In a crazy twist of events, Kyle Busch managed to blow two engines in three races to get himself eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. As his smoldering hulk of a racecar pulled behind the wall at Bristol Motor Speedway, the rampant speculation had already begun that Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing intentionally sabotaged the No. 18 because Busch announced he wasn’t coming back to the team in 2023.
To honestly believe something like that is simply absurd.
The money involved in a Cup effort, from driver and team to shop personnel and marketing activation, is a humongous amount of money.
The revenue generated by a championship win helps fund an entire organization for the entire next season. Busch wasn’t having a great year, but over the last three races he was showing speed in every event and looked to have a victory in his sights in at least two of them before the catastrophic events. Any time that Busch is in a race he is a contender to win, and the better his equipment and team, the better his chances.
For the tin foil hat wearing crowd, the entire season could be used as evidence for how poorly they have prepared Busch’s cars. With seven races to go in the season, he has one win. That came when he backed into the win after Chase Briscoe lost his talent briefly and pile drove Tyler Reddick into the wall at Bristol Motor Speedway during the dirt race.
He has six top-five finishes, which is three less than any year he has run a full season, or even his injury-shortened season that ended up in his first title. His 13 top-10 finishes is tied for his two worst seasons in that category in his career. While the stats justify some nefarious activity, it is more likely that Busch has simply failed to get a handle on this new iteration of the car.
Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, through their Toyota Racing Development arm, not only put the previously mentioned exorbitant amount of money to compete on the Cup circuit, but they also pour thousands of hours of time into wind tunnel testing and other research and development for all of their race teams. That information goes into every vehicle that comes out of their race shops. The cars that are produced at JGR are not earmarked for a specific driver/team until late in the preparation process. That methodology of preparation in and of itself makes it highly unlikely that a nefarious circumstance could be implemented to undermine the effort of one team in the organization over another.
The word team has come up several times in this column. The number of people involved in a Cup organization can be in the hundreds, especially in a four-team operation like JGR. The number of people unique to a single team in the organization can number 50 or more.
While Busch was not committed to JGR at the beginning of the year and has since announced his agreement to move on, the majority of the rest of the team is still going to call JGR home in the future. JGR is focused on providing for all of the team members, their families and their futures. A family-oriented team like JGR is not going to turn their back on the dedicated teammates out of spite for the driver making a decision to move on after a season.
In the last few days, word has come out that there may be a systemic problem that reared its head with the Busch failures that is actually a problem for all of the Toyota teams. TRD President David Wilson told NBC that there appears to be a durability issue with the Toyota power plants when they hit the NASCAR mandated rev limiter. Busch missed a shift at Darlington Raceway which caused the engine to hit the chip. Shortly thereafter, the engine expired.
Similarly, at Bristol, the NASCAR mandated gear ratio resulted in the engines hitting the chip, especially when the cars ran the high line, which was where Busch was finding success on Saturday night (Sept. 17). Wilson stated that it was unacceptable for the engines to struggle at that RPM and feels that they should be capable of handling situations of hitting the limiter without any kind of malfunction.
The idea that a multi-million dollar company would engage in an organized effort to ruin the season and a potential championship run for the most successful driver in the history of the manufacturer’s involvement in a sport is simply crazy. While fans can conjure up some crazy ideas and extravagant plots, the bottom line is that there is far too much invested in a race team for an organized, subversive plan to be executed and eliminate the only multi-time champion in the series, from the playoffs.
Did Busch have an off season this year? Absolutely. Did Joe Gibbs Racing throw away millions of dollars of support from their manufacturer, Toyota, to carry out some spiteful, petulant act against the most successful driver in the history of their company? No way.
Believe what you want, but JGR did not endanger its relationship with Toyota for a childish prank.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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