A 21-race dry spell from June to November didn’t derail Kyle Busch’s hopes for a second NASCAR Cup Series title, as he sailed across the Homestead-Miami Speedway finish line to cap off his second championship season in the sport’s top division.
But neither that drought nor the championship can completely define Busch’s 2019 campaign.
The Candyman racked up 27 top-10 finishes, 17 of those in the top five spots, capping that statline off with five wins. Busch even came back from a lap 1 crash at Bristol Motor Speedway in the spring to win with a mangled rear bumper.
The points standings tell the story of his season, too. Even without the current playoff format, the 15-year veteran still would’ve come out on top, beating fellow title contender Kevin Harvick by two points.
Busch kicked the year off on the right foot, crossing the line a close second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the season-opening Daytona 500. He then reeled off 10 straight top-10 finishes, including two wins at ISM Raceway and Auto Club Speedway, the latter his 200th career victory across all three NASCAR series.
However, that record-tying 11-race streak of finishes inside the top 10 came to an end at Kansas Speedway after a pit road penalty. Busch didn’t let that deter him, though, finishing in the top five in each of the next four races, including a win at Pocono Raceway. He went on to claim the regular-season championship after Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That consistency is what gave Busch his shot at the title when Homestead rolled around in November. He completed over 99% of all laps run, leading 1,582 of those. Those laps led were the most all season, with second-place Martin Truex Jr. more than 200 behind him. Busch recorded the second-most top-10 finishes of his career, while he tied a career second-best with those 17 top-five efforts.
Busch also kept his equipment relatively damage-free, only failing to finish twice – with those failures coming as a result of engine and suspension failure.
However, the eventual champion remained somewhat in the shadow of his JGR stablemates. Hamlin and Truex scored at least six wins apiece and had a bit more even distribution of wins than Busch did.
JGR as a whole came into the playoffs – and Homestead – as a powerhouse and a looming threat. All four of the team’s Toyota Camrys qualified for the postseason with victories, and three of those four would wind up racing for a championship come Homestead.
Erik Jones was the lone Gibbs driver on the outside looking in, with Stewart-Haas Racing mainstay Harvick filling the fourth spot for Miami.
Hamlin and Truex had combined to win five of the first nine races in the playoffs, while Harvick added a triumph of his own at Texas Motor Speedway. Busch had zero victories in the 2019 postseason, of course, and none in the past five and a half months.
Hamlin had won the previous week in the season’s penultimate race at ISM, coming in clutch in a must-win situation. Busch ran second, unable to get to the front and pass his teammate.
As for the season’s waning moments, Busch seemed like he’d play a supporting role in the finale. Hamlin and Truex appeared to be the favorites as NASCAR’s top touring series headed to the Sunshine State for one last duel under the lights in Miami.
Qualifying was set by points after the skies opened up over the track, with all four contenders making up the first two rows for the last season finale at the mile-and-a-half oval. Busch started last of the four, since he hadn’t won a race the previous round.
He went on to have the only mistake-free night of the contenders, as a wheel mix-up troubled Truex, overheating issues plagued Hamlin and a pit call to stay out as long as possible doomed Harvick’s chances. Truex recovered enough to finish second, but his No. 19 was just a black-and-orange dot in Busch’s rearview mirror at the end.
Some might have written Busch off as the tertiary or quaternary pick for the title, but it was the No. 18’s longtime multicolored M&M’s scheme that flashed under the checkered flag to win the race and championship at Homestead.
After his burnout and celebration, Busch seemed to drink in his surroundings and had a calmness about him, as if the second time on top of the NASCAR world was sweeter than the first.
Conquering Homestead also gave Busch sole possession of ninth on the all-time wins list with 56, as well as his 200th career top-five finish.
Both of Busch’s titles have come within the last five years, after he beat out Harvick, Truex and Jeff Gordon for the 2015 crown. Even facing an added threat in Hamlin alongside two of his previous foes, Busch prevailed.
Hell, some might say that Busch is undeserving of the title due to that period of stagnancy in 2019, or that he should’ve won the title the year before. 2018 was an overall slightly better season – five more top-five finishes, one more top-10 and eight total wins – but with the playoff system, anything can happen, especially when four drivers are eligible for a championship on the sport’s biggest stage.
Busch had a stellar season, even if it was lacking in the one statistic many consider the most important: the 1 in the result column. Wins aren’t everything in the grand scope of a season, and Busch was quietly consistent and then perfect when it counted at Homestead.
Quietly lurking in the background might not be a goal any driver or team sets for their season, but Busch made it work. He pounced at the right time, had a perfect race when he needed it most and outlasted his competitors.
He’s only 34, too; Busch has plenty of time to win a few more titles if he stays the course he’s on.
Thanks to his teammates, however, Busch’s offseason might be spent cleaning up the 30,000 pennies Hamlin and Truex left for him as payback for a pre-Homestead bet.
36 starts, five wins, 17 top fives, 27 top 10s
Best finish: 1st (five times – ISM I, Auto Club, Pocono I, Bristol II, Homestead)
Point standings: 1st
Season grade: A
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