I don’t yet claim to be a racing expert (though I do strive to be one). I don’t have contacts within the industry and, therefore, can’t break any news stories that haven’t been already reported. I can only write on what I see on the track.
And on Sunday, I saw Kyle Busch’s chances of a title start to drift away.
“Shrub” has been the rabbit of this Sprint Cup Season; eight wins and a nearly 200-point lead prior to The Chase meant that he had been the strongest driver this year.
However, even though its history is brief, The Chase has rarely been kind to the “rabbit.”
Jeff Gordon led the standings by a wide margin before the 2004 Chase…and got beat out by Kurt Busch. Matt Kenseth was the point leader in 2006…but lost out to Jimmie Johnson. Gordon again found himself the dominant driver in 2007 (his commanding lead though didn’t earn him the top seed though, since Johnson had more wins)…but he lost out to Johnson.
You get the picture. The Chase has not been kind to the drivers who have entered it as the point leader and/or dominant driver.
I was wary of that heading into the 2008 “playoffs,” and was hesitant to say Busch was the favorite; everything does get reset, and racing has a habit of throwing wrenches into everything.
Busch’s blown engine not only ended his race, but possibly his championship. He is now more than 200 points out of the lead with eight races left. He must now depend on the top three (Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle) suffering similar misfortune, which is never good if you’re vying for a championship.
You always want to control your own fate regarding any type of “playoff” scenario; depending on others messing up is often a sign that the end is near.
Is it impossible for Busch to come back? No. Johnson was 247 down after three races in 2004. He battled back in get within nine of the title.
In 2006, Johnson also had to make a comeback (though not of that magnitude) and did so; but, that year, no driver asserted himself until the final handful of races, and all of the drivers had at least one problem on the first five.
This year, Biffle looks to be the surprise contender (and a pretty good one at that) while Edwards and Johnson continued their form from the regular season. The point: the three of them may be running too well for Busch to come back.
He’s certainly had a fine season. But, I just don’t see it turning out a championship. Maybe, just maybe, he and the team will have to mature a little more until they become true title contenders (remember, Busch hasn’t figured The Chase out yet and the No. 18 team hasn’t ever been a part of NASCAR’s playoffs).
The talent is there, but the experience might not be at the moment.