Yes, that is Kyle Busch sitting there in 16th place in Sprint Cup points – the same Kyle Busch who won four races (and threatened for more) last year, the same Kyle Busch who was leading the points standings after the same number of races last season.
The same Kyle Busch.
He limped home with a 36th-place finish Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, a full 80 laps behind winner Ryan Newman.
Busch spent 30 minutes in the garage after whacking the wall relatively early in the race, leading to another finish out of the top 10. Busch has only two top-10 runs in the season’s first six races.
Dave Rogers, Busch’s crew chief, said the Martinsville car was set up to run “free” and that that contributed to Busch’s slip.
“We've always had good cars here the first half of the race and had gotten tight late in the race, so I tried something different and I tried going with a freer setup,” Rogers said. “I knew the first 100 laps was going to be too free.
“Kyle was on board with it, and he did a really good job, but neither of us expected the first stint to go 95 laps straight without a caution. We got a little behind because the car was just too loose. Kyle was doing a great job at hanging onto it, and it wheel-hopped a little bit, and we got in the fence. Kyle's probably upset with himself, but nobody on this M&M's Camry team is upset with him. We win as a team, and we lose as a team. We're excited to go to Texas in a couple weeks."
Busch participated in Goodyear tire tests at Michigan International Speedway this week, giving the team a little more track time.
“Right now we're on a very limited test schedule, so you don't get to test on tracks that you really race on all that often,” Rogers said. “Whenever Goodyear offers up a track test or a tire test, you have to take it. It's the only time we can go to the track and collect whatever data we want, whether it be tire temps, shock travels, what the driver's doing in the cockpit – all that stuff is really valuable because we can bring that data back to the race.
“Although we won't have a data system in the car when we're racing, we can refer back to that data and ask the driver, 'When is your car doing that? Show me on your data trace from the test when your car is doing that.' Then you can look at all the vitals, and you can see what might be causing the problem."
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.