by Ryan Isley
In NASCAR, things can change in the blink of an eye…or in the time it takes to drop the checkered flag.
That’s exactly what happened this past weekend when Kyle Busch crossed the finish line on the final lap in front of every other car in the field at Sonoma Raceway, signifying his first win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Most years, this wouldn’t be a surprise (or news even, as Busch already owned a career win at Sonoma), but in 2015 it is one of the biggest surprises and stories of the season.
The win came in just the fifth Sprint Cup Series race of the season for the 30-year-old driver who was coming off surgery to repair a compound fracture in his lower right leg and a fracture in his left foot he suffered in a crash with just 10 laps to go in the first NASCAR Xfinity Series race of the season at Daytona International Speedway. And for Busch to win a race that many thought might be his toughest challenge to date, well that was extremely unexpected.
Now Busch can turn his sights to making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
When it was announced that Busch would indeed make a comeback this season, NASCAR granted him a waiver to make the Chase if he could pick up at least one win and get into the top-30 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings when the field is set after the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway – the 26th race of the season. The waiver was granted to sidestep the provision that a driver must at least attempt to qualify in each race.
Busch currently sits 37th in points and enters this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway 135 points behind Cole Whitt, who currently sits 30th in the points standings. While Whitt might not be much of a threat to win a race or finish in the top-10, every point he gains will make Busch’s life more difficult.
In fact, that’s going to be one of the trickiest parts of the deal for Busch. All 30 drivers in the top-30 with the exception of Kyle Larson (who missed one race due to health) and Kurt Busch (who missed three races due to suspension) have driven in all 16 races this season and look to continue that trend. That means Kyle Busch will not just be chasing a number to climb into the top-30. Moffitt averages 16.3 points per race this season and would finish with 424 points after 26 races at that rate. That would mean Busch would need to average 29.9 points per race over the next 10. That works out to an average finish of 14th.
One other thing that might stand in the way of Busch making the Chase is that there simply might be too many winners and he could be the odd man out. NASCAR will take the 16 drivers with the most wins if there are 16 or more winners and there are currently 11 winners including Busch. If six other drivers who are currently winless find their first win of the season over the next 10 races, Busch would need to either leapfrog over one of them in the standings or pick up a second win. The latter would be the most likely, considering his numbers at the upcoming tracks.
The positive for Busch is that he is heading to some tracks at which he has had success in his career. Of the 10 remaining races, Busch owns at least one win at eight of them, with multiple top-5s at all 10 tracks. He owns at least six top-10s at each track as well, which would bode well for him if he can continue that trend. Unfortunatley, he showed some inconsistencies through this portion of the schedule last season, failing to finish better than 28th in five of the races but picking up three runner-up finishes as well. He simply can’t afford that kind of an up-and-down run this season.
One thing that will definitely be interesting to keep an eye on is how Busch reacts this weekend at Daytona. The last time he left that track was in an ambulance with splints on both legs to stabilize the fractures. Busch will forgo the Xfinity Race on Saturday and focus solely on Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race. Since returning, Busch has only participated in a single Xfinity Series race. And of course it was a win.
There aren’t many drivers in the world, let alone in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, who are better than Busch. Sure, there are some with more wins and more championships, but Kyle Busch can flat out drive a car. He proved that once again at Sonoma and I expect him to do the same over the next 10 races. In fact, I expect Busch to find himself in victory lane at least one more time before the Chase begins. And when that Chase field is set, I fully expect Kyle Busch to be one of the 16 drivers racing for a championship.
If there was ever a guy to bet on to make the Chase when the chips are down, it’s hard to go wrong with a driver who was born in Las Vegas.
And I am all in with Kyle Busch.