The statistics don’t lie. In 2021, Kyle Busch struggled and had his worst season in seven years, finishing 9th in the final standings. What’s more concerning for the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is he’s managed just three wins in the last two seasons. For some perspective — the last time he won fewer than four times in a single season happened back in 2014 when he won once.
The Next Gen car’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. And this week, during testing of the car at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch showed why he’s considered one of the best in the business when he pulled off an impressive move that numerous other drivers had failed to do before, including teammate Denny Hamlin.
Kyle Busch pulls off impressive save during Next Gen testing
Kyle Busch is a wheelman. His career statistics prove it. In addition to a pair of Cup titles (2015 and 2019), he holds the all-time record for most wins in the Xfinity Series at 102. He has 61 wins in the Truck Series to his credit.
However, the last two seasons have been very unlike Busch, earning just the three wins and finishing eighth and ninth respectively in the final points standings. The Next Gen car offers the 36-year-old driver a clean slate of sorts.
During testing at Charlotte this week, Busch provided a master class in the art of saving a car during one of his test runs. The No. 18 car got loose heading into Turn 4, but instead of losing the car completely and spinning out or crashing into a wall like so many others had done before, Busch deftly corrected the car, saved it, and then calmly turned it down onto pit road.
Others spinning and crashing in Next Gen car, including Denny Hamlin
Busch’s ability to pull off the save was even more impressive when you consider how multiple drivers failed to pull off the save in that same corner on the same day.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was racing in a pack of cars near Aric Almirola when he got loose in Turn 4 and completely spun out and slid down onto the apron. Tyler Reddick’s incident was more serious and frightening when he lost it in the final turn, made a complete 360, and then slammed violently into the wall at the entrance to pit road, with multiple yellow sand-filled barrels dramatically exploding.
Those incidents happened on Wednesday. Last month, multiple drivers, including Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin were involved in a similar spin in the same corner. The two-time Daytona 500 winner spun out, slid down to the apron, but managed to keep it off the wall.
Practice returning could benefit Kyle Busch the most
During testing, Busch’s handling of the Next Gen car showed he’s already getting comfortable with the new vehicle, even in the most challenging circumstances. That’s a good sign for 2022.
While that alone should be encouraging for the No. 18 driver and his fans, what should be a huge help next season and dramatically improve his results is the return of practice. Busch has been one of the most vocal drivers talking about the importance of practice and how its absence has adversely affected his performance. He’s also repeatedly insisted that time in the simulator just isn’t the same thing and he hasn’t benefitted from its use.
NASCAR’s announcement last month that practice and qualifying will be returning in 2022 was music to Busch and the other drivers’ ears. Albeit a small window to figure out the car, it’s better than what the teams have had to work with in the last couple of seasons.
That precious time coupled with Busch’s ability to navigate the challenges of the new car should prove more fruitful in 2022 and add up to more trips to victory lane.