Easily one of the biggest surprises of the current NASCAR Cup Series season is the fact that Kyle Busch has struggled. The two-time and defending series champion has not only failed to win a single race so far this year but he has not even garnered a single playoff point to be used when the sixteen eligible drivers begin their quest for the 2020 crown. That is to say that one of the sport’s most prolific winners has not even won a stage during this coronavirus plagued campaign.
To say that the younger of the two racing Busch brothers has been one of the most dominant all-around NASCAR drivers for the past two decades would be difficult to disagree with. The 35-year-old Las Vegas native has scored 56 NASCAR Cup Series victories along with two championships during that time period. Further, he has amassed a total of 211 wins in the sport’s top-three divisions.
However, the dominating performances we have all grown accustomed to from this pilot have not been seen up to this point in 2020. Currently, Busch ranks 10th in the Cup Series standings, which would earn him a place in the NASCAR Playoffs if this were time for that cutoff to take place. But at the same time, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has only been at the front of the field for 130 laps this season. For comparison, Busch’s JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin, has won four races so far and has led 455 circuits while piling up 23 playoff points.
Busch is the only driver of those currently within the top-10 of the standings to not have at least one playoff point to his credit.
So why the drop-off in performance?
Since NASCAR’s return from the COVID-19 related shutdown that halted all racing action for several weeks, practice time has been all but non-existent. In order to do its part in containing the spread of the virus, the sport has greatly altered its race weekend procedures. Where there were typically two or three practice sessions leading up to a particular race there are now none.
The premise of this article is to state that the lack of on-track time has been particularly hurtful to Busch and his team.
Anyone who has ever listened to the feedback this driver gives to his crew throughout a given race know that he is very detailed and precise in his descriptions of how the car is performing. Few offer as much information regarding the car’s handling to the crew chief and engineers as Busch. That is also true of the explanations he provides during practice. Missing that valuable information prior to each race could be hurting this team, perhaps more than most.
This is not to suggest that Busch’s Adam Stevens-led crew isn’t capable of setting up their car on their own or that other drivers can’t relay vital information to their teams. It is simply meant to say that Busch is very good at providing necessary feedback.
In these unusual times, it’s almost as if Busch is too good at what he has previously provided for his team and taking that one aspect away has created a void of vital information.
Each driver has his own likes and dislikes and those preferences can change from track to track. And with Busch’s demanding nature and exacting personality, those likes and dislikes can be intensified.
So is is it possible for someone to be too good at something? Well, when a team has come to rely on incredibly detailed information as a part of their setup process, it could be. Changing up the process when the process has been so successful in the past could be a part of the No. 18 team’s struggles in 2020.
Everyone in NASCAR has had to adapt during this very odd season. Some teams, such as those of Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin seem to have done so better than most. It appears as if Kyle Busch and his crew are still working through that process while missing a very key element that has aided in their past success.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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