Jimmie Johnson is Superman, Kyle Busch is the Shrub. Based on nicknames alone, you’d think that Johnson is leagues ahead of Busch, right?
After all, Johnson has 77 wins to Busch’s 37, 212 top-5 finishes to Busch’s 139. Johnson owns 16 more poles than last year’s Sprint Cup champion, and has an average finish of 11.9 compared to Busch’s 14.7. Yes, Johnson is Busch’s superior in most ways right now – although time is the great equalizer.
20 years from now it will be clear who the better driver is. Right now, though, Busch has the best of Johnson in one important category: tracks raced with a win. And we’re not talking about XFINITY and Truck tracks. This is good ol’ Sprint Cup.
After his victory at Kansas last weekend, Busch is now winless at just two tracks on the Cup schedule: Pocono and Charlotte. Johnson, on the other hand, is winless at four tracks on the schedule: Kentucky, Watkins Glen, Chicago and Homestead.
Both are fantastic drivers, and both have the pedigree and the equipment to knock out wins at these tracks. Will Johnson pull a superhero-like move and knock out his foes before Busch, or will Rowdy complete the task guns ablaze like he’s been doing for the past year?
DON’T BET AGAINST SUPERMAN
I understand that Johnson has more to do than Busch, but if any driver can do it, then Johnson is your guy.
Out of the four tracks where Johnson has yet to win – Johnson also never won at Rockingham but only had five attempts to do so, all coming at the beginning of his hall-of-fame career – he’s shown to be pretty stout at each. Not Dover stout, of course, but if Johnson can figure out how to win at one track 10 times then he can figure out how to win at four tracks once.
Take a look at Chicago, for example. Johnson has 14 starts at the Illinois track and has finished on the lead lap 12 times. He’s finished 10 of those lead-lap finishes within the top 10, and he’s scored seven top-5 finishes. He’s won the pole twice and finished second three times. Each of those runner-up finishes have come four years apart, in 2004, 2008 and 2012. It’s 2016, so he has a streak to uphold. He’s also led 577 laps at the track and after last year’s first-round Chase ouster, he’ll be going all-out for a bye-clinching win.
Next is Kentucky, where Johnson has done nearly everything but win. A pole, 203 laps led, and five top 10’s in five races. There’s a reason that Johnson is the mile-and-a-half master, and Kentucky only proves that point. It’s not really a matter of if Johnson wins in Sparta, it’s when. Remember, there have only been five races held at the track and the other two drivers with 5 top 10s – Busch and Matt Kenseth – each have victories at the track. Johnson could join them as early as this year.
That just leaves Watkins Glen and Homestead. The Glen is Johnson’s biggest hurdle, as he’s always been okay at road courses, but not spectacular. He does own a pole there but his biggest claim to fame continues to be his head-on crash in turn one during the Busch Series race in 2000. He does own four top 5s, however, and he has had success at the other road course on the schedule, Sonoma.
Homestead is another mile and a half that Johnson could win at this season. He might have only led 99 laps there in his career, but he’s finished in the top 10 66 percent of the time and, honestly, has never had to wheel it very hard in the finale, especially when he was the points leader heading in many times in the late aughts. However, this new Chase format has shown that it takes a win in the finale to be the champion, and should Johnson be in the final four come Homestead this season, he’s certainly capable of taking that win.
It will take a lot of work, of which both Johnson and Busch definitely put in, but in the end it will be Johnson leaping over Busch in a single bound and closing the deal at every track first.
BUSCH HAS THE ADVANTAGE
There are three reasons as to why Kyle Busch will become the first driver in the modern era to win on every track he has ever competed on this season.
The first is that Busch has only two tracks left to accomplish this feat, and they are both visited by the series twice a year. The tracks in question are Charlotte and Pocono. Charlotte should be easy with Busch’s incredible records at both tracks like it (He has won at every other 1.5 mile track on the schedule) and at Charlotte in other series (14 wins in 33 Xfinity/Truck starts).
