Kyle Busch's Sprint Cup Championship Run: Could It Have Begun Sunday at Bristol?
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I'm convinced that Kyle Busch's win Sunday in the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway was a sign of things to come this season.
Sure, it was just one win in one race—and we've had four different winners now in the first four races, including Busch's triumph Sunday at Bristol—but KyBusch has a way of turning one into two, two into four and so on.
In other words, you can't find a better momentum driver—and winner—on the Cup circuit today than the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota. Once he pulls into victory lane, he keeps pulling into it, be it in a Sprint Cup or Nationwide car, or a Camping World truck.
We've been down this path before over the last four years or so, where Busch enjoyed success early on, compiled mountains of wins across all three pro series, only to see his championship chances fade in the Sprint Cup series each and every time.
Sure, he won the Nationwide Series title in 2008, but it's pretty easy to do something like that when you have the best personal talent, best car, best team, best owner and best organization in the junior league behind you.
But when will we see the younger Busch brother do the same in the senior league, the Sprint Cup Series? When will we see him join older brother Kurt as a Cup champion?
Again, I'm taking Sunday's win in stride. It's just one win, one race, as I said. But I see something in Kyle this season that, while I've seen some of the same in season's past, I'm seeing a lot more of in 2011. Namely, determination and even more so intelligence behind the wheel.
Is 2011 Kyle Busch's Year to Win His First Sprint Cup championship?
He's as determined as ever to win every race, but he's winning now with a maturity that has continued to grow over the last three-plus years—coincidentally, since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kyle's not making stupid sophomoric mistakes anymore. He's thinking and strategizing, like a good chess player. Frankly, he's doing what Darrell Waltrip likes to say, letting the race come to him, rather than trying to dictate how the race will play out.
Instead of being quick to jump out of line and jump to conclusions, he's become significantly better at pacing himself. Sunday's race is yet another example. He led the race at several different points, but each time he fell from front to back in the pack, he watched, waited and planned.
He scrutinized his chief rivals, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, and then mowed each one of them down as if he was putting a check mark next to each of their names as he sailed back into the race lead.
Let me ask you this: did you see even one bonsai move by KyBusch in Sunday's race? Nope, not a one. And why? It goes back to using the thing at the top of his body (his head and brain) more than the thing at the bottom of his body (his gas pedal-pushing right foot).
I've noticed that since the opening race weekend at Daytona last month. It's almost as if Kyle came into 2011 like he was clubbed in the head, to the point where he's racing significantly smarter than stupid.
He is looking at the bigger picture rather than the immediate scene in front of him and is trying to show he truly belongs among the sport's best of the best such as five-time defending champ Jimmie Johnson, four-time champ Jeff Gordon, two-time champ Tony Stewart and yes, even the late, great Dale Earnhardt, who Busch is compared so often to.
If he keeps driving—and winning—the way he did Sunday, he will see those hopes and wishes come true, not to mention one if not several Sprint Cup championships.
I relate back to a comment older brother Kurt made to me back in 2003 it was, I believe, shortly before Kyle made his first then-Busch Series start (started fifth, finished second…a definite precursor of greatness to come).
"If you think I'm good, wait till you see my younger brother Kyle," Kurt prophesized.
At the time, knowing very little about Kyle, his talent, ability and personality, I figured Kurt was just playing the role of proud sibling. Maybe he was talking him up to help out in securing a few extra sponsors.
Or maybe—scratch that, Kurt definitely knew—that Kyle truly was a better driver than he was and would soon show the NASCAR world the same thing.
And how Kyle has shown what he is, what he's made of and what he can do. He's close to overtaking Mark Martin for career Busch Series/Nationwide Series wins. He's already led more than 10,000 laps in the Busch/Nationwide series and is closing in on 20,000 laps led in his brief career across all levels of NASCAR.
Oh yeah, and he is still just 25 years old…he doesn't turn 26 until May 2.
Kyle has done pretty much everything you can ask for from a driver, with the exception of still not having that elusive first Sprint Cup championship trophy. But with what we saw Sunday, and if he can continue doing so on a consistent basis in the remaining 32 races this season, that champion's trophy may not be elusive anymore come the end of the season.
Pick up Jerry Bonkowski's latest book, "TRADING PAINT -- 101 Great NASCAR Debates", published by Wiley & Sons, at your local bookstore or online at Wiley.com.
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