COMMENTARY | Kyle Busch's 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season wasn't what fans were expecting from the talented driver: after cutting back his "extracurricular" racing schedule for the season, he would be able to concentrate on the Chase for the Sprint Cup, right? Not quite.
After three consecutive races with engine problems in the middle of the Cup Series' "regular season," Busch found himself on the outside looking in when the 10-race Chase field was set following the race at Richmond in early September - by just three points. Busch's racing schedule for the season - full-time Cup for Joe Gibbs Racing and a part-time ride in the Nationwide Series for his own team, which he shared with brother Kurt - was well-shy of the 75-race average he has put forth in previous seasons. Detractors of such an ambitious schedule believed Busch should be concentrating on the Cup Series, much like multiple-time champs Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson did. Busch addressed the detractors in the post-race press conference at Texas on November 4: "At the beginning of the year it was told to me that I should cut back on my extracurricular racing because it distracts me from my Cup effort. Then I come out and qualify in the top three in all three series (at Texas)."
Once Busch failed to qualify for the Chase, things seemed to fall into place when it came to "extracurricular" racing: Busch's Kyle Busch Motorsports parted ways with Jason Leffler in the Camping World Truck Series, opening up the #18 Toyota Tundra ride (Busch has raced twice and looks to be in the truck for the series finale), and Kurt Busch's movement in the Cup Series opened up the rest of the Nationwide season to the younger Busch brother.
Since the Chase began in Chicago and Busch's racing schedule picked up, the results have been impressive: in the Cup Series, Busch has six top 10 finishes in the first eight Chase races; he also has five top 10 finishes in the Nationwide Series and one in the Truck Series. At Texas Motor Speedway (November 2 through 4), as he addressed with the media following the Cup race, he qualified in the top three in all three series (pole in Nationwide and third in both Cup and Trucks) and finished in the top four in all three races (third in Cup and Nationwide, fourth in Trucks).
Busch also addressed what this positive momentum going forth will bring to the 2013 season. "You've got to continue to work hard and strive to get better," said Busch. "For missing the Chase by what we did, yeah, we had a lot of technical problems, but I'm sure there were a few races where we could have finished better. So we've got to get better in every opportunity that we can. This last ten weeks have been pretty good. We've run well. We've been fast. We've shown speed. Maybe we've been third to fifth or third to sixth place cars. Tonight I felt like we were a winning car if we could have gotten out front. I think track position meant that much, which we'll say that every week. It's just a matter of continuing to evolve and get better as a team and communicate because this car is obsolete in two weeks. So we'll work on all of that stuff in 2013."
Busch, who hasn't won a race during the final 10 races of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season since 2005, has just one win this season across all three series. He'll go into the final two weekends of the season trying to add to that total on all three fronts, and bring that momentum into whatever 2013 may bring to his racing schedule.
Source: "Transcript: AAA Texas 500," NASCAR Media, November 4, 2012
Paula is a long-time NASCAR fan who also covers both Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports on Examiner.com.