Since he arrived at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008, the Kyle Busch Show has been an omnipotent presence in NASCAR. In those five plus years, Busch has won 88 races in NASCAR's top three series, many in dominating fashion like his weekend sweep at Auto Club Speedway, where he led 217 of the combined 350 laps of the Nationwide and Cup Series races at ACS.
Busch led the most laps on the circuit in 2011 and was second in 2012. But recently, all those laps led haven't turned in to wins.
How so? Before Sunday, Busch had led the most laps at nine different races without recording a win, a stretch that dates back all the way to the inaugural race at Kentucky Speedway, where he led 125 of the race's 267 laps from the pole for the win. Nine different races. Crazy.
2011 Watkins Glen: 3rd (49 laps led of 90)
2011 Charlotte: 2nd (111 of 334)
2011 Martinsville: 27th (126 of 500)
2012 Auto Club: 2nd (80 of 129)
2012 Kentucky: 10th (118 of 267)
2012 Watkins Glen: 7th (43 of 90)
2012 Dover: 7th (302 of 400)
2012 Phoenix: 3rd (237 of 319)
2012 Homestead: 4th (191 of 267)
Had Busch gotten a win at Auto Club, Kentucky or Watkins Glen last year, the storyline of his 2012 season could be a lot different. 2013's next step could be about going from fifth to first instead of from out of the Chase to back in it.
"Yeah, it's -- I mean, we just -- we worked so hard last year, and we missed the Chase by three points," Busch said. "And then it sort of defines your season as missing the Chase. And then we go off and rattle off great finishes throughout the Chase but we never win."
Before Sunday, 2013 had already drawn some parallels with Busch's 2012. He blew an engine at Daytona shortly after inheriting the lead from teammate Matt Kenseth's engine failure and after starting first at Bristol, was never able to recover after getting sent to the back of the pack because of a pit road penalty there too. But there was no such slip or miscue at California. Busch started and stayed up front and this time, he was the one capitalizing on someone else's misfortune.
One race isn't enough to draw significant conclusions. But Busch isn't going to stop leading a bunch of laps anytime soon, and the odds of him starting another nine race streak like that are pretty damn slim. That means more wins are on the horizon.
"And then last week at Bristol we had a good car, we sped on pit road and got back in traffic, never really made our way back up to the front on good tires, and then here this weekend, again, we had the best car, we led the most laps, and felt like it was our race to win, but in reality it was our race to lose when all those guys kept pitting behind us and putting on tires," Busch said. "We felt like track position was the best for us, although tires were worth a lot of speed.
"So it's just -- we finally had a little bit of luck on our side (Sunday) that we didn't have all last year and it seemed like we weren't quite having this year," he added. "But we've had some good runs and some strong runs, it's just you've got to keep working, you've got to keep digging in, and Dave and I talked a lot in the last few weeks about what we can do to try to help each other and put our program on the map where we're a bigger force to be reckoned with."