Crew chief Adam Stevens acknowledged that the lack of practice hindered Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team early in the season. But after winning Wednesday night in Texas, Stevens admitted, “it’s become less and less of a factor” as races rolled off the calendar.
“Because we’ve had to adjust to how we do business,” said Stevens.
Texas was the first win for Busch and Stevens since they won the race and the championship last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It has been a season of missed opportunities when Busch did have good cars, DNFs (six) for various reasons, and bad runs as well as times where Busch felt his car lacked speed.
NASCAR nixed practice upon its return from a COVID-19 shutdown. The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte was the only race where drivers got to qualify. For a driver like Busch, who knows the intricacies of his race car and can work closely with his team on specific changes, it’s been difficult to dial it in without that track time.
“That was a big part of our program, getting an intimate understanding of the car through practice,” said Stevens. “I’m not saying it’s not a big part of everybody’s program, but that was certainly a leg on our stool, and it was taken away from us. We probably didn’t do the best job adjusting to that right off the bat. On top of that, I think our program was a little behind to start the year and kind of just got off on the wrong foot with those two things, and slowly kind of righted the ship, getting our cars and internally adjusting our program to this new reality.
“I think it was certainly a factor. Probably more for us at the beginning of the year, and as the weeks and months went by, it was less and less of a factor. Certainly, at this point in time, it has no bearing on the weekends.”
There are 28 weekends on the 2021 schedule that are one-day shows. Meaning there will still not be practice for Cup Series teams.
Busch led 90 laps in his Texas win and said it was the first race they didn’t have something unexpected happen or go wrong all year. Stevens felt they had the best car in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500.
Texas keeps Busch’s winning streak alive. He has now won at least one race for 16 consecutive seasons, dating back to his first full season in 2005. However, Busch is likely to end the year with the fewest laps he’s led since 2015 (under 1,000 on the year) and a double-digit average finish.
“It hasn’t been a lot of fun, to be honest with you,” said Stevens. “It just seems like whenever we do have a good car or have a chance to be in the mix, we just haven’t been able to capitalize at all; just issues on top of issues, and after a while it’ll wear you down, knowing that the potential of the team is always there. We’ve certainly had some bad runs, but we haven’t had as many as the record would show.
“We’ve had a lot of DNFs for various reasons, and just when we get those good cars, we just haven’t been able to capitalize — just an odd year in that regard. You don’t want to break a streak like KB has got going, certainly not on my watch. Especially when we have all the tools to do what we need to do and have been so close so many times. It’s nice to finally kind of dot that I and cross that T and make it happen.”