It’s 10:30 a.m. and Kyle Busch has already been up for five-plus hours, a few empty cans of Rowdy Energy no doubt already having hit the recycling bin at the Busch household.
Two-month-old Lennix is finally sleeping eight hours through the night, but those 5 a.m. newborn wake-up calls can still sting — especially with the frenzy of last-minute prep and packing before setting off on a midwest swing of 14 days of racing over the next 17 for 7-year-old Brexton’s burgeoning career.
Not to mention squeezing in media responsibilities before hitting the road to talk about his day job of being one of the top NASCAR Cup Series drivers the sport’s ever seen.
It’s a small window into the daily, ever-growing chaos of the Busch family, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“So, pre-being a dad was pre-2015. Fortunately for me when I had 2015 happen, that was the injury and then it was also Brexton, right? So I had kind of two things twofold there where I was like, ‘man, OK, I need to really have a different perspective on what all I do,’ ” Busch told NASCAR.com on Tuesday. “Because then it was literally just me and (wife) Samantha and we were literally tackling all of our work. It was literally work, work, work, work all the time, work all the time, and you would feel drained. Like you would literally feel like you would get to September, October and you’re like jeez, when is this season over? Like, can we be done already? And that’s when you’re getting into the prime of the season with the playoffs and stuff like that, you know, so I feel like now as you get older too, right? Like days fly by faster. Now, like I look at the calendar just yesterday, it’s August 1, and it’s like, when did that happen? So you know, it’s good that you can be having fun and living through your days and things like that. And not dreading you know, coming up to the end of the season or whatever you’re actually really like, wow, it’s almost here like, holy cow, it already happened that fast.”
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One of NASCAR’s most mercurial, polarizing figures, Busch has often found himself surrounded by a maelstrom of turmoil — this season no different — but it’s evident that he’s found a way to bring calm to the swirling winds around him, and the Las Vegas native is exactly right that things changed in 2015.
From that year on, the two-time Cup champion has picked up both titles and taken 31 of his 60 total premier series trips to Victory Lane. A championship favorite again this year — he’s got the fourth-best odds at 8-1, per BetMGM — Busch also averaged a points finish of 4.0 (i.e. essentially averaging an annual Championship 4 appearance) from 2015-2021.
His first 10 full-time seasons before that saw plenty of success — even seeing an eight-win campaign in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 — but the standings results left some to be desired, averaging a finish outside the top 10 (10.5) in his first decade in Cup.
Part of that, of course, was the experience that came with age and added time behind the wheel and getting enough laps under his belt. The bigger factors seem to have come off the track, however, and adjusting effectively to the growing demands of both the “dad” and “driver” life.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously just diet, nutrition. That’s a big part of it,” Busch said. “Of course, working out, being able to do those sorts of things staying hydrated, all that sort of stuff. That’s just all your preparation for getting into the weekend. So how do you keep going through, week to week to week through the grind? You know, I think some of it relies on being able to open up your mind to other things. All I do is live, breathe, drink, eat sleep racing, right, like even now with my son, it’s all about racing with him. So you have to be able to give your mind a break, though, and have a chance of having an outlet of being able to think about something else. And so when you’re able to do that, you know, that doesn’t tire you out as easy or as quickly as it might be if you are just ingrained in the trenches all the time, every day.
“I think to me, it’s taking your mind off things with your wife, going to dinners or hanging out with friends. Being able to just relax on the couch, watch TV programs that have nothing to do with the stuff that we do, you know, just living a normal life, if you will. I feel like giving yourself more of a balance, more of a perspective to then being able to come back and when you come back, you have a fresh mind, you’re able to go back to your work and attack your work. And, really, take it all in better.”
From the sounds of it, he’ll have plenty of work to attack over the coming weeks between Brexton’s midwest foray, four extremely different tracks to close out the regular season between now and Labor Day and, oh yeah, that whole other thing about negotiating his current expiring contract with JGR and his potential status as the hottest free agent to hit the NASCAR market in perhaps decades.
The first of those tracks comes Sunday at Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) — a track Busch surprisingly has just one win at that came more than a decade ago. He’s been no slouch there in recent years, though, with nine straight top 10s and laps led in seven of those races.
There are no guarantees, of course, but sharing 6-1 odds to win with co-race favorite Chase Elliott would indicate it marks a good weekend for his first win in the Irish Hills since 2011 and first this year since April’s triumph on dirt nearly four months ago.
“I would like to think so. I mean, we’ve been good there over the last little bit, you know,” said the 37-year-old. “I won there in ’11 and then the track went through the repave. I was terrible on the repave like, I’m just not very good with repaves. But it’s been getting more age on it and it’s been getting a little bit better; widening out is definitely good. And with these cars, they’re gonna like to venture out from being behind somebody else in front of you and getting out of their wake.
