Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Kyle Busch & the Karma Factor

If you watch enough sporting events, it’s hard not to believe that destiny plays a role in the outcome sometimes. Having seen nearly every Cup race NASCAR has held for quite a few years now, it is beyond my doubt that it happens.

Matt Kenseth won a championship in 2003 driving for Roush Racing, who at the time excelled at building fast engines but struggled mightily with durability. Mark Martin lost four that season. Kurt Busch lost five. Kenseth lost only one at Talladega before clinching the title with one race to go… after which his motor promptly blew up at Homestead just 28 laps into the race.

In the last race of 2004, Kurt Busch was in a dogfight with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for the first-ever Nextel Cup title. During the race, the No. 97 car had a tire go down and Kurt was forced to come into the pits. At the precise moment he was entering pit road, the tire flew off the car and onto the track, necessitating a caution flag that kept the No. 97 on the lead lap. A few seconds before and he probably would have wrecked; a few seconds later and he would have gone a lap down. Either way, he wouldn’t likely have finished eight points ahead of Johnson.

Early in the 2005 season, it seemed Gordon was going to make a strong run for a fifth title. He won the Daytona 500, came from three laps down to win at Martinsville and handled the field convincingly at Talladega. He was third in points when he visited the friendly confines of Wrigley Stadium. After murdering the Harry Caray classic, he swiftly dropped to 13th in the standings, eventually missing the 2005 Chase. There was enough speculation of a goat-related curse on the driver of the No. 24 that he himself wondered aloud if he had been bitten.

And don’t get me started on the strange happenings following Dale Earnhardt’s untimely passing in the Daytona 500. I could easily fill a column with that.

Watching Kyle Busch this season, it’s easy to wonder if some sort of hex has been placed on the No. 18 car, as race after race ends with the driver who tore through fields like a man possessed a year ago takes another wrecked car to the garage.

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It’s one thing to have your team not be able to figure out a new car configuration on certain tracks, as was Gordon’s real curse in 2005. It’s another thing entirely to be running in the top five nearly every week, to be second in the series in laps led and be 13th in the points standings. At the very least, that takes some seriously bad luck. And now, with five races to go before the playoffs begin, Kyle Busch is 101 points out of 12th, with a suddenly surging Brian Vickers in his rearview. If the No. 18 team knows any feng shui methods of arranging the garage, the time to use them is now.

Kyle Busch dominated the Daytona 500 only to be caught in someone else’s mess for a 41st-place finish. He lost a tire at the Brickyard, in a race where Goodyear had supplied nearly invincible tires. He led 173 laps at Charlotte before the rain came out after a pit stop and gave David Reutimann the win. He was running in the top five at Dover before a broken splitter (which are supposedly bullet-proof) sent him into the pits. His crew chief made the call to stop for fuel at Pocono on the week that somehow several drivers managed to beat the fuel-mileage gamble.

He got spun by Jeff Burton after fighting his way from 36th to 25th at Infineon, another race he spent some time leading. The first Michigan race had only three cautions on a day when he could have used them to fix the No. 18’s handling. At Darlington, a place where he hit the wall maybe a dozen times the year before and still won, one stripe caused a fender rub and a blown tire. He made at least part of his own bed at Texas stupidly making contact with John Andretti, but the lug nut problems on pit road didn’t help that day either.

And like Martin, restrictor plates haven’t been kind to him this year. Busch had cars strong enough to win in both Daytona races and finished 41st and 14th. A split second of bad judgment cost him at least a top five at the Daytona night race. At Talladega he finished 25th after getting turned by Burton in a race while he was leading. As is proven time and again, having a good car and driver means nothing at the two venues. It’s the second strongest argument in opposition to restrictor plates. But when things don’t go your way anywhere else, why should you be spared at plate tracks?

Because of the apparent black cloud over the No. 18 car, you don’t have to look for long in the comments section in recent Kyle Busch articles to find the word “karma.” Sometimes you don’t even have to scroll down to the comments. Even some here at Frontstretch are reveling in a supposed come-uppance as they see it, as the crew-berating, guitar-smashing hotshot is getting his for his antics. I wonder what such believers think Burton’s crime was this year.

What’s happening to Kyle Busch happens to every star soon enough. They will be taken down to Earth in this sport by stretches of bad races or even bad seasons. Every great driver from Earnhardt to Tony Stewart on down to Kyle Busch today has had to eat his share of crow sandwiches, and if a driver delights in torquing a group of fans as Kyle has, it’s not going to be so much fun when they delight in his meetings with the wall.

I can’t claim that there is karma at work here. I don’t know. All drivers go through bad patches. The probably wasn’t a “Curse of the Bambino” affecting the Boston Red Sox for 86 years, but sometimes just that people believed in it made it so. Kyle right now is acting like he believes himself to be in the clutches of some kind of whammy, and that could subconsciously be affecting his performance.

Maybe Kyle Busch is destined to miss the Chase this year. Maybe he’s destined to make it by the skin of his teeth at Richmond. Maybe the bad luck that has befallen him of late really is just coincidence, and he’ll start running like we’re used to and make a run for the championship.

One thing is clear, and that is that the experience is humbling the young man.

Whether or not destiny is affecting Kyle Busch, of late we’ve been seeing a very different attitude from him. It could just be the timing of it all, but he has become more contrite, perhaps in an effort to acknowledge and change those winds of fate that have been blowing so strongly against him. Gone for the moment is the cocky, bowing young gun, replaced by a suddenly quieter and seemingly maturing Kyle Busch. Things are coming out of his mouth that we’ve never heard before, like “I need to be a better person and lead the team” or “maybe I’ve lost some races because of who I am.”

It’s actually kind of a shame, given the color he had been bringing to a sport that all too often is wanting for color these days. But with visions of ministers in Kannapolis leading congregations in prayers for the good Lord to smite the No. 18 team running through Kyle Busch’s mind, I doubt he’ll be taking gratuitous swipes at Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the future.

Busch’s detractors may suggest that the “kid needs a good ass-whoopin’,” but in truth nothing humbles a cocky racecar driver more effectively than losing.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • I’ve got nothing against Lowe’s, but I never did like the sound of “Lowe’s Motor Speedway”, so I’m glad it will just be called Charlotte again and I won’t have to make a decision what to call the place when I mention it. Hey, you may think that’s weird, but Tom Bowles makes us say “Infineon.”
  • I like road-course racing, if for no other reason than Boris Said making an appearance, but all too often it seems to fall on fuel mileage or other strange issues that cause a team to fall to the back, never to return. The skill of road-course racing sometimes seems to be “just keep it on the track.”
  • Just how many in a row can Ron Hornaday win? Didn’t there used to be a limit on that, like in Jeopardy?
  • And the radio requests keep on coming. This Sunday I have been asked to provide my insightful and sometimes oddball opinions on all things NASCAR with the guys at the Carey and Coffey Show. You can listen online at their website.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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