Pocono is a little different. Although Busch holds a win there in Truck competition, he has only four top 5s at the “Tricky Triangle” in 22 starts. But just look at Saturday; his win at Kansas was only his third top 5 finish at the track in America’s heartland. With how good Kyle Busch is right now, he should be able to overcome that.
Which leads into the second reason. No driver in the Sprint Cup series has more momentum than the defending Sprint Cup series champion. Sure, Kevin Harvick has a slim lead on Busch in the point standings. But Harvick only holds one win to Busch’s three so far this season, and although both champions have the same amount of top 10s at nine, every one of those top 10s for Busch have been top 5s as well. Throw out both driver’s worst two races and Busch far exceeds Harvick.
Why is this important? Well, after Dover this weekend comes Charlotte and Pocono. Unless Busch completely flat-lines this weekend he’s going to keep at least most of that momentum going into those two race tracks.
The final reason for why Kyle Busch is going to win at both Charlotte and Pocono this season? He has the team around him to do it. Joe Gibbs Racing has been far and away the best race team in NASCAR the past year, and a lot of it started when Carl Edwards won last year’s Coca-Cola 600.
Although both Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth had won races at Martinsville and Bristol earlier in the season, Edwards’ big win opened up the floodgates. Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole have won 18 of the past 36 races. Think about that: Every other race has been won by a Gibbs car. That includes the big four (Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400, Southern 500, and this year’s Daytona 500) and the Sprint Cup series championship. Those wins include Pocono (Won by Kenseth) and obviously Charlotte. Heck, the other driver who won at Pocono last season, Martin Truex Jr., is now a Gibbs driver in all but name.
So these cars know how to win Charlotte and Pocono. His teammates have long had success at Charlotte and Pocono. Kyle himself has won at Charlotte and Pocono in the lower series, and he’s been the best overall driver since coming back last season. I don’t even see how Busch goes a month without winning at either track, and even if he doesn’t there’s nothing stopping him from coming back in the fall and sweeping both tracks.
BEDGOOD: Up to Speed: Kyle Busch’s Kansas Victory Puts Him One Step Closer to History
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Busch, no contest. They race at Charlotte/Pocono twice while there is only one race a year at all four of Johnson’s tracks. Johnson has never really shown road course dominance to the extent Busch has and I don’t think he’ll ever get the Glen win, much like Earnhardt, who was better than Johnson on them. Additionally, Busch is much younger and has a lot more time to do it, while Johnson probably has only like five years or so until retirement, not to mention recent history. Gibbs is the team right now and Stewart-Haas and Penske have lately (okay not so much this year for Penske) had stronger equipment than Hendrick (or at least just as strong). Since Gibbs has prepared for the future with a younger overall lineup than Hendrick (particularly if you count Erik Jones, etc…) they are also more disposed to continue dominating, while I don’t know how Hendrick is going to survive without Gordon’s presence. Johnson so outmatches everyone at Hendrick at this point that he has to lift up the entire 4-car team himself, almost to the extent Scott Dixon is being forced to do so for Ganassi this year, but it does mean that the team in general is not as likely to continue its dominance as I think Gibbs is. All of that points to Busch…
If anybody beats Busch, it will be Harvick, not Johnson. Harvick has had the intermediate superspeedway setups nailed more than anybody else since 2014 (including Johnson), so I’d bet on him to win on Kentucky/Texas before Jimmie will win at Chicago/Kentucky, he is a better road racer than Johnson so I’d guess he’ll win Sonoma before Johnson wins the Glen, and they race twice at Pocono. Harvick would have been the better debate I think, but Busch is going to beat either, and I’m going to guess that while Busch will do it, Harvick/Johnson will have one or two missing by the time they retire (I don’t think Stewart-Haas switching to Ford is going to help Harvick much in this matter, unless Harvick takes over the #5 or something, which would change a lot of what I just said and would give Hendrick a lot more potential in future years…)
Hmm, looking at Harvick/Johnson’s road course records, they seem actually very even, but having watched their speed in the races, I do think I still stand by that, but that one admittedly is more debatable than I realized…