagged 18 to lead the series, though at the point, the circuit schedule was set at just 29 races.
The concept of 30 top 10s is admittedly a bit slanted as a result. In some modern-era (1972 and on) seasons, teams didn’t even have the opportunity to score 30 top 10s because there weren’t 30 races to contest. And before 1972, drivers might run upward of 40-plus races a season, so hitting 30 might not have been as difficult for the elite organizations.
Nonetheless, there is a precedent for which Busch can shoot and possibly best.
Most Top 10s in One Season, NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present)
27: Bobby Allison (1972), Cale Yarborough (1977), Richard Petty (1979), Carl Edwards (2008), Kevin Harvick (2016)
28: Richard Petty (1972), Jeff Gordon (1998), Joey Logano (2015), Kevin Harvick (2015), Kyle Busch (2018)
29: Dale Jarrett (1999), Kevin Harvick (2018)
30: Jeff Gordon (2007)
Ugh, we probably had this conversation last year, too, didn’t we? Time is a flat circle.
Yep, Kevin Harvick and Busch himself were indeed vying for 30 in 2018, too. Busch ended up with 28 when all was said and done, while Harvick did him one better with 29.
Jeff Gordon, meanwhile, boasts the all-time modern era record, becoming the only post-1971 driver with at least 30 top 10s in a season.
Will Busch join Gordon, or will he end up with results more like his and/or Harvick’s 2018 marks?
Tough to say. Busch is currently only one top 10 ahead of his 2018 pace, which saw him at 20 exiting Darlington Raceway. Harvick, like Busch now, was at 21 at that point and still ended up with 29.
But there’s also hope, because guess where Gordon was at after race No. 25 in 2007? 20 top 10s. After a 22nd-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, then the 25th race of the season, he rattled off 10 top 10s in the final 11 races, with his worst finish an 11th at Dover.
Busch has been a model of consistency in 2019, that’s certainly for sure. And if he can keep that up over the final 11-race stretch of the year, he has the opportunity to not just meet Gordon’s mark but also exceed it.
And if nothing else, at least he’s probably going to join the stat rundown above when we inevitably talk about this again in 2020 or something.