Three weeks ago, Kyle Busch was one of the hottest drivers in the Sprint Cup Series. He was on a run of four straight top-5 finishes including a win at Richmond, and looked poised to stay comfortably in the top 10 in the points standings over the summer.
But that optimism has dimmed since, as engine issues have turned the last three races from promising to disastrous, including Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan. As a result, he's now 12th in the points standings, 26 points behind 10th place Brad Keselowski.
On Sunday, Busch had some early speed, but was back in the pack after making an extra pit stop under caution to fix some right-side damage after he scraped the wall. But then Busch was forced to take the car to the garage because of his engine. While he was able to get back on track, he finished 32nd, 43 laps down.
At Dover, Busch was 29th. At Pocono, he finished 30th.
Three straight engine-plagued races for any team — let alone a single driver — is troublesome, but it may be especially so for a team like Joe Gibbs Racing, which had engine reliability issues last year. Before this year, the team — which had previously run its own in-house engine shop — merged engine operations with Toyota Racing Development in an effort to increase performance and reliability.
Thanks to that Richmond win, Busch is in line for the first wild card. And while Kasey Kahne's misfortune at Michigan helps, Busch's margin for error has all but disappeared. Kahne, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano each have a win while winless (so far) Carl Edwards is ahead of Busch in the standings.