What's Keeping Kyle Busch from Living Up to His Incredible Talent?

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2014

Kyle Busch revels in wins, like last month at Fontana, but how many wins would he trade to really revel for one Sprint Cup championship?
Kyle Busch revels in wins, like last month at Fontana, but how many wins would he trade to really revel for one Sprint Cup championship?Alex Gallardo

While doing some research on next Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway, I stumbled upon an amazing stat:

Kyle Busch is just 30 laps shy of hitting 10,000 laps led in his Cup career.

Think about that for a minute.

At the still-young age of 28 (he turns 29 on May 2), the younger Busch brother has led more laps in his nine-plus year Sprint Cup career than former Cup champ Matt Kenseth (9,160 laps led), older brother and former Cup champ Kurt Busch (7,683), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7,599), Denny Hamlin (6,761), Greg Biffle (5,683), Kevin Harvick (4,941), Carl Edwards (4,795), Clint Bowyer (2,240) and Brad Keselowski (1,795), among others.

In fact, the only active full-time drivers in Sprint Cup who have more than 10,000 laps led are Jeff Gordon (23,656), Jimmie Johnson (16,342) and Tony Stewart (12,708).

Add those numbers up and you come up with 52,706 laps led, along with 202 wins and 13 championships between the three drivers.

What's more, Busch is already fifth among all active drivers in wins (29), trailing Gordon (88), Johnson (66), Stewart (48) and Kenseth (31).

So with 9,970 laps led to date, along with 29 wins in NASCAR's most elite series, why hasn't Kyle Busch won a Sprint Cup championship yet?

How can such a dominating driver keep falling short year after year as he closes in on a full decade as one of Sprint Cup's brightest stars?

Older brother Kurt has a championship to his credit. So does a relative newcomer, Keselowski.

But not the guy Kurt calls "Shrub."

Here are more stats to consider: KyBusch also has led 13,479 laps in the Nationwide Series (plus 65 wins) and 4,711 laps in the Camping World Truck Series (plus 36 wins).

Add all those numbers from NASCAR's three premier series together and Busch has led an incredible 28,160 total laps, earned 130 wins and one championship (Nationwide Series) in his outstanding career to date.

But the closest Busch has come to winning a Cup championship was fourth in 2013, fifth in 2007 and sixth last season.

How can that be?

Or as the headline on this story asks, what's keeping young Kyle from living up to his incredible talent?

That's a question no one can seem to answer. I know I can't, and I bet you can't either.

I don't even know if Busch himself can answer it.

How does someone with such immense talent and so much success so early in a career that could likely go on for another 20-plus years—on the career level of a Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, the late Dale Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson and Stewart—still have not been able to win his first Sprint Cup championship by now?

Better yet, why hasn't Busch won two or three or even four titles by now?

Sure, Johnson has been a major impediment with his six titles during Busch's Sprint Cup run. But with a talent level that comes close to, if not occasionally exceeds Johnson's at certain times and in certain situations, there's no logical explanation for why Johnson keeps winning championships while Busch comes close but just can't get over that hump.

I'm not giving up on Busch. I'm still convinced he'll win a championship, perhaps as early as this year, or maybe next year. If not by then, surely by 2016, right?

But haven't NASCAR fans been saying the same thing about Earnhardt Jr. since he made his Cup debut in 2000? Nearly 15 years later, he still has yet to win his first Cup crown.

Sure, Junior is off to the best start of his career this season, and he is arguably in the best position he's ever been to finally win that elusive championship at season's end.

But at the same time, Earnhardt still may come up short at the end of this season and ultimately go on to never win his first—if only—Cup title.

About the only thing I can think of why Busch hasn't achieved the success he should have by now—i.e., multiple Cup championships—is that he oftentimes folds at the wrong time, or makes too many costly mistakes in the Chase, much like Earnhardt has done in his career.

One other driver also comes to mind, someone who had great talent in his heyday, much like Busch. In 882 career Cup starts, he won 40 races and led 12,879 laps, had five runner-up season finishes, yet never won even one Cup crown.

Of course, I'm talking about the great Mark Martin. As each season of Martin's great career passed without a championship, it eventually got to the point that a crown would simply never be in the cards for him.

Will it be the same for Busch? Time will tell. And fortunately for him (and maybe not so fortunate for Earnhardt, who turns 40 in October), time is one thing Busch still has plenty of ahead of him.

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