” … I feel like for us, Joe Gibbs Racing, our mile-and-a-half-programs have been really strong, the Vegas, the Kansas, the Atlantas, the Charlottes, and I feel like that kind of goes right with Michigan. And so I think we can be good there.”
As with just about every team this year, Busch has seen some ups and downs throughout 2022 as teams scramble to find a firmer grip than their competitors on the handle of the Next Gen car, which debuted in February.
He’s had remarkable stints — averaging a 7.44 finish across the nine-race Richmond to Gateway run — and some … less-than-remarkable ones, with no top 10s and an average finish of 22.7 across the last seven. Given he’s adjusting to the broken sleep inextricably tied to having a newborn in the house while also being deep into the assuredly intense negotiation of his future, his recent results could theoretically be excused for said reasons.
But he’s Kyle Busch, and Kyle Busch doesn’t make excuses.
“Well, so, I feel like if nothing goes wrong in a race, and we can just run a normal race, we’re top seven every single week, you know, besides the road courses, the Sonomas, the Road Americas, they are not on our radar as being very good,” he said. “The Indy Road Course, though, this past weekend, honestly, like I passed Austin Cindric, before that second-to-last yellow and got myself into 10th place. And then he made it through the last two green-white-checkers and got a second-place finish, and I got spun out through the grass, so it’s just, do you have the luck on your side? Yes or no?
“But, you know, we’ve messed up a little bit with some strategy calls, and I’ve messed up spinning out in a couple of races and things like that, just trying hard to get positions. And so, you know, we should have better results than what we do. The optics don’t quite look as good because the results don’t say it. But the performance has been there on our side. So we just need to have some more good results.”
At this point, Busch’s playoff standing is relatively safe despite his recent downturn on the results sheet. We’re at 14 winners with four races remaining — two of which are at another road course and Daytona, which could both produce wild-card winners — but he’s still racking up enough points to sleep well at night (when Lennix allows it, of course).
Gone are the late-2010s days of the “Big Three” of he, Kevin Harvick and teammate Martin Truex Jr., hoarding trophies among the trio while the rest of the field struggles to even make it competitive. But there’s still a sense that Busch has continued to evolve since, meticulously crafting his skills as a race car driver while dialing in things in his personal life to become a more complete — and more formidable — person overall.
Even if he admittedly wouldn’t mind a return to such stretches of dominance, he knows the parity brought forth by the Next Gen makes that scenario unlikely … but a situation he can still capitalize in.
“I look back on what was it 2017, 2018, where you had the ‘Big Three’ right? You had Martin Truex Jr. and you had Kevin Harvick. It was us every weekend, it seemed. And then, you know, Denny (Hamlin) would pop in there, (Joey) Logano would pop in there, a couple other guys maybe. But I love that theme. I want to go back to those days. Can we bring that back?
“You know, but you look at this year, and I think the theme of this year is just the Next Gen,” he said. “It’s just the unknowns of everything around this car. And we’re all trying to wrap our arms around it and figure it out and be competitive of understanding what this car likes and what it takes. And there’s a lot of things on this thing that you would think like, ‘OK, well, this is what worked with the old car.’ Throw that out the window, though. That notebook is gone. So I think that’s kind of the perspective that everybody’s kind of getting with seeing so many different winners in this car and seeing how each … like, look at everybody’s schedule. Man, besides Trackhouse guys maybe, you can see the damn roller coaster ride everybody goes on every single week with finishes. Good finish, bad finish, good finish, bad finish, whatever. Like you can’t get on a roll except, Chase Elliott, I guess, the last six weeks. You can’t get even a top five, top five, top five, top five every week. It’s tough. And we all are trying to get to that point. And you know, there’s only one guy doing that. … Hopefully, they’re peaking too soon.”
So where does that leave Busch and the No. 18 team — did they peak too soon in the middle of the regular season? Probably not, and with how focused he is off the track at the moment, it’s only reasonable to think that Busch’s best days could still be ahead of him, both in the remaining 14 races of 2022 and his, at this moment, very unclear future about where he’ll be racing beyond the season finale at Phoenix Raceway in November.
It’s entirely possible that Busch’s final race for Joe Gibbs could be that one, and it could end with two of NASCAR’s most prominent figures hoisting the Bill France Cup on the world stage before shaking hands and parting ways.
Busch became a father for the first time just months before his first Cup title, and 2022 could be shaping up to be just as decorated of a campaign on both a personal and professional level. In some ways, it just makes sense.
“I don’t think (having a baby mid-season is) the secret weapon. I don’t think that’s the secret sauce, but I like where your head’s at,” he said. “So, I’m hoping that 2022 we can be rewarded with another championship. That would certainly be nice. And with everything kind of happening and going on right now, obviously, being able to win and be successful and have the success on the track.
“Everything else will take care of itself.”