Kyle Busch has set the gold standard in more ways than just winning the most races this season.
Busch, who leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with four victories in the first 14 events, has been in-car radio gold for those who listen to the driver during a race.
Just a week before winning his fourth race of the year, he sarcastically declared on the radio to team owner Joe Gibbs: “I quit. Joe, I send in my resignation.”
The source of Busch’s frustration: The new NASCAR aerodynamic rules don’t correlate with his strength of being able to lift off the throttle later than others going into the turn and picking it up earlier. The new rules also make it difficult to get close enough to the rear quarter panel of a competitor, getting the opposing driver loose, and making the pass.
It has presented a different kind of challenge to NASCAR drivers: How do they adapt to the technical parameters that they believe have handcuffed them from making moves?
“I just go, man,” Busch said Sunday after his victory at Pocono Raceway. “I just do what I’m supposed to do. I try to drive as hard as I can, as fast as I can. If there’s a car in front of me, I try to pass him. Whichever way I can do that, I try to do it.”
Busch led 79 of the final 105 laps at Pocono, losing the lead primarily only because drivers were on different pit strategies and regaining the lead when the slower cars pitted.
“If I can’t do (that pass), there’s days that I get ultimately frustrated because I don’t feel like my true talent can show on the racetrack because I’m too limited by the air of everything that’s kind of going on around me that I can’t do anything,” Busch said.
Brad Keselowski, with three wins this year, finished second in the Pocono 400, primarily with pit strategy. He said the 20th-place car could have won that race if out front.
“It’s definitely less challenging than it’s ever been, but that’s the rules that NASCAR wants and we just try to make the most of them,” Keselowski said.
The issue is NASCAR is working to find an aerodynamic package that will work with an engine that creates 550 horsepower instead of 750 horsepower because it believes new engine manufacturers would be more willing to enter the series with a target of 550hp. It has packaged that engine with a large rear spoiler in hopes of creating a draft. That has happened at some tracks, and at others it has caused such turbulent air that cars can’t get close to each other.
Denny Hamlin, who has two wins this year, said a driver has to enter the race at certain tracks with realistic expectations.
“Unless your crew chief comes up with a great strategy or you’re able to stay up front all day like the 18 (of Busch) did, it’s just impossible,” Hamlin said. “It’s not that it’s hard to pass, it’s impossible unless someone in front of you makes a mistake.”
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Hamlin said NASCAR could fix it by changing the spoiler for some tracks, giving them less downforce so handling comes into play more or more downforce so they can go through the turns at full throttle. Team owners, though, want consistency in packages because that means less money spent on research and development.
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At a track such as Michigan International Speedway this weekend, Hamlin thinks the package will work well with potential drafting.
“We’re probably going to put on one of the best races we’ve seen there because we’re not grip limited,” Hamlin said. “We can run wide-open throttle or never let out of the throttle.”
Martin Truex Jr. proved at Richmond Raceway and Dover International Speedway that there apparently is a way to make it work with a solid setup, but then again even his setup might not have worked for his teammate Busch, whose crew chief, Adam Stevens, said it’s just a matter of making sure Busch is focused on the right things.
“We spend a lot of time during the week together and talking about what we’re up against and what everybody is up against, and at the end of the day we’re not racing packages, we’re racing other teams and other drivers,” Stevens said.
Stevens has been known to bark back at Busch on the radio to try to get him focused.
“You just don’t want to see him get to the point where the venting isn’t helping relieve the frustration and then he makes bad decisions,” Stevens said.
“A lot of times if he can just get it out and then you can refocus him, he’s probably better off than keeping it bottled up.”
Busch said he doesn’t do anything to try to get himself in a positive frame of mind when he knows the race possibly will frustrate him.
“Am I a positive person?” he said with a little bit of a laugh. “It’s rare.”