Will Kyle Busch Take the Next Step in His Career in the 2014 NASCAR Season?

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Sprint Cup champion, Kyle Busch.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Sprint Cup champion, Kyle Busch.John Raoux/Associated Press

Hard as it may seem to believe, Kyle Busch is entering his 10th full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series.

Now doesn't that make you feel a heck of a lot older?

Wait, it gets worse. Even heading into his 10th season, Busch is still not even 30 yet—he doesn't even turn 29 until May 2.

Now, don't you feel ancient?

But wait, there's even more.

If all of us had a dollar for every time we went into a Sprint Cup season and heard that was going to be the year the younger Busch finally earned his first Cup championship, we'd probably be able to buy Joe Gibbs Racing lock, stock and barrel.

But you know what? We can stop hearing it and start believing it:

Kyle Busch will be the 2014 Sprint Cup champion.

After all these years of waiting, of all the boos and criticism from fans and fellow drivers, this will be the year KyBusch puts it all together and ends the season with what his fans have been anticipating for so long.

Yeah, right, you say, eh?

Hear me out.

Busch is coming off the second-best season statistically in his career, but he also finished the highest he ever has in the Cup standings, ending up a rather impressive fourth place in 2013.

Sure, Jimmie Johnson won his sixth Sprint Cup championship and Matt Kenseth won a career-high seven races, but Busch showed the kind of winning and consistency—not to mention having the best Chase of his career—that he hasn't been able to put together much before.

For the third time in the last five seasons, he won four races. Extrapolate that a bit more and, including his eight wins in 2008, three in 2010 and just one in 2012, and 24 of Busch's 28 career Cup wins have been in the last six seasons.

If this isn't a peach that's ripe for winning a Cup championship, I don't know what is.

There's also Busch's attitude. After embarrassing himself with more incidents than either he or us want to remember in 2011, he was seriously reined in in 2012.

That taught him a big lesson, and when he returned to his driving ways of old in 2013, the talent and success were there, but the cockiness, immaturity and snarkiness were all but gone, essentially.

And now, Kyle Busch is ready to add to his long list of career honors the one thing he has sought ever since he was a little tyke racing bandoleros in Sin City.

Busch is indeed ready to take the next step—and it will be the biggest step of all—in 2014. He'll have some very stiff competition from the likes of Johnson, teammates Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, older brother Kurt, former teammate Tony Stewart and so many more.

At the same time, Busch is at the kind of perfect junction that makes champions: He's aggressive, much more mature, doesn't wear defeat on his sleeve as much as he used to and appears focused upon nothing more than winning, winning and more winning.

(Dale Earnhardt Jr. could take a few lessons from Busch about that last item, indeed.)

Busch has come a long way in a short time. Remember when he pile-drove Ron Hornaday Jr. head-on into the outside retaining wall at Texas Motor Speedway in Nov. 2011, ending Hornaday's bid for the Camping World Truck Series championship and earning Busch a rare one-race suspension from the Sprint Cup Series?

Remember how the Mars Co. and other sponsors threatened to pull their lucrative sponsorships unless Busch brought his out-of-control anger and temper under tight reins?

Remember how team owner Joe Gibbs refused to give Busch a vote of confidence shortly after the Hornaday incident, essentially threatening to bring Busch's career to a screeching halt if he didn't do some major surgery on his attitude and maturity (or at that point, the lack thereof)?

Remember how Busch and Kevin Harvick tangled at Darlington that same year? When Harvick went to confront Busch on pit road, do you think Kyle stepped out of his car and put up his dukes? Nope, he rammed Harvick's driver-less car into the pit road retaining wall, barely missing several crew members, and drove away.

Didn't his parents ever tell him that to be a man, you don't run from confrontation, you attack it head-on, not push it out of the way from behind?

And how can we forget the way Busch drove flagrantly and recklessly at 128 mph in a 45-mph speed zone? Even though it was a rural road with light traffic, what would have happened if a car pulled out in front of Busch and wife Samantha from a blind-side road? What would have happened if a young kid appeared out of nowhere to chase a ball or puppy? Even Richard Petty in his prime couldn't get a car whoa-ed down at those speeds on a public roadway.

Even his joking about thriving as NASCAR's bad boy, the guy in the black hat, the sport's villain, grew old real quick. And looking back, that same kind of nastiness and naughtiness may have backfired on him. But as in life, sometimes you have to go through something and learn lessons from it to make you a better person.

Thankfully, all those incidents are behind Busch forever.

His fans and NASCAR can only hope.

Over the last four or five years, I've said to anyone who will listen that Busch will never win a Cup championship until he finally makes himself ready, until he accepts his faults and shortcomings and works on them, and emerges a better man.

I believe that time has come. So, as long as Busch continues on the righteous path he carved in 2013, and unless something unexpected happens between now and the season finale in mid-November, NASCAR can pretty much cancel the upcoming Sprint Cup season—or perhaps just go through the motions—because I already know who's going to win it all.

So the next time someone asks you what time it is, don't even bother looking at your watch. Just say "It's Kyle Busch's time."


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