Kyle Busch missed the first 11 races of the season due to breaking his leg during a crash in the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona, but in his nine races since coming back no one has been better.
His win Sunday at the Brickyard was his third straight on the schedule and fourth in the past five races. The Las Vegan now sits only 21 points behind Justin Allgaier for that coveted 30th-place position in points, which would allow him to be eligible for the Chase that begins Sept. 20 at Chicagoland.
Busch has failed miserably in every Chase he’s participated in. He’s been outstanding through most of his career during the first 26 races, but for whatever reason, he mentally runs out of fuel in the final 10 races when the chips are all on the line.
Things might be a little different in his own mind this season because by the time the Chase starts it’ll technically only be his 15th race of the season. Maybe he can play this Chase out like it’s just another race and use it to his advantage.
Prior to the season the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook had Busch at 10-to-1 odds to win the Sprint Cup. After he got hurt, the Westgate didn’t drop him too low, 25-1, just because they knew mathematically he could still get in the Chase on points by winning at least one race.
However, as things started looking bleak as he missed so many races, Busch got as high as 75-1, but had few takers. By the time he made his season debut in the Coca-Cola 600 he was adjusted down to 15-1. Now he’s 5-1 as the second choice on the board, just behind Kevin Harvick at 4-1.
This is one of the most amazing turnarounds I’ve ever seen in NASCAR, where not only the driver, but a team shifted so well in a positive direction. Joe Gibbs Racing has not been at their best this season, but they’ve made the most of things with all these new packages NASCAR has been throwing at the series.
What’s most amazing about Busch winning three straight races, the first time a driver has done so since 2007, is he’s done it with three different packages. He won at Kentucky with the new aero-package, then at New Hampshire with the regular set-up and then Sunday with the high-drag package.
And if you really want to call him the diversity king, throw in his road course win at Sonoma five races ago in late June.
When looking at Busch’s body of work, it’s impressive, but it’s also been helped by all the NASCAR changes. Before running the window and betting Busch to win the title, consider that during the Chase they’ll return to the set-up for all 10 races the season started with, a set-up JGR drivers failed miserably with on 1.5-mile tracks, and one Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson thrived with. Half of the races during the Chase are on 1.5 mile tracks.
Busch will try to make it four straight wins this Sunday on Pocono’s tricky 2.5 mile triangle, which will be the first time we’ll see a track for the second time this season.
Truex Jr. dominated the June 6 race, leading 97 laps for his first and only win of the season. Harvick finished second (he’s been runner-up nine times this season) and led 39 laps in that race. Only six drivers led laps. Kyle Busch would finish ninth.
There are no unique set-ups this week at Pocono. It’ll be racing similar to what we saw in the first race which means little passing and the cream rising to the top.
Harvick has never won at Pocono in 29 starts, but he has finished second in his past two starts. He hasn’t won this season since the fourth race at Phoenix, and surprisingly he hasn’t even finished second since Pocono seven races ago. He’ll be very happy to get back into his old set-up this week and is the easy favorite to win.
Johnson is a three-time winner at Pocono with a 9.6 average finish in 27 starts. He finished third in the June event and last won in 2013. His teammate Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six Pocono wins and has a 9.9 average finish over 45 starts. Sunday will be his last start on the triangle and he’s still searching for his first win of 2015.
Kurt Busch finished fifth in the first Pocono race and has two wins there over his career. He should have a car similar to Harvick’s, but way better odds on the board at about 10-1.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].