Kyle Busch’s bid for a second All-Star Race victory came up one position short Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, one of his sweet spots on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Instead, it was Chase Elliott swinging the sword in the Last Great Colosseum’s Victory Lane for the first time.
A non-points win in the main event would’ve gone a long way toward providing a pick-me-up for the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing driver, whose title defense has yet to yield a victory in a star-crossed 2020 season. Busch has finished second on three other occasions in points races this year, but at other times, the performance has lagged.
“It’s tough. We’re struggling right now,” Busch said. “There’s just no speed in our race cars for some reason. I don’t know what’s going on. It seemed like tonight, even when we were mired in 10th, I was driving 110% just to maintain where the hell I was, not going forward. That’s usually not indicative of us, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, whatever.
“It’s certainly been frustrating this year. It seems like any time I fall into a rhythm, I back up myself just a little bit to 90, 95%, I’m going backwards. I’m getting passed, slowing down. You can’t run at 100% all the time every lap. When you do, you start making mistakes. We’ve just been run into a lot this year, too. When we’ve had nothing happen, we get run into. Those are bad finishes, as well. I don’t know. We can chalk it up to a whole bunch of things. For lack of a better term is we’ve got to be faster.”
Busch has not had a winless season since his full-time Cup Series career began in 2005. When asked to describe a comparable campaign, Busch noted a similar struggle to the 2014 season, when Joe Gibbs Racing played catch-up with the then-new Gen-6 car. Busch eked out a victory at Auto Club Speedway, but aside from a Talladega Superspeedway win from teammate Denny Hamlin, JGR — then a three-team outfit — went winless the rest of the year.
Those comparisons hit home now.
“That was a frustrating season,” Busch said. “Unfortunately I don’t have a win yet. But it feels just like that year. I don’t know where it’s going at, whatever. We do have six second‑place finishes. I think, four, five, six, whatever the hell it is. We’ve been close a couple of times. Many of the other races we’re getting run into.”
If there’s a saving grace, the bounce-back year that followed was a special one with 14 wins divided among its newly expanded four-driver stable. Busch recovered from an 11-race absence after his injuries from an early season crash, benefitting from a JGR revival in the second half of the year for his first premier-series championship.
Busch said he hopes another turnaround won’t be that long of a wait.
“It took us a good year and a half to get back up to the top of the circle,” Busch said. “I don’t know if that’s what we’re on now. I certainly hope not. It’s definitely frustrating. Trust me, it’s not very fun where we’re at. I know everybody is kicking themselves and trying to do all they can to work harder and be smarter.”