Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Is the Kyle Busch Era Coming to a Close?

As long as most can remember, Kyle Busch has not just been a part of NASCAR, but consistently winning year in and year out. From his first win in 2005 at Auto Club Speedway in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to one of the most iconic racecars in the history of the sport, driving the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in M&Ms and Interstate Batteries liveries for almost two decades.

While he did win three races last season in his first year with Richard Childress Racing, 2024 has been quite a challenge. Busch has recently been involved in a wreck with Kyle Larson, a fist fight with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Sr., and now a testing crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday (June 4).

Busch finds himself below the playoff cut line and winless as the series heads into the summer stretch. Is Kyle Busch’s 19-year win streak in danger of not reaching 20, or can KFB and RCR resurrect their respective legacies? This week Wyatt Watson and Chase Folsom gauge the future prospects for one of the impactful drivers of the 21st century.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: The Playoff Picture Is Officially Wild

Approaching the End of an Era

At this point last season, Kyle Busch had three victories to his credit with Richard Childress Racing that also included a commendable run in the Daytona 500 that by all means should have been a win; leading the race prior to the overtime restart, and there was genuine belief that KFB was indeed back. With switch of attitude from the fan base and three wins in 15 starts with the team, Busch looked primed to take the No. 8 team and fight for the title much like previous driver of the No. 8 Tyler Reddick did in 2022.

Despite Busch’s win streak and accumulation of playoff points, a crash at Texas Motor Speedway and a poor finish of 25th at Talladega Superspeedway in the second round of the playoffs killed Busch’s 2023 championship hopes, finishing 14th in points ultimately at the end of the season.

Additionally, in his final three years in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota, Busch only collected four wins with points finishes of eighth, ninth and 13th respectively, failing to complete a deal to finish his career with the team he spent 15 years with.

Now in 2024, Busch has taken a major step back compared to his hot 2023 start. Busch has only acquired two top fives and five top 10s through 15 starts with an average finish of 17.2 (his second worst in his career behind his rookie 2005 average finish of 21). A year removed from his World Wide Technology Raceway win, Busch is currently outside of the playoff bubble and 17th in the standings, 20 points below the cutoff driver Chris Buescher who sits 14th in points.

To add insult to injury, both Austin Cindric and Daniel Suarez have claimed a win, Cindric at Gateway last weekend and Suarez in the three-wide thriller at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Fellow NASCAR champion Joey Logano, winner of the All Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, is directly ahead of Busch in the points by six points. While Logano was winning the All-Star Race, Busch was a non-factor in the race and ended up throwing hands with Stenhouse post-race after taking him out on lap 2.

To add insult to injury and pour additional salt in the wound, Busch also wrecked his car in this week’s test session at Indianapolis.

With the growing list of winners this season, the stout competition ahead of Busch in the standings and the lack of strong finishes over the past year, it feels more likely than not that Busch could truly miss the playoffs, and at 39-years old, Busch is running out of time to compete for NASCAR Cup Series championships if his performance doesn’t take a major step in the right direction as it did in the first half of 2023.

Of course, a win would be a major fix to this narrative. Just ask Cindric or Suarez how that’s going. No doubt, Busch can still pull things together and get a win, but Busch doesn’t look like he has the consistency or resilience he once did in his prime years with Joe Gibbs Racing.

If Busch can’t improve the consistency with RCR, his days with the team – or potentially his career – could be in peril. The opportunities for a driver in his 40s to land a ride with a top-tier perennial contender are few and far between. It could very well be the beginning of the end of the KFB era in NASCAR. – Wyatt Watson

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Dropping the Hammer: NASCAR Saves Itself From Self-Immolation

Just a Bump in the Road

To this point, the 2024 season has not been kind to Kyle Busch and the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing team. Busch and company currently sit winless, mired 17th in the Cup Series regular season standings. Not only is Busch’s streak of 19 consecutive seasons and counting with a win at risk, he’s also at risk of missing NASCAR’s postseason for the first time since 2012. 

With the recent struggles for the two-time Cup Series champion, many have began to speculate whether or not Busch still has some gas left in the tank, or if the days of Rowdy in victory lane are behind us.

In my opinion, there’s still some fire and winning capability behind the wheel of car No. 8. 

We’ll start by taking a look at Busch’s time in the Next Gen car since its inception in 2022. Yes, Busch has certainly had his struggles, but he’s also proven that with good equipment he can be as competitive as ever at the front of the field. 

