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Kyle Busch's Revenge? Or have Joe Gibbs' guys really hit a slump?

Remember when Kyle Busch was the hottest driver in NASCAR? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   By Mike Mulhern

   This is where the world came crashing down on Kyle Busch last fall.
   After dominating NASCAR's regular season, in rollicking style, Busch's Sprint Cup title bid fell apart with surprising suddenness.
   And it began right here, when a suspension part broke, taking him out of the first race of the championship chase, forcing him to start playing catch-up, and finally leaving him highly frustrated.
   This time Busch comes to Bruton Smith's New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a slump. Sunday's Sonoma crash didn't make him any happier, and his streak since that Richmond win in early May is starting to look ominous….particularly with teammate Denny Hamlin calling a full shop-wide meeting to discuss the various problems.
    That 34th here last fall followed a mediocre 25th in June. So there's plenty of room for improvement.
    But if Busch's performance in April at Phoenix – a similar track, where Busch was challenging for the win late when he was abruptly penalized by NASCAR for speeding on pit road – is indication of what to expect in Sunday's race here, Busch and crew chief Steve Addington could be back on track.
   However Busch's big problem has been inconsistency. He's won three times, so the power is there. It's the other races….
   "They bother me a lot, because it's not how we're supposed to run," Busch says. "I'm hoping we're getting this bad luck -- or whatever it is – all out of the way now, instead of when it comes down to the chase, when we need all the good luck we can get.
    "Right now we need to get our cars a bit better.
    "I've had some issues on the flat tracks. For some reason I just don't have the feel for it in these cars. I'm not sure why or what it is.
    "Denny always runs well on the flat tracks, but his driving style is so much different than mine. I can’t run the same setup.
    "New Hampshire is flat like Phoenix and Milwaukee, but it's a little tricky -- In order to do well you need a car that works on all the different kinds of asphalt the tracks seem to be putting down: You need a car that has a lot of side-bite in the rear and front grip to turn easier.
    "At New Hampshire it seems I've always been loose into the corner and tight in the center, which is hard to fix."
  That's not the only thing that needs fixing in this sport -- So, Daytona, do we still have a TV problem to fix, and if so, when's the repair man coming?
   NASCAR's Sonoma ratings were up from Pocono and Michigan, but still down from 2008 and 2007.
   Turner's TNT pulled a 4.0 rating for Kasey Kahne's battle with Tony Stewart, and that's nearly six million viewers...not bad, perhaps overall, but still down considerably over what NASCAR was once drawing.
   Since the Texas 500 in April, only one NASCAR Sprint Cup event has drawn better than a 4.0, and that was Talladega.
   Discounting the rain-delayed Charlotte 600, and discarding the Talladega 500, NASCAR's other seven events have average about 3.7.
   And that's probably not the weak economy striking this sport, because sitting on the couch Sundays is free.
   Maybe it's the product on the track?
   Maybe it's time for NASCAR to do something.
  Those new double-file restarts, how is that deal working out?
   At Pocono and Michigan, it was pretty much do it and then think about it Monday.
   At Sonoma, though, it made for some interesting tactics, Clint Bowyer says.
   And he warns that Sunday here, as tough as it is to pass, those two-abreast restarts could get rough and tumble.
    "It was pretty hectic at Sonoma -- If you were mid-pack or farther back, it was all hell broke loose on those restarts back there," Bowyer says. 
    "Everybody I've talked to all week long was like 'those restarts were wild, man, that was awesome.'
    "It wasn't much fun for us, but it's a show."
    And it could be here too --
    "It's made everybody pay attention to getting their car up and going on restarts…whether it's air pressure or whatever," Bowyer says.
    "Usually you either have a car that will run on a long run or a car that will go quick on a short run. (Typically depending on tire pressures.) 
    "I think everybody is having to rethink their strategy, especially in the latter part of the race -- to where they can make sure their car gets up and going, so they can either hold their ground (on restarts) or gain some ground on those restarts. 
    "It seems like it always gets stretched out a little bit here (during long green runs), and those double-file restarts will definitely pick up the pace."

    You want some numbers to sink your teeth into…and ask some questions about:
    Let's look at Sprint Cup tour wins this season, and then analyze lap leaders.
    Kasey Kahne's Sonoma win was only Dodge's second of the season. Ford won the year's first two, but it's been shutout since. Toyota has four wins, three by Kyle Busch. And Chevrolet has eight wins – that's a 50 percent winning average so far.
   So where is Chevy's strength?
   Not on the short tracks, where Toyota has led 920 laps, to Chevy's 474. (Dodge has led eight laps, Ford but one.)
   On the mid-size tracks, where Chevy drivers have led 1,484 laps – that's more laps than Toyota, Ford and Dodge all put together.
   Overall for the first 16 of 36 races, Chevy teams have led 2,074 of the 4,761 laps; Toyota has led 1,528; Ford has led 708; Dodge has led 451.
   If not, then why?
   Some are pointing to Rick Hendrick teams testing extensively around the country, perhaps more so than any of their rivals.
   If so, then why is NASCAR allowing that?
   Doesn't NASCAR have a test ban, of sorts, in place?
   And what's the point of the test ban – to save teams money, right?
   Well, if heavy testing pays off, then maybe NASCAR should make it easier on small-budget teams by opening up some of the tour's regular tracks and letting teams test there, say on Mondays after a Sunday's race.



I wonder how much of an impact Tony Stewart's departure has had on Kyle's attitude. Now that Kyle is the "elder statesman" at JGR, who does he go to for advice? Was Stewart the calming influence that kept Kyle's massive ego in check?

i don't know that anyone

i don't know that anyone could call tony stewart a 'calming influence' LOL. Of course he has calmed down since that time he angrily knocked a recorder out of a reporter's hand....But maybe Stewart was a good "lightning rod' at Gibbs'.

I laughed myself

When I typed "calming influence" I chuckled to myself because I remembered Stewart's early years. However, he has matured a lot since then. I could see him playing mentor to a young, talented hot-head like Kyle, giving him some "I've been there. It's not as bad as it seems. Don't make the same mistakes I did." talks.

oh kyle

The chump is in a slump. I guess he opened his mouth too much.

a little harsh here, aren't

a little harsh here, aren't we? KB just turned 24 and already has 15 Cup wins, a better start than even Jeff Gordon by 24.
But your comment reminds me of what Junior Johnson said back in '81 to Dale Earnhardt, the 1980 champ who had to drive GM's 'official' Pontiac Grand Prix in '81, while Bobby Allison snooped around the back lot and found that fastback LeMans: "Looks like the Grand National champs are the Grand National chumps."

Denny Hamlin is the 'elder'

Denny Hamlin is the 'elder' statesman at gibbs racing. busch is the middle kid, couple of years younger than hamlin

well, that's semantics: Kyle

well, that's semantics: Kyle has 15 wins in 166 starts over five years; Denny has four wins in 131 starts over some three years.

That's Right.

Indeed, when I bestowed the "elder statesman" title on Busch, I meant ti in terms of racing experience, not chronological age. Thanks for the clarification, Mike.

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