Kyle Busch stands to gain the most from the return of practice

Kyle Busch was the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series champion(Photo: Getty Images)

The statistics compiled by Kyle Busch between 2015 and 2019 are nothing short of amazing. During that time period the Joe Gibbs Racing driver steered his Toyota into victory lane a total of 27 times and finished in the top-10 a stunning 70% of the time. In those five seasons he started from the pole position 16 times and led more than 1,300 laps each year except for his injury-shortened 2015 campaign.

Most importantly, Busch was a Championship 4 participant in the season finale of all but one of those seasons with that stretch being bookended by two NASCAR Cup Series championships. In comparison, however, the past two seasons have not been as remarkable for the 36-year-old driver from Las Vegas.

A total of three wins have been achieved by the driver of the No. 18 car since the beginning of 2020 and neither that season nor the most recent has yielded a Championship 4 appearance. Perhaps most telling stat is the fact that Busch has not shown the same ability to run up front as he did between 2015 and 2019 only leading a total of 850 laps in his last 72 starts.

So what changed?

The first and seemingly most obvious answer is the fact that practice and qualifying all but disappeared from the NASCAR landscape following the fourth race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic brought changes that could have never been foreseen or considered prior to March of that year. After that time, however, NASCAR had to seriously rethink the way it conducted its week-to-week business.

Anyone who has ever listened to Busch’s in-car radio during an event knows that his description of his car’s performance during a particular run is very detailed and very precise. One can only assume that his descriptions following practice sessions were even more detailed and precise. In theory, the more information the crew chief and other team members have prior to a given race, the more suited the setup is to the driver’s wants and needs on race day.

Please consider also reading “The downside of NASCAR bringing back practice and qualifying

It would seem to be fair to say that the lack of practice has very much impacted Busch and his team over the past couple of seasons. So with the upcoming changes that will re-introduce practice and qualifying for the 2022 season, it would seem reasonable to believe that the 59-time Cup Series race winner will see improvement as a result.

But with that said, practice is not going to take the same form that it did in 2019. For many races, only 15 minutes will be dedicated to practice before knockout qualifying begins. Still that’s something. At least Busch and the crew chief would have an idea of whether or not their off-the-truck setup was close or way off. They would then know if either big changes or only small ones are to be made following that brief stint.

Some practice is better than no practice. And in all likelihood, teams will quickly learn how to make the most of the time they have. And as detailed and precise as Busch is, the No. 18 team stands to benefit the most. And keep in mind that things did seem to be coming around at the end of this past season as the JGR car was often running near the cars from Hendrick Motorsports.

The wins and Playoff appearances earned by Busch over the past two seasons are numbers many drivers would love to have but they aren’t typical Kyle Busch numbers. Only time will tell if this driver can return to anything close to what he was from 2015 to 2019. But this writer would not bet against it.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association

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