Most NASCAR Cup Series drivers would love to have the 2020 season Kyle Busch is having, but that just doesn’t work for Kyle Busch. Sure, 12 top fives in 29 races — including four runner-up finishes — would be a wonderful season for many. But when you’ve won at least one race every year since 2005, not having any wins this late in the season is a strange situation for to be in.
For the first time in recent history, Busch will have to come from behind if he’s to win and successfully defend his Cup Series championship. Even in the 2015 season where he came back from a broken right leg and broken left foot to win the title, Kyle won four races in the regular season to put himself in the points lead come playoff time.
This season, due to a lack of wins, Busch will need to either win or make up nearly 60 points per round in order to get to the top of the standings. Sure he can win, but that’s a tall task considering Kyle is in the midst of a career-high drought of one win in his last 51 races. That being said, Busch should always be considered as someone who’s never out because that one win was his 2019 title win at Homestead.
Kyle Busch is like the New England Patriots. Not only does he have his fans and his haters, but he’s also someone who always finds a way to win even if it looks like he’s down and out. In other words, doubt Kyle Busch at your own peril because once you look past him, he’ll make you pay.
The Comeback spoke to Kyle Busch about his 2020 season as the NASCAR Cup Series heads back to his home track in Las Vegas to start the Round of 8 of the NASCAR playoffs. We also discussed Busch taking part in iRacing, owning Rowdy Energy, and watching his five-year-old son Brexton recently try racing.
Phillip Bupp: Now, that you’ve had some time to reflect, despite finishing second, how important was that Bristol finish in terms of the rest to play offs?
Kyle Busch: It didn’t really do anything for us. The only thing we got out of it was one stage point, which helps by one. That’s about it. Obviously, being able to win would have helped by five. That would’ve shot us up to, I think, eighth in the