NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(photo: nkp)

5 Points to Ponder: Kyle Busch Finally Takes a Bow in 2020

1. It Took A While, But Kyle Busch Kept His Winning Streak Intact

It was strangely fitting that in a race that forced drivers, teams and fans to wait more than three days from the time it was red flagged for weather until its checkered counterpart was shown, Kyle Busch found a way to cross the finish line first. Not in dominating fashion, as he has often won races throughout his career, but with a somewhat harrowing stretch as he held off teammate Martin Truex Jr. while simultaneously hoping he saved enough fuel to make it to the end.

For the first time in 2020, everything worked out in Rowdy’s favor. His fourth career Texas Motor Speedway triumph keeps his 16-season streak of at least one Cup Series win intact, something he admitted was his number one priority in the waning weeks of this campaign.

Of course, there was really no other goal worth pursuing, as defending his Cup Series championship fell by the wayside before the current round of the playoffs even began. For whatever reason, the No. 18 team never adapted to the unusual circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic forced on the sport, clearly not at their best without the usual cadence of practice and qualifying.

Though it was just one win, you’d expect that it may give Kyle Busch and company a bit of a boost as they do their 2020 post-mortem a few weeks from now. Even when clearly not at their best, they found a way to outperform and outwit the field at Texas, including several drivers who could have really used this win to advance to the Championship 4.

(As an aside, they also gave us an answer to the perennial question, “What exactly will it take to get NBCSN to pay attention to a non-playoff driver in the Round of 8?”)

It wasn’t pretty by any means. And it had been so long coming that Rowdy seemed to forget to do his trademark bow after the race, only somewhat sheepishly doing it after being reminded by the TV crew. Yet it did give one the impression that he’ll be able to put this trying season behind him quickly once 2021 rolls around.

“We’re ready to fight next year,” he said, looking as happy as fans have seen him in some time. “We’ll be back.”

2. Adam Stevens May Have Just Earned a Job-Saving Win

Though it’s unfair at times, sports is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately?” business. In stick and ball sports, it’s the coach or manager who ends up taking the fall most often when things go wrong, and in NASCAR, it’s a lot easier to make a crew chief change than it is to replace the person behind the wheel.

That’s why it wasn’t crazy to think that Kyle Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, was on the hot seat despite guiding his driver to a pair of Cup Series championships in just five years. Those are great things to have on your resume, but being on the box when Kyle Busch suffered through his first winless season can erase those from memory in a hurry.

Fortunately, Stevens doesn’t have to worry about that now, and it shouldn’t be overlooked that when his wheelman was asked what helped him do the delicate dance of speed and fuel saving that sealed the victory at Texas, the first person he gave credit to was … his crew chief.

Expect to see them together and pursuing a third Cup Series championship next year.

3. It’s Hard to Be a Lapper

The people driving cars a lap or more down have it rough. Consider first that most often, they’re out of contention for the race win, which is the whole point of firing up the engines in the first place. They’re not likely to be mentioned on TV, as the days of full-field rundowns are basically extinct, so their sponsors aren’t as happy as they could be.

On top of all that, lappers in 2020 seemingly get blamed for everything. They’re in the way. They didn’t get out of the way. They shouldn’t even be out there. And so on, and so on.

Still, it’s rare to see lappers have it as rough as they did at Texas, where their lightning rod status for the frustration of cars contending to the win seemed to rise to the forefront even more than usual.

To wit:

That, friends, is what we call a no-win situation. To all you drivers of laps-down cars out there, keep your heads up.

4. Martin Truex Jr. Just Missed Out on His Best Chance to Contend for the Championship … Or Maybe Not

In contrast to the defending champ, Truex has been just a tad off his usual form all season long. Though he entered Texas with 21 top-10 finishes, tied for second, and 13 top-five results, tied for third, his lone victory was a sign of how “close but not quite” could be Truex’s 2020 motto.

Wednesday would have been the perfect time for that to change, with a win locking him into the Championship 4. Sitting second for most of the race’s final long run wasn’t a bad place to be, especially once he fended off the Toyota of Christopher Bell, who was turning in fast laps while running right behind him in third.

For a few fleeting moments, it appeared that Kyle Busch wouldn’t be able to both save fuel and go fast enough to hold the lead. Running out of gas was also a possibility for the No. 18 car. But Rowdy never faltered, and despite the announcers’ attempts to play up the chances of a last-lap pass, Truex never got closer than about a half-second away after the white flag.

As much as Texas was the opposite of how Kyle Busch’s luck has gone this season, it was a microcosm of what the No. 19 team has dealt with. Always the bridesmaid and all that.

“It just seems like one of those years,” Truex said after the race. “Second, third, fourth … We’ve been there a lot.”

The problem now is that he’s nearly out of time. Runner-up finishes won’t be enough to get him to Phoenix given how many points he is behind the cutline.

On the other hand, Truex just happens to have won the last two races at Martinsville, so even though every driver who needs a win now says they can pull it off next weekend, there’s every reason to think he actually can. It could be that Texas won’t turn out to be a big missed opportunity after all.

5. No Other Major Sport Would Have to Wait Three Days to Finish a Playoff Game

This is not a knock on NASCAR, because there’s little it could have done about the weather in the Fort Worth weekend that forced the insanely ridiculous delay to finish the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (say that five times fast). If it rains three straight days, it rains three straight days.

That said, it’s worth noting that this was an issue the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL simply don’t have to worry about. Basketball and hockey are played indoors, and football is too in some places, and can go on in the rain where it isn’t.

(Lightning is another story, but it doesn’t usually thunderstorm for days at a time.)

In theory, an MLB playoff game could be delayed multiple days by rain. But it hasn’t happened in recent memory, and baseball can even go on during a mist or light rain, which was the problem for much of the time the Texas race was delayed.

No, what we all just experienced was a uniquely NASCAR phenomenon. We can all laugh about it now that it’s over, but I think I speak for everyone involved in the sport when I say I hope it never happens again.

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About Nick Tylwalk

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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    Hey Nick, hate much? I saw Kyle drive up from 15th, drive to a 7 second lead, that enabled him to stretch a fuel run and win. Where’s the luck?

  2. Avatar

    How about an earthquake causing ten days between games?