Top 20 Countdown: No. 6 Kyle Busch

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2012 season, as predicted by the Yahoo! Sports NASCAR staff – Jay Hart, Jay Busbee, Nick Bromberg and Geoffrey Miller. The countdown will conclude Feb. 17 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

Kyle Busch photo
(Getty Images)

2011 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
12 2 4 14 18
The countdown
No. 20: Marcos Ambrose   |   Career stats
No. 19: Kurt Busch   |   Career stats
No. 16: Jeff Burton   |   Career stats
No. 15: Clint Bowyer   |   Career stats
No. 13: Ryan Newman   |   Career stats
No. 11: Greg Biffle   |   Career stats
No. 10: Denny Hamlin   |   Career stats   |   Slideshow
No. 9: Brad Keselowski   |   Career stats   |   Slideshow
No. 8: Jeff Gordon   |   Career stats   |   Slideshow
No. 7: Kasey Kahne   |   Career stats |   Slideshow
No. 6: Kyle Busch   |   Career stats |   Slideshow
No. 5: Revealed Monday, Feb. 13

2011 finish: 12th

Our 2012 predictions:
• Jay Hart: 7th
• Jay Busbee: 6th
• Nick Bromberg: 7th
• Geoffrey Miller: 7th

Crew chief: Dave Rogers

Offseason action: Announced he will run a limited Nationwide Series schedule (between 13-15 races) and will not compete in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012.

2012 outlook: In a year when the new-and-improved (Read: more mature) Kyle Busch was supposed to make his debut, the rowdy one found more trouble than ever.

He got into a fight with Kevin Harvick, took a punch to the face from Richard Childress, received a speeding ticket for driving absurdly fast, only to upstage all of that when his actions in a Truck Series race – wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. – led to him getting parked for the Chase race in Texas.

To Busch’s credit, there were signs of growth. He did try to extricate himself from the fight with Harvick and took full blame for getting parked in Texas. (He even offered Hornaday, then without a Truck Series ride for 2012, a job this season.)

But it’s fair to say Kyle Busch, once again, got in his own way, which is why he’s not ranked higher in the Yahoo! Sports Top 20 Countdown. A year ago, he came in at No. 2. Confidence in him has clearly waned.

Because of that, if you’re one of those who is sick of reading about how Busch has “grown up,” well, don’t worry about that in the immediate future. He’s reached a point now where he has to prove it before he’ll get any more credit. And in this case, proving it means getting through an entire season without pulling a “Busch.”

This doesn’t mean Kyle has to completely change; a little bit of Rowdy is definitely good for the sport. It does, however, mean he has to cut down on the distractions that prevent him from competing for a championship. Because in spite of all his talent and all those wins, Busch has never been in title contention beyond a few races into the Chase.

He’s still only 26, but he’s entering his eighth Cup season. To this point, it’s always been “when” Kyle Busch wins a championship. Now, you have to wonder “if.”

Point of interest: No one led more laps in 2011 than Kyle Busch’s 1,455, which was 340 more than Jimmie Johnson. Busch led laps in 26 of 35 races last season, including seven of the nine Chase races in which he competed.

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Jay Hart is a Senior Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jay a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Feb 10, 2012