Even on a night where had a shot at $1 million and at a track that’s been his playground in the past, Kyle Busch had the same struggles.
The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion finished second to Chase Elliott in the All-Star Race on Wednesday night. It took until the final stage for Busch to put up a fight, the adjustments on his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota finally starting to pay dividends. But Elliott had already gapped the field, and the final stage stayed green, which didn’t help Busch’s cause.
Afterward, Busch said he wished he’d had more speed and agility in his race car: a wish that applies not only to his performance at Bristol Motor Speedway, but also to how his season has thus far played out. With nine races remaining in the regular season, he is winless and without playoff points.
“It’s tough,” said Busch. “We’re struggling right now; there’s just no speed in our race cars for some reason. I don’t know what’s going on. It seemed like tonight, even when we were mired in 10th, I was driving 110 percent, giving it everything I had, just to maintain where the hell I was, not going forward. That’s usually not indicative of us, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota.
“It’s certainly been frustrating this year. It seems like any time I fall into a rhythm and I just back up myself just a little bit to 90, 95 percent, I’m going backward. I’m getting passed and slowing down. You can’t run at 100 percent all the time, every lap. When you do, you start making mistakes. We’ve just been run into a lot this year, too. When we’ve had nothing happen, we get run into and those are bad finishes as well. I don’t know. We can chalk it up to a whole bunch of things. For lack of a better term, we’ve got to be faster.”
Busch had been one of the fastest cars the last few seasons. Not only did he take home the overall championship last year, but he also claimed the regular-season championship in 2018 and ’19. He won 13 races between those two seasons.
This time one year ago, Busch had won four times and had over 20 playoff points. Now he’s struggling to lead laps and is seventh-best in stage points earned. For comparison, Busch said his current situation feels like 2014, when the Gibbs company struggled as the sport moved to the Gen6 body. Only twice did a Gibbs driver win that year, Busch at Fontana and Denny Hamlin at Talladega.
“That was for sure a frustrating season,” Busch said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a win yet, but it feels just like that year. Man, I don’t know what’s going on or where it’s at.”
Busch does have seven top-five finishes, and that includes being second at Fontana, Darlington, and Atlanta. But like Bristol, he said his team just needs to fight harder to circle back to the top of the heap.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Busch. “Trust me, it’s not very fun where we’re at. I know everybody is kicking themselves and trying to do all they can to work harder and be smarter.”