Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Kyle Busch’s 19-Year Winning Streak Is in Jeopardy

1. Is Kyle Busch’s winning streak in jeopardy?

.007.

If you want proof that NASCAR is a game of inches, look no further than the NASCAR Cup Series’ race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in February.

Kyle Busch finished third behind Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney by less than a blink of an eye. If he somehow gained .008 on that final run to the trioval, we’re talking about his 2024 season in a completely different light.

Had Busch won, it would’ve been the 64th win of his illustrious Cup career. It would’ve made 2024 his 20th consecutive Cup season with a win, tacking another year on to his all-time record. Winning Atlanta would’ve locked him into the playoffs on the spot, and all the questions, concerns, frustrations and disappointments in the three months since would become an afterthought.

But all of that is revisionist history. The reality is that after a 35th-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Busch is now below the playoff cut line, has struggled to find speed on a consistent basis and is in danger of both missing the playoffs and going winless for the first time in his Cup career.

All because of that damn .007.

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

Busch impressed right out of the gate at Richard Childress Racing last season, scoring a trio of wins at Auto Club Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Gateway. He sat third in points following the 19th race of the season at Atlanta, but there were cracks in the foundation. The 241 laps he led in 2023 marked the lowest total of his career, and he only led a combined 15 laps in the final 19 races of the season.

In the 32 races since that Atlanta race last July, Busch has had an average finish of 18.3 and just five top-five finishes. And after bringing a fast No. 8 car at Gateway last weekend as the defending race winner, Busch instead finished the race on a rollback in what could have been one of his best chances to break through this season.

At 20 points below the playoff cut line with only 11 races to go, it’s not an ideal situation for Busch. And while frustration may be boiling over on occasion (see Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the All-Star Race), it’s far too soon to say that this season is a wash for the No. 8 team.

To keep Busch’s winning streak alive, all it takes is one race. Remember 2020, when it looked like his winning streak was dead in the water? He kept it alive at the 11th hour by holding off Martin Truex Jr. to win at Texas Motor Speedway in the third-to-last race of the season.

Busch has had plenty of weekends where he’s been out to lunch, but he’s also had great runs in 2024 like Atlanta, Dover Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Gateway (until his crash). He only needs a minimum of one race to go his way in order to cash in.

And to that point, did anyone have Austin Cindric winning last weekend on their bingo card? Cindric has been predominantly absent from the front of the field since his 2022 Daytona 500 win, yet he was the third-fastest car behind Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney at Gateway and capitalized on their misfortune to take the checkered flag.

Heck, in the 2022 dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway, contact between Chase Briscoe and Tyler Reddick on the final lap allowed third-place Busch to steal the win. That proved to be his only win of his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing, and it was a pivotal moment in keeping his streak alive.

All I’m saying is that it only takes one race to turn a season around. There are 21 races left for Busch and the No. 8 team to capitalize on a win or multiple wins, even if things look bleak at the moment.

As long as they show flashes of winning speed in the next few months, they’ll be fine. But if the team is still lost by the time the playoffs start, it might be time to start worrying about his streak.

2. Christopher Bell, championship favorite?

Getting to the Championship 4 itself is even more of a climb than winning the title at Phoenix Raceway, but if Bell makes his way to Phoenix for the third consecutive year, it’s hard to bet against him on being the car to beat.

Toyota was out to lunch at Phoenix in the first two seasons of the Next Gen car, but it more than delivered at the track in March. The manufacturer led 298 of the 312 laps and handed an absolute beatdown to the rest of the field, with Bell leading the charge and scoring the win.

Last weekend, the Cup field tackled Gateway, which is arguably one of the best predictors for Phoenix given its length and flat corners. Joey Logano won at Gateway in his 2022 title season, while Blaney finished sixth and led 83 laps at the track a year ago.

Bell looked just the part at Gateway as he did at Phoenix, as he led a race-high 80 laps and had no problems slicing his way through the field on long green-flag runs. The No. 20 car was the fastest car on track for 74 green-flag laps — more than triple the amount of any other driver — and if wasn’t for an engine failure while battling Blaney for the lead, Bell may very well have cruised to yet another dominant win on a flat, short oval.

