Debate: Will Kyle Busch repeat as NASCAR Cup Series champion?

Staff Report
NASCAR.com

Kyle Busch came out hot in 2019, snagging a trio of race victories amidst an 11-race top-10 streak to start the season. It seemed a foregone conclusion at the time that he’d be a championship favorite — but after his victory at Pocono Raceway in early June, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was held winless until his somewhat surprising title-clinching victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.

Given his talent behind the wheel and resources at JGR, Busch would appear to be a slam dunk to repeat as NASCAR Cup Series champion — but is he? Many had him pegged as the least-likely Championship 4 driver to win after his second-half drought and up-and-down playoffs, but Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens found a way to prevail.

Is a third Cup Series title in the cards for Busch in 2020? NASCAR.com‘s Pat DeCola and Chase Wilhelm debate.

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DeCola: In absolutely no way am I ruling out Kyle Busch as a championship contender … but I don’t think he’s going to repeat. Through the first six iterations of the elimination-style NASCAR Playoffs format, we’ve yet to see a repeat champion, and in two of the last three years, the champion from the previous season failed to even make it back to the Championship 4.

Rowdy’s victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, though impressive, felt like more of a rising-to-the-occasion-type moment for him, Stevens and the No. 18 team than a sign all of their second-half ailments had all of a sudden been cured. The early portion of Busch’s 2019 season was dominant at times, but the group seemed to either lose its footing midway through or, perhaps, were just caught up to by other organizations as the summer months ticked off. Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 team, specifically, seemed to have the inverse of Busch’s season, sputtering out the gate a bit but riding a hot streak to Miami.

Throw in that two of his own teammates in Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. — arguably the two best drivers of ’19 — are destined for more success this season and Busch might not even be the championship favorite in his own stable.

I fully expect Busch to win around five races in ’20 and probably make his sixth Championship 4 appearance in seven years — who knows, maybe he could steal it away again — but I’d probably put him at about third overall on my championship favorites list at the moment.

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Wilhelm: During Championship 4 Media Day in Miami, I was persistent in saying Busch had the lowest chances of hoisting the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway compared to Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

Let’s just say I’ve learned from my mistakes.

So, I’m going to try a different strategy by getting on the Rowdy train and riding it all the way to the finale at Phoenix Raceway in 2020. I think Busch hits a stride this upcoming season, winning way more than three races on his way to defending his title.

Busch didn’t have a career season by any stretch last year, but that should teach everyone to never count out the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team led by mastermind crew chief Adam Stevens — no matter the circumstances. Regardless of his winless streak after Pocono Raceway last season, we should have known not to bet against him when the odds aren’t in his favor. Case in point: 2015 when he missed 11 races and came back to earn five race victories en route to his first championship.

Are there plenty of other championship-caliber drivers who will give him a hell of a run for his money this year? Yes.

But will Busch be able to handle any pressure thrown at him for the ultimate prize? Fo sho.

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