Race Weekend Central

Racing To The Point: Winning on Saturday Makes Rowdy Better on Sunday

Joe Gibbs is a genius.

When working out a contract extension with Kyle Busch in the offseason, Gibbs added in a small wrinkle that didn’t receive much press at the time. It said that if Busch was going to race in the Nationwide Series, he was going to do it in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment.

This year, Kyle Busch’s Saturday wins have been translating into victories on Sunday.

Gibbs is already reaping the rewards of that sly move. Busch had all of the decals taken off the cars he couldn’t win in for Kyle Busch Motorsports and had them placed on some JGR cars. He dominated Saturday’s race at Fontana to take his third Nationwide win of the season in only five races and JGR’s ninth consecutive victory in the series at the track.

The momentum carried over into Sunday.

Busch picked up his 25th Sprint Cup victory after leading the most laps — and maybe getting a little help at the end from Joey Logano. It marked the ninth time Busch has swept Cup and Nationwide races in the same weekend. Nine of 25 is a staggering percentage, one that I’m sure Gibbs was aware of when Busch signed on the dotted line in February.

The problem wasn’t necessarily that Gibbs’ Nationwide program was falling behind without Kyle in the seat. Joey Logano dominated the series last year (nine wins and 17 top 10s in 22 starts). And even after a rough start, I believe Brian Vickers is the favorite to win the championship and a host of races in the series this year. Plus, how many owners really care what their Cup drivers are doing on Saturdays?

Gibbs realized it did matter. He needed Busch in a JGR seat — the best the Nationwide Series has to offer — because he realized Busch was better on Sundays when he was winning on Saturdays.

After combining to win 18 races across NASCAR’s top three series’ in 2011, Busch had one victory in 2012 (Sprint Cup at Richmond). While Busch was posting unreal winning percentages in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series for so many years, his critics argued that he wasn’t focused enough on Sprint Cup — that he wasn’t reaching his potential to be Cup champion because his interests were elsewhere too often.

In 2012, those critics got their wish — well, sort of. Busch attempted only three truck races (he attempted 16 in 2011) and visited Victory Lane the same amount of times as Jennifer Jo Cobb (zero).

Rowdy still started 22 Nationwide races, but with a start-up team in Kyle Busch Motorsports. If you ever needed proof that even the best drivers don’t win without some of the best equipment, look at Busch in Nationwide in 2012. He had averaged 10 wins per season in Nationwide from 2007-10 in JGR equipment but couldn’t muster a single victory out of it in 2012.

In Sprint Cup, the statistical difference between Busch’s 2011 and 2012 seasons wasn’t great:

2011 2012
Wins 4 1
Top 5s 14 13
Top 10s 18 20
Laps led 1,455 1,436

The biggest difference was in the win total (his lowest since he was with Hendrick Motorsports in 2007). Busch still led and dominated races, but he didn’t finish with that Kyle Busch swagger we were accustomed to. On Sunday, he showed up with that I-just-kicked everybody’s-ass-on-Saturday-and-I-am-going-to-do-it-again-today mentality. Busch feeds off that. He performs best when he shows up at the track thinking he is better than Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon in their prime combined.

Just listen to Busch after he climbed from the car on Sunday. His first comment wasn’t about how lucky he was to score the victory, despite heading into the third turn on the final lap in third place. His first words were, “They forgot about me. I knew they were going to,” with a big smile.

Cocky Kyle Busch took a bit of hiatus last year, but guess what, he’s back, and it’s in large part because of Joe Gibbs.

“But we’re trying to put everything together, and this year I feel like it’s a little bit better bonus for me to race Joe Gibbs Racing cars on Saturday as it is on Sunday, and although my KBM guys work really, really hard and they do a good job over there, too, it’s a different chassis,” Busch said in a post-race interview on Sunday. “You can ask J.D. (Gibbs) why he won’t sell them to me. I’ll put him on the spot on that one.

“You know, it’s great to be back with Joe, and this win is for Joe Gibbs and for everything that he’s done for me and for everything that he’s done for Dave (Rogers) and this whole organization, and you know, just being able to finally win here for him in the Cup Series and of course putting Toyota on the map, too, here in California.”

Well done, Joe.

Contact Brett Poirier

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