Every year, the NASCAR media gathers in a secret underground lair, one guarded by both sharks and polar bears, and plots out the storylines we'll foist on you for the upcoming season. And every year, one of the key items on the agenda is to push the "this is a NEW Kyle Busch!" meme as hard as we possibly can.
Trouble is, Kyle has a way of undercutting our best efforts, whether it's getting in fights with owners or driving triple-digit speeds through school districts or playing assassin in trucks races. Even so, he's still hung around the top of the points all season long, and notched a series-high (tied with Kevin Harvick) four wins.
So which is the "real" Kyle, the otherwordly driver or the temperamental post-teen? It's an absurd question; one can't exist without the other. But if Busch is to capture his first-ever Sprint Cup championship, and there's a decent chance he will, he'll have to figure out how to keep both sides of his psyche pulling in the same direction.
Kyle's best Chase track: Unfortunately for Kyle, his best tracks (Richmond and Bristol) aren't in the Chase. (We're not counting Kentucky, where he has an average finish of first place ... after one race.) His best Chase track is Phoenix, where his average finish is a surprisingly low 12.9. He'll need much better than that to even hope to contend.
Kyle's worst Chase track: Uh-oh: Busch's worst three tracks in his portfolio are Kansas (22.4), Talladega (24.2) and Homestead (26.3), where he has a grand total of one win, one top-5 (the same race, Talladega) and four top-10s. That's not such good news, though honestly, we can probably throw out the Homestead results. Still, Busch is going to have to shoot well above his average this fall if he wants to make this season a success.
Key question: The exact same one that faces his brother: can Busch keep his own worst enemy, himself, at bay? He's shown signs of being able to do just that, but who knows what happens in the heat of a Sprint car with the entire season on the line?
JB's prediction: 2nd. He'll be close, oh so close, but something's going to go slightly wrong at just the wrong second, and somebody else who's running just a wee bit more consistently will take the title this year.