JOLIET, Ill. — Kyle Busch is having the type of season most drivers would envy.
He’s strongly positioned for a spot in the Chase, is tied for the Cup lead in victories and remains a serious threat to win in any series each time the green flag drops.
Busch’s recent success makes the Joe Gibbs Racing driver a prime contender to capture his first Sprint Cup championship.
Ask the feisty Las Vegan about his season, though, and it seems as if he’s more like a driver always running in the back of the pack.
“It’s just pathetic,” Busch said at Chicagoland Speedway.
Not quite, but this season has seen a drop-off from 2008, when Busch recorded one of the most dominant seasons in history by steamrolling his way to 21 total victories.
“It just seemed like everything fell into place. It was easy,” Busch said. “It was easy to run up front, it was easy to win races. It just felt weird because it was too easy.”
Busch tailed off once the 10-race Chase for the championship began and failed to record a Cup victory, a sour end after crushing the competition the first 26 races.
His win a year ago at Chicagoland, when he zipped past Jimmie Johnson at the end, gave him seven Cup victories. He enters tonight’s race with three wins and is eighth in the points standings.
“Results side of it, I think we’ve been a big failure,” Busch said.
Busch, who set a goal of 200 career NASCAR wins, thought he did enough to win last week at Daytona only to get caught up in a last-lap accident with Tony Stewart that sent him into the wall, then the infield care center. Stewart thought he had smoothed out the circumstances of the accident over a lengthy chat with Busch this week, only to have the JGR driver show up Thursday and accuse Stewart of causing him to wreck.
Drivers sided with Stewart over Busch.
“He’s still a very aggressive driver,” former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon said. “And I think there are days when that aggressiveness works against him, but I would say most days it works for him.”
His hat pulled low, casting a shadow over the top half of his face, Busch appeared in a foul mood discussing his season and his mix-up with the current Cup points leader.
“If I’m ever second, I normally finish second. If I’m ever leading, I guess I’m getting wrecked,” Busch said. “It seems to me like I don’t know how to win restrictor plate races.”
It’s easy to poke some holes in Busch’s assessment. Take last year at Chicagoland, when Busch trailed Johnson in the final laps and even radioed “race over” to his crew. The second-place driver promptly passed Johnson for the lead on the next-to-last lap and went on to celebrate in Victory Lane.
As for not knowing how to win at restrictor place races, the 24-year-old Busch, who has gone from pouting and throwing tantrums to blowing off the media after difficult losses, has taken the checkered flag at Daytona and Talladega.