LOUDON, N.H. – At the season’s midway point, Kyle Busch has been at the forefront of the field for a whopping 858 laps this season, eclipsing the 735 he tallied in his 25-race, championship-winning 2015 campaign, which started late due to injury. That rate stretched over the rest of the season would see him top his previous best of 1,673, set in his eight-win, first season with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008.
The 32-year-old, third in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, is also qualifying extraordinarily well, his three poles already tied for a career-high and average starting position of 8.5 second only to the 8.2 he notched in ’15.
By all accounts, a pretty stellar season so far, right?
Depends on how you look at it, because despite all that – he’s winless.
Actually, all of JGR is, and there’s a two-headed monster standing in the way between its drivers and Victory Lane, engines roaring and breathing flames.
And nobody seems to have much of an idea on how to slay the Nos. 42/78 beast of Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr., in a tier of their own once again this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Overton’s 301 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Yes, it certainly is (frustrating),” Busch said Friday. “Each week, we go to the race track hoping that we have prepared the best possible car we can, that it is the No. 1 car, that it is going to be half a second faster than the field, but in all reality when you get out there and you get to the race track … your temptations kind of get slapped in the face a little bit, you know?”
Every bout of on-track activity prior to final practice at the “Magic Mile” has seen some combination of the 42 and 78 at the top of the board, with Larson taking opening practice and Coors Light qualifying (albeit with a time later disallowed due to penalty, handing the pole to Truex) and the Furniture Row Toyota besting the No. 42 by a mere 0.001 seconds in Saturday’s first session.
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The pair has combined to win five of the season’s first 18 races, with Larson adding six other near-miss, runner-up finishes — two of which were to Truex.
In this sport, Busch says, all a driver and team can do is to focus on themselves and trust that the speed eventually will come.
“We’ve just got to mind our own business and do what we’re doing and hopefully we can continue to evolve and get better,” Busch said. “I feel like our setups are really close. The thing that’s most frustrating is when your car balance is OK, but your speed is off, you know? So when your car balance feels good and you don’t have any speed, there’s nothing you can do to fix it, but when your speed is there and your car balance is off, then you have something you can fix to make your car faster and then you have a chance.
“We’re kind of on the first end of the spectrum right now where the cars are driving pretty good — it’s just that’s as fast as I can make it go. It won’t go any faster, so we’re just limited a little bit and we’ve just got to continue to work on speed and see what we’re missing.”
Perhaps the most frustrating part? Furniture Row is an affiliated satellite team of JGR — so, in essence, Busch (and Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and rookie Daniel Suarez) are getting beat by their own equipment.
“Obviously, it’s the biggest question of the universe right now probably which is why the 78 is outperforming the house cars, so we’re just as confused and disgruntled by it as probably others,” Busch said.
“I don’t have a theory (on why). I wish I had a theory. I’ve had probably 10 theories since they’ve joined us and none of them are true, so I’m done with theories.”