Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Is Kyle Busch the Championship Favorite?

Could Kyle Busch be defined as a championship favorite?

Well, yes.

When a driver moves to a brand new team, there will usually be a growing period where they learn how this team operates. Organizations in NASCAR can function in dramatically different ways, especially when it’s a move like Kyle Busch’s where no personnel or sponsors followed to a new manufacturer.

I looked at all of the very successful NASCAR Cup Series free agent signings in history, situations like Busch where the driver was wined and dined after deciding they would make a move. With his win at the Talladega Superspeedway last weekend, Busch has now won multiple races in his first 10 starts with Richard Childress Racing.

How many times has this feat happened in history? Well, when only looking at the modern era starting in 1972 and counting neither part-time nor driver buyout/ride-hopping situations, there have been just eight times it has happened.

Bobby Allison performed it three times. Perhaps the most adaptable driver in history, Allison accomplished it in 1972 with Junior Johnson, 1978 with Bud Moore and 1982 with DiGard Racing.

Bill Elliott was the first besides Allison to do it in 1992 with Johnson. Busch himself was next 16 years later in 2008 with Joe Gibbs. Matt Kenseth came aboard JGR in 2013 and did the same as his then-teammate, then the next year Kevin Harvick began his dominant run with Stewart-Haas Racing doing the same thing.

And that’s it before Busch again in 2023. Kyle Larson couldn’t do it with Hendrick, Brad Keselowski nor Joey Logano at Team Penske. Not even Martin Truex Jr. with virtually the same championship-winning Furniture Row Racing team around him at JGR in 2019.

Of the times it has happened, every single driver has finished second in points, with the exceptions of Busch (10th in 2008) and Harvick (who outright won the championship). Allison (with DiGard) and Busch (with JGR) eventually won championships with their teams.

Allison had a great run, winning multiple races with Moore every year before leaving in 1981. Kenseth had success at JGR before closing his career out there, if we don’t count his part-time stint at Roush Fenway Racing in 2018 or his doomed 2020 campaign with Chip Ganassi Racing.

It’s not often partnerships that start this hot bomb out. Allison spent a great season with Johnson that was marred by the two feuding so much that Allison left at year’s end. Elliott, after coming up just 10 points short in the legendary 1992 title fight, only won one more time for Johnson in 1994 before leaving the team and never finishing in the top five in points for the rest of his career.

What’s more to the point is that 2008 Busch was a completely different driver in many ways to 2023 Busch. The driver once known as Wild Thing has matured into a wiser and much more experienced driver than his younger self. He also has way more of a killer instinct in him that any driver would develop after winning multiple Cup championships.

Austin Dillon has had a major drop-off from 2022, dropping five positions in average finish and currently sitting 29th in points. He’d still only be 24th without the L1 penalty a couple of weeks ago.

Busch, despite being the new guy at work, is fifth in points with two wins. Tyler Reddick had an average finish of 17.6 last season; Busch is currently averaging 12.2. That’s the third highest mark in Cup racing, only eclipsed by Christopher Bell and a now-injured Alex Bowman.

So in short, history would suggest that either Busch will finish top two in points this season or that he is Busch. Either way, he should be considered a favorite going forward.

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How messily has the NASCAR top 75 list been handled?

It’s weird to say, but I seriously do think the Frontstretch Top 75 NASCAR Drivers list was released and handled in a much better way than NASCAR’s own list has been.

It was already disappointing to see NASCAR just grandfather in the old top 50; no disrespect to Ralph Earnhardt and Tiny Lund, but neither should have been on it over Rene Charland and Sam Ard. But the way it’s released the 25 new drivers on the list has been incredibly inconsistent.

Some days, it announces a driver at noon on Twitter. Some days, it announces a driver five hours after that on Twitter. Some days, it doesn’t announce any new driver.

I understand it wants to try and get some viral moments like Harrison Burton surprising his dad Jeff Burton with the announcement. But the top 75 list really should have been announced long ago at Daytona International Speedway, like the top 50 list was.

Instead, it really comes off like a lot of this came together in a very short timespan, without the care or planning a list like this deserves.

Who will conquer Dover Motor Speedway?

Dover Motor Speedway has lost a bit of its image in recent years, with the days it was once an independent track long gone and replaced with the boring, generic SMI logo. But hey, at least the track is still the same old monster.

Dover’s concrete surface is the oldest in NASCAR, and with the departure of Auto Club Speedway’s current configuration, it’s the last pavement from the 1990s still in operation in NASCAR. The surface has started to show its age in recent years, but it’s still smooth and fast.

Driving at Dover feels like riding a roller coaster. The closing rate just trying to get on pit road is insane, and definitely a major talking point if there are long green flag runs this weekend.

See also
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Would an in-season tournament bracket work?

Denny Hamlin caused quite the social media diversion this week talking about doing head-to-head brackets in NASCAR as an extra for the summer months.

I like the idea in principal, but there should be one minor change to it. Outside of the first couple rounds of the 32-driver tournament, there shouldn’t be but one matchup per week once it’s down to eight drivers.

If the 32-driver round happens at Nashville Superspeedway, which adds a little something extra to a track that absolutely needs it, after the 16-driver round the next week at the Chicago street course, the tournament would already be down to eight drivers.

Then, one singular head-to-head matchup could happen for the next seven races. That makes each matchup from the quarterfinals on feel bigger and more special, while giving special attention to those drivers they’d only really get if they made the finals.

The way the schedule works out, starting the nine-week tournament at Nashville would end it at Watkins Glen International, taking up all of NBC’s broadcast run outside of the Daytona cutoff race and the playoffs. It would be a unique twist to the dog days of summer and hopefully bring a little more passion from the individual driver fan bases besides just Chase Elliott.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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WJW Motorsports

Not a weird thing at all to say. Competence is not exactly a word one would associate with NASCAR.

Bill B

Just because Hamlin has given himself a pulpit to preach from in the form of a podcast, why should everyone start listening to him? If that’s the way things are trending, I hope a bunch of drivers start doing the same. At least then any single driver’s ramblings will be diluted by the other voices preaching from their own pulpit.

wildcats2016

ha I never listen to Hamlin if I can avoid it. But I like your idea of others doing podcasts to drown him out.

Kevin in SoCal

Like clockwork, after every driver’s win, suddenly there are articles proclaiming them the championship favorite. It’s still way too early to pick one.

Bill B

What’s really funny is everyone agrees that Kyle totally backed into his last win at a race that everyone pretty much agrees is a crapshoot race.

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