Team: #18 (Joe Gibbs Racing)
Top 5s: 16
Top 10s: 25
Best finish: 1st (Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Indianapolis)
Points finish: 3rd
Kyle Busch entered 2016 with a point to prove. Having just come off of the back of winning his first championship, there were fans that were annoyed at the fact that he had missed the first few races due to injury and was still allowed to compete for the championship. So that was an added incentive for Kyle Busch to defend his championship, so he could silence any naysayers.
He started the season with a superb run of good form. In the first eleven races, Kyle took an incredible nine finishes inside the top five; including three of his eventual four wins this year. The first eleven races showcased that no matter what circuit the series went to, the #18 car would be a force to be reckoned with; be it a SuperSpeedway like Daytona, a cookie-cutter 1.5 miler like California or Texas, or a short track like Martinsville.
His mid-season was a mix of great results and poor results would have no bearing on his championship as he’d already qualified. Once into the chase, Busch would once again hit his stride. Nine of the ten races in the playoffs would yield a top ten finish, with six of those being top-five finishes. In the end, it was a puncture and a slightly wayward strategy call at the end of the race at Homestead that would put them behind and mean that, despite having an even strong performance this year than he did last year, he wouldn’t defend his title.
His history-making weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch entered the Brickyard 400 weekend as the defending race winner, so it was no real surprise to see him dominate the race. He took pole position by less than a tenth over team-mate Carl Edwards and would go on to lead 149 of the eventual 170 laps that made up the race distance before crossing the line to win the race for the second year in a row.
What made the result history-making, you may wonder? It was actually his actions in the XFINITY series that put his name in the record books. Busch became the first driver in NASCAR history to take pole position and the win in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY series in the same weekend; going one further than last year when he won both races but missed out in qualifying.
“It’s so cool because it hasn’t been done before,” said Busch after the Sprint Cup win on Sunday, “I’ve tried and been successful at being able to do a lot of things that others haven’t been able to do before. I guess I give myself more chances than others because I run more of those [XFINITY] races.
“It helps you, and when it helps you win on Sunday, that’s what makes everything so worthwhile on those Saturday races. The guys on Saturday do a good job, too, helping prepare me and being able to do this stuff on Sunday.”
The win that got away at the Bristol night race. The Bristol night race soon turned into a day race after rain forced the event to the next morning. Kyle started 3rd and quickly made his way up into the lead, a position he would end up holding for 256 laps of the 500 race distance.
However, the race would come undone for Busch on lap 348 when something happened to his car. His pace slowed as he lost the lead to Kevin Harvick, with Busch radioing the team to inform them that something had broken. Despite this, the #18 car did not pit and, as a result, he would spin a few laps later.
The #18 would be facing oncoming traffic as the caution came out, with Justin Allgaier in the #46 being caught unawares as he clipped the left front of Busch – thus ending Kyle’s race due to the damage.
A frustrated Busch would go on to not only blame Allgaier but also Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota for the multiple car failures they had suffered previously:
“The last few times we’ve been here, we’ve had really fast M&M’s Toyota Camrys and we haven’t been able to finish,” Busch said post-race, “We’ve been having parts failures here, so something we’ve got to address and fix. I’m really tired of losing races here with parts falling apart, so they’ll hear about it on Tuesday.”
“Biggest moron out there is the spotter of the 46 and the driver of the 46 [Allgaier]. I’ve been wrecking for half a lap and they just come on through and clean us out. That’s stupid, so I don’t know – frustrating day. Let’s go home.”
Despite missing out on a second championship win, Kyle Busch and the #18 crew should enter the next season with just as much confidence as they did this season. Only 11 of the 36 races ended in a finish outside of the top 10 for Kyle Busch, which is a sign of his astonishing consistency.
With Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota looking to have the most consistently competitive package at the moment, it’s just going to be a matter of stringing the right results at the right time to get into the championship four and hopefully to get to the front of those four after that.
I have no doubt that Kyle Busch will be in contention again next season and for many seasons after that. When his anger doesn’t get the best of him and he’s got the car under him, Kyle will always be a threat.
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com: http://static.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2016/11/17/main/kyle-busch-bow-main.jpg/jcr:content/renditions/original