CUP: Kyle Busch Needs Faster Cars

Article by Jeff Owens,

The key question surrounding Kyle Busch entering this season was whether he could tone down his win-or-else approach enough to be consistent and return to the Chase.

Busch has won 12 Sprint Cup races the past two years for Joe Gibbs Racing, but missed the Chase last season when he sometimes tried to push too hard, leading to accidents, mechanical failures or other problems that left him with too many subpar finishes (22nd or worse 12 times).

Busch’s approach this season is to be consistent, finish races and produce the best results possible. That’s not easy for a guy who has won 48 races in NASCAR’s top three series in the past three seasons.

But so far, it seems to be working.

Busch rallied for a ninth-place finish at Bristol last week in a race in which he hit the wall and struggled most of the day. His first top-10 of the season paid off big-time, vaulting him five spots in points, to 10th, heading into this week’s Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

In five races this season, Busch has had only one bad finish, winding up 25th at Atlanta. He finished 14th, 14th and 15th in the other races.

He says his team is more concerned about getting consistent finishing and staying in the top 12 right now than winning races.

“It’s real early in the season and I know there’s a lot of stats or whatever [going] around – however many drivers are in the top-10 now made the top-10 or top-12 when it comes down to Chase time and all that,” he said at Martinsville Friday. “We’re fighting for all we’ve got.

“We know we go every race just trying to get the best finish we can and wherever that finish is [is] where we’re going to be in points. I’m actually surprised that we’re as high in points as we are with the finishes that we’ve had.

“It’s a good surprise because all you do is build consistency and [if] you run well, you run top-14, top-15 every week and you’ll be there.”

In the past two seasons, Busch has seemed like the driver most capable of outrunning four-time champion Jimmie Johnson on a consistent basis. He has won 12 races the past two years, second only to Johnson’s 17. In 93 races with NASCAR’s new car (since it debuted in 2007), he has won 13 races to Johnson’s 22.

He faded badly last season, however, and hasn’t won since August of last year.

Some believe that Johnson and his recent dominance has gotten into drivers’ heads, making them believe that they can’t beat the No. 48 team.

Asked if that was the case with him, Busch said, “I’m only as good as my equipment will let me go.

“Everybody has been asking me why I haven’t been running good. Is it my head? Is it because I’m running a truck team? Is it this, is it that? I’m driving my butt off every single week. I can only go as fast as my car will let me go.

“Jimmie Johnson’s not going to beat me because he’s in my head. He’s going to beat me because he’s got a better car than I do. … It’s no different than when I run Nationwide or trucks or something like that.

“[Kevin] Harvick beats me because he’s got a really good truck. He’s got the best truck team in the garage right now. [Joey] Logano, he beats me [in Nationwide] because he makes the right calls during the race. We don’t ever adjust on our car when we’re leading that many laps, then coming down to the end of the race, he wholesales it and beats me.

“It’s just a product of having the right car at the right time and keeping up with the race track, the conditions everything gives you.”

Busch says he doesn’t play mind games and doesn’t let what other drivers do or say affect him.

“To me, I think it’s more of a media game where you feel like drivers get in other drivers’ heads,” he said. “Darrell [Waltrip] says he was the best at doing it when he was driving, smack-talking, whatever.

“To me, I don’t read anything, I don’t hear anything. I never have a driver smack-talk me to my face. They always like to do it here [in the media center].”

Busch has also been subjected lately to questions about his former crew chief, Steve Addington, who was replaced late last season and is now having success with Busch’s older brother, Kurt.

Kurt Busch and Addington won at Atlanta March 7 and finished third at Bristol after dominating that race.

Busch says he’s not bitter about Addington’s success and is happy with his new crew chief, Dave Rogers.

“I’m happy for him. I know he was a good crew chief, I just didn’t feel like we had enough leadership skills around the team and things like that to keep us championship caliber year after year,” Kyle Busch said.

“Dave’s done a really good job at pushing everybody harder and keeping everybody up on the same page and making sure that we try to elevate to the next level. Our on-track performance maybe hasn’t been quite as good as we would have liked, but I feel like the team’s a lot closer together. I think the team’s gelling a lot better.

“… Dave’s a smart enough crew chief that we’ll get going pretty good and hopefully we’ll be a force to be reckoned with. [By] race number 20, we’ll be solidly in the top-12 and looking to make the Chase come Richmond time, then really peak in the final 10 [races].” • Height of decklid fin on Sprint Cup cars to change after Phoenix race