The problem for Busch is that the RCR equipment he’s in right now is nowhere near up to par with what he had at Joe Gibbs Racing, or even in the first half of 2023 with RCR. Take a look at Busch’s teammate Austin Dillon, who currently sits 30th in points and is on his second crew chief of the year already. Dillon is having the worst season of his career, with only two top 10s to his name thus far and an average finish of 24.3, well off his 21.8 from a season ago. 

In contrast, Busch has five top 10’s and two top five’s to his name so far in 2024, and an average finish of 17.2. For Busch to be that far ahead of his teammate in the standings and still finding some success despite a missed opportunity this past weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway speaks more to me that Busch is overcoming RCR’s documented struggles, rather than being washed and beyond his prime. 

The entire drama around Busch’s so called decline began with the deteriorating relationship he had with JGR at the end of 2022, a season which saw him be a first round playoff exit for the first time in his career. 

However, if not for an engine failure while leading the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway with 22 laps to go, and a similar failure at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks later, there’s no telling how far Busch could have gone into the 2022 playoff bracket. 

When Busch made his jump to RCR to begin 2023, the team was fresh off of a three-win season from Tyler Reddick and was firing on all cylinders, and the results echoed this on the racetrack. The team fired out of the gate with a win at Auto Club Speedway, and followed that up with wins at Talladega Superspeedway and WWTR.

Busch sat third in the standings 19 races into the 2023 season, only 35 points behind William Byron who led the standings at that time. However, following the Summer race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Busch and the No. 8 team fell apart, and haven’t quite looked the same since. 

Starting at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2023, Busch finished outside the top 20 nine times in the remaining 17 races. In the meantime, teammate Dillon finished outside the top 30 six times, while only recording three top 10s in that same stretch of races. That information coupled with the 2024 stats above leads me to believe the struggles for Busch are more RCR related rather than driver specific to the man behind the wheel of the No. 8.

While Busch did suffer a crash during a tire test at Indy on Tuesday, let’s not read too much into it. The goal of any test for teams, and Goodyear for that matter, is to go out and push the tire and car to the limit and see what its boundaries are. Every once in a while, drivers find that line and cross it, especially in a situation where they have nothing to lose. 

To sum this all up, no, Rowdy is not too old and washed up to win races in NASCAR’s top level of competition. He may be past the prime days of winning five or more races a year, but Busch is still a very good racecar driver capable of winning on any given Sunday. 

Whether or not he finds victory lane again has just as much to do with the performance at RCR as it does Busch himself, but don’t be surprised if Kyle Busch is back in victory lane sometime soon. – Chase Folsom

About the author

Wyatt Watson has followed NASCAR closely since 2007. He joined Frontstretch as a journalist in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter, collecting exclusive content for Frontstretch.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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Bill B

I hope it does come to an end. That will be one less perennial story line to hear about every year. Will the streak continue? Will it end? Who cares?

Jeremy

They’ll just pick someone else to blabber about in the same manner. Probably Denny Hamlin. Ugh!

Marcel Jones

His brother was a jerk but changed his ways. Kyle is a bigger jerk now than when he started racing in NASCAR. He’s got the world on a string and it’s never good enough.
Good riddance to his streak and, eventually, good riddance to Busch (the jerk).

Jeremy

Kurt really changed after that woman tried to ruin him. He did a lot of growing up during that ordeal. Too bad it took such a bad situation to mature him. Imagine if he’d gone through that change after Jimmy Spencer punched him in the face? Who knows how much more he could have achieved.

Dano

RCR is where Careers go to die!

Bill B

Or, in the case of Dillon, careers which should have never happened, happen.

Carole Toney

Crybaby Busch should have thought hard before he joined Childress. So proud of his bad luck!

Echo

Kyle laughs at Childress giving him all that money to drive bad cars. He’s competitive still but likes all those zeros on his contract. I laugh at Childress listening to his grandson.

TiminPayson

Kyle and his 200 plus wins don’t much care what some couch racer thinks.

DoninAjax

What ifs don’t change anything!

Ellenjay

I too, was liking Busch for the first time in years. He wasn’t at JGR anymore and RCR seemed to have something going on for a change.
This year’s different.

TiminPayson

My hope is that he can escape RCR. The next SHR I’m afraid

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