DOVER, Del. (AP) – Kyle Busch may be ornery and he may be controversial, but there is no debate he is one of the best in NASCAR – mic drop and all.
Busch turned a lap of 158.954 mph Friday to win the pole at Dover International Speedway as he tries to drive the No. 18 Toyota to victory lane for the first time this season.
He has three straight top-five finishes and was runner-up to Austin Dillon last week in the Coca-Cola 600. But that near miss has gnawed at Busch, who won the All-Star race and then lost the spotlight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Asked about Dillon’s win, Busch gruffly replied, “I’m not surprised about anything . Congratulations.” With no more questions, he dropped the microphone and left, his conduct quickly parodied and criticized .
Busch was angry. And after years of trying to convince the public he had rehabbed his tempestuous image, the 32-year-old married father of one son realized he may never change.
“Certainly, different people show their emotion in different ways and unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious and I don’t know that it ever will be,” Busch said. “I’m kind of learning that as the days go on when my son (Brexton) is 2 years old; I see where it came from. It’s genetic. I’m sorry. That’s just who I am. … That’s what I was given. If there was anyone to blame it’s probably the guy upstairs. I can probably get better and go to training and classes and everything else, but I don’t know. It is the way it is.”
Busch has a resume NASCAR Hall of Famers would envy, with a NASCAR championship, 173 wins over three series and an elite ride for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Just no wins this season, and he’s not alone at JGR. Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and rookie Daniel Suarez are also winless, a startling skid for one of NASCAR’s heavyweight organizations that could end at Dover.
Led by Busch, Toyota had the first four drivers Friday in the qualifying session. Martin Truex Jr. was second, followed by Suarez and Kenseth. Erik Jones was seventh and Hamlin was 10th to give Toyota six of the top 10.
Busch’s terse response made waves but the top story inside the JGR shop was how to build off its best race of the season. Busch was there at the end, and Kenseth finished fourth and Hamlin fifth to place three drivers inside the top five for the first time this season. Suarez, who replaced Carl Edwards, was a solid 11th.
Busch also earned a needed boost with a win two weeks ago in the $1 million All-Star race.
“There were a lot of things on the line that meant a lot to me and would have been special to me, but I guess I should care less about those sort of things and not show that sort of emotion,” he said.
JGR won seven of the first 12 races last season and Carl Edwards was 10 laps away from a possible championship when he crashed out in the finale.
A four-time winner last season, Busch has gone a whopping 28 races without a Cup victory dating to the Brickyard 400. His only wins on the concrete mile track at Dover came in 2008 and 2010. Busch, with three wins at this point last year, was second in at least one of the two Dover races each of the last two seasons.
Kenseth, who won the Dover spring race last year, and Suarez wouldn’t even make NASCAR’s playoffs right now, based on points.
“I do realize that we have three of four DNFs and haven’t really had a great year, so I realize we’re probably not very far up in the points from where we park every week, so we need that win,” Kenseth said. “I feel like we have a great race team and hasn’t been a great start to the season and we’re already in June.”
Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing have unexpected wins this season. Hamlin, now 11th in the standings, could be on the outside without a win.
Few expect the winless drought to last much longer.
“I’ve never taken my guard down from the Gibbs drivers,” seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. “They’re a great organization. They have great crew chiefs and great drivers. And from living it on my own, it doesn’t take much to be off a tenth of a second; and a tenth takes you from first to tenth.”
So why the slump?
It’s not all on Toyota. Truex has a pair of wins driving for Furniture Row Racing – which shares a technical alliance with JGR – and Dillon won his first career Cup race last week for RCR. The Toyota Camry did have a new nose design for this season, but JGR has brushed that off as the root of the issue and instead pinned the woes on adapting to the low downforce package ushered in this season.
Also, the impact of losing a veteran winner like Edwards should not be sold short.
Busch wants to make JGR a winner again – for himself, and those who cut through the turmoil and stand by him.
“That’s through relationships, those people that are close to me understand me, know me and know who I am outside the race track as a personable person, as a friend,” he said.
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