It’s a long way to go to November, but the next test for the Cup Series on a short, flat oval will come at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 23. It is one of Bell’s best tracks, as he scored a Cup win at the track in 2022 and was a perfect 3-for-3 at the track in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

He was also one of six drivers to test at New Hampshire last July following the Cup race. If Phoenix, Gateway and his past performance at New Hampshire are anything to go off of, Bell will easily be the favorite and will continue to establish himself as one of the most formidable drivers entering this postseason.

3. Is Denny Hamlin’s bracket challenge highlighting how much potential TNT’s In-Season Tournament has?

Denny Hamlin’s bracket challenge is already living up to the hype, as Gateway provided a ton of twists, turns and action for those that filled out a bracket.

To get everyone up to speed, the top 32 drivers in points following the Coca-Cola 600 were paired up in a NCAA March Madness-style bracket. Hamlin was the points leader and paired up against Justin Haley (32nd in points), while Martin Truex Jr. was second in points and pitted against Austin Dillon (31st in points).

For each matchup, the driver that scored the better finish at Gateway advanced to the next round. The tournament will last five weeks, with the two drivers left standing at Nashville Superspeedway duking it out for the title.

Just over 30,000 brackets were filled, and there were no perfect brackets left after one race, as Gateway featured five lower seeds upsetting their higher-seeded counterparts.

Could anyone have predicted Dillon eliminating Truex in the first race after the latter got trapped two laps down with a flat tire? And how about that ending? With Blaney running out of gas with the win in sight, he was eliminated from the challenge by Noah Gragson in a shocking last-second turn of events.

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Did You Notice?: Waiving the White Flag on NASCAR Playoff Waiver

These head-to-head battles between drivers will become top storylines next year, as TNT’s In-Season Tournament will feature a 32-driver, five-week bracket challenge just like Hamlin’s, with seeding determined by the results in the prior three races on Amazon Prime.

With a grand prize of $1 million for the winner after five weeks, the head-to-head battles between drivers vying to avoid elimination will add another layer of excitement to races this summer. And with the proliferation of sports betting and a potential grand prize for any fan that can create a perfect bracket, there will be a monetary incentive for people well outside of NASCAR’s current sphere of influence to pay attention to the In-Season Tournament, which would generate media attention and attract new fans to NASCAR.

4. The new turn 11 at Sonoma … why?

Track limits have become another set of dirty words in the NASCAR lexicon.

So much so that Sonoma Raceway went away from the scattered tire barriers surrounding its turn 11 hairpin in favor of a bunch of makeshift concrete walls in order to prevent drivers from shortcutting the corner in any way.

Just … why?

Aside from the wall being less aesthetically pleasing, the track limits solution could’ve been solved by painting a yellow out-of-bounds line on the inside of the turn; any driver that had both right-side wheels beyond the yellow line would be penalized unless forced out, preventing the need for a wall or the tire barriers.

Instead, the wall will narrow the room drivers have for turn 11, and anyone who hits it will ricochet back into the racing line, taking out any cars that are rounding the turn at that moment.

It seems like an unnecessary fix that solves one problem by creating an entirely different one. The tight quarters of the turn now have the potential to be a calamity corner for tight packs of cars on the restarts.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll be wrong and this weekend goes off without any issues in the turn. But the drivers will have adjust to the new turn 11 during the Cup and Xfinity practice sessions, and my guess is that there will be quite a few drivers who will be none too pleased with the changes.

About the author

Thanksgiving Photo

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch and is a three-year veteran of the site. His weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” He also writes commentary, contributes to podcasts, edits articles and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage.

Can find on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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DoninAjax

So much for no more drivel about the Baby Busch yearly win streak! I ALMOST wish he would win to end the dialog! ALMOST!

Wildcarsfan2016

Nah. Much like Hamlin’s not winning the crapshoot trophy, let the losing streak continue

Wildcarsfan2016

Oh and bah to them “fixing” turn 11. The twisty turns made this track special. Instead add walls and create a different probably worse issue. Not surprising but stupid

Drew

Well I hope that Kyle Busch will go winless.

DoninAjax

You mean there won’t be a caution because a car moves a tire? They’ll have to go back to a cloud of dust, like for the 2 car on Saturday.

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