Is Kyle Busch's Virtuosity Sapping the Life Out of NASCAR?

Monte Dutton@@monteduttonFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2016

Kyle Busch triumphant.
Kyle Busch triumphant.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Busch has done it all—at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, anyway.

The reigning Sprint Cup champion started on the pole and dominated both the Combat Wounded Coalition 400, the featured event, and Saturday's Xfinity Series race, the Lilly Diabetes 250. No one else has ever done that on the same NASCAR weekend.

Tricia @Tricia_AR25

The race today was boring...i love Indy but a 330 start, 100+ degrees and coupled with no passing...it was brutal. #NASCAR

In two days, no one ever passed the Toyotas Busch was piloting. He led every available lap—the format included two heat races, only one of which Busch was in—on Saturday and all except when he was pitting or the race was under caution Sunday. He is a sponge, as demonstrated by a reply he made at a Friday media conference.

"I think experience certainly has given me the opportunity to just become better and better here each and every year," Busch said. "Running the Xfinity cars has certainly helped my Sprint Cup effort, I feel like, and even before that, I think I finished second [twice in three years] before I was able to win here."

Adam Stevens, the winning crew chief, tried to explain it: "I think what leads to having a dominating car at Indy is we only come here once a year and this track is not like any other place. He takes every opportunity to race when he comes here, so he's got a lot more laps around this place than maybe some others."

Nice try.

"It's so cool because it hasn't been done before," Busch told NBC Sports in Victory Lane. "I've tried and been successful at being able to do a lot of things that others haven't been able to do before."

Meanwhile, the two inspirational figures of the weekend, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, finished 11th and 13th, respectively. Two-time Brickyard winner Stewart was competing in his final NASCAR season, and five-time winner Gordon was returning from retirement to sub for injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The fans must have sensed the racing was going to be amiss. The Indianapolis Star estimated the crowd at 50,000. When NASCAR began racing at the world's most recognizable track in 1994, the race allegedly drew five times that many.

Bob Pockrass @bobpockrass

Anyone who works in racing who is not concerned about Indy attendance needs a shovel to get the head out of the sand https://t.co/fWy9rsRWMb

Which brings us to the obvious question: Is Kyle Busch too much of a good thing?

Busch is the reigning champion. He is tied for most victories with Brad Keselowski at four. He leads the Sprint Cup Series in top-five finishes and is tied for second in poles with four others.

Driver Leaders Through 20 Races
WinsKyle Busch, Brad Keselowski4
Top-5sKyle Busch11
Top-10sKevin Harvick16
PolesCarl Edwards3
Laps LedMartin Truex Jr.989
Avg. StartDenny Hamlin6.5
Avg. FinishKevin Harvick8.6
Lead-Lap FinishesKurt Busch20
PointsKevin Harvick671

Dominance of NASCAR is not Busch's fault. It is his job.

He is the best driver on NASCAR's best team, Joe Gibbs Racing. Teammates finished second (Matt Kenseth) and fourth (Denny Hamlin). Three drivers led at the Brickyard at Sunday. Busch led 149 laps, Keselowski 15 and Joey Logano six. At the end of the overtime finish, Busch needed just two laps at speed to pull 2.126 seconds ahead of Kenseth when they took the checkered flag.

Kyle Busch's Toyota scorched the field throughout.
Kyle Busch's Toyota scorched the field throughout.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

NBC Sports' announcers gushed in the booth before telling everyone how close next week's race in the Poconos is going to be.

"The way he is winning races is unbelievable," ex-driver Jeff Burton said. "I watch it with amazement."

"I can't get my brain around sweeping a weekend," ex-crew chief Steve Letarte added. "This performance by Kyle Busch is truly legendary. Kyle Busch is starting to write a resume that compares with major names."

Why did the fans stay away in similarly amazing numbers? Earnhardt, the most popular driver, was out recovering from a concussion, but the two drivers aiming for last hurrahs, Stewart and Gordon, were not only Hoosiers but revered Hoosiers, right up there with coach Bob Knight and James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier Poet.

Had Riley been alive and giving a recitation, it would have been equally as exciting as the racing at the famous oval in his hometown.

"You know, at this level of motorsports, and the competition level across the field, you can't hit on one thing and beat people," Stevens said. "You have to hit on everything."

That is the challenge being effectively issued by Kyle Busch, Adam Stevens and the rest of the crew to the rest of JGR and the Cup garage. They have to hit on everything, too, if anyone other than Busch is going to win the Chase come fall.

Did I mention the Indianapolis winner has gone on to win the Cup championship nine times, and the ninth time was Busch last year?

The end was a jumble of wrecks, complete with a late red flag and two takes at an overtime finish.

Asked the inevitable question of whether he "had anything for your teammate Kyle Busch," Kenseth deigned to answer it straight: "It didn't seem like it."

No bother. Just a postponing of the inevitable. As Busch said:

Every caution flag that came out was like, "Ah, again. Always." You always seem to get them. We had such a really good car and I didn't want to see any yellows. I figured our strength was our long-run speed, but we also had short-run speed, too, and could get out on the field there the first couple of laps. It was a great day for us. This was really fun. All those restarts just made it more challenging, and we rose to the occasion and were able to win this thing.

Long-run speed + short-run speed = constant speed.

Indy is unique. It is popularly written that it wasn't built for stock cars. As it began hosting races in 1909, it wasn't really built for modern vehicles of any kind. It's hard to win, though, as everyone who raced there save for Busch was painfully aware.


Follow @montedutton on Twitter.

All quotes are taken from NASCAR media, team and manufacturer sources unless otherwise noted.


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