Kyle Busch looks to return to winning ways as playoffs begin

Dustin Long

LAS VEGAS — Kyle Busch admits there was a day when he dreamt of winning a record-breaking eight Cup championships.

But in a career that has seen the Las Vegas native win 55 Cup races and make four consecutive appearances in the championship event, the 34-year-old Busch has only one Cup crown. That gives the regular-season champion a different viewpoint entering Sunday’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

If I could get a handful of them, I would say that’s probably a successful career,” Busch said of titles. “Years ago if you would have asked me that question, I would have said, seven or eight is possible. Right now, probably five I would say.”

Although the sport is in the midst of its most competitive era — seven drivers have won titles since 2010, more than in any other decade in NASCAR history — the notion of Busch winning as many as five championships doesn’t seem beyond belief for Busch.

But before that topic becomes more than a social media debate, Busch has to start winning again.

Busch enters Sunday winless in his last 12 races. While that’s nothing compared to the winless droughts for Clint Bowyer (47 races), Kyle Larson (72), Jimmie Johnson (85), it is Busch’s longest winless streak since a 36-race drought in 2016-17.

That doesn’t mean this team is floundering.

Before he finished 37th last week at Indianapolis because of an engine failure, he had not placed worse than 11th in the seven previous races.

Busch was second when he hit the wall in the final laps trying to catch eventual winner Erik Jones in the Southern 500 and placed third. Busch led 30 laps at Michigan before finishing fourth. Busch led 118 laps but finished eighth at New Hampshire after hitting the wall.

Of course, when winning four of the first 14 races, even such performances seem disappointing.

Busch is no different.

We probably coulda, shoulda won Darlington if we would have been able to come off pit road the last two times, first,” he said. “We came off third and couldn’t pass anybody. You’re at Indy and you come off pit road fourth and you ride fourth for the entire fuel run until you come back down pit road.”

Darlington is one of several other races Busch said he believes he could have won this year.

“You look back on it and we should have eight or nine wins,” he said.

“We were really fast here (in Las Vegas) in the spring – coulda, woulda, shoulda won the race if it wasn’t for speeding on pit road. Hopefully this time around we’ll keep it clean and have a shot to win again.”

Despite those setbacks, Busch still has the most playoff points (45) of any of the title contenders. That should provide a nice cushion to help him through the first round of races at Las Vegas, Richmond and the Charlotte Roval. Those playoff points also can be a gateway through the second round.

“We’ve done a great job of being able to build those points up throughout the regular season and it’s nice to be able to have that point structure in place to kind of give you the opportunity to have your early season success help you through the postseason,” Busch said. “I think it’s the most fair structure that we’ve had through the playoff era. Looking forward to not having to use those points, but if need be, there’s some that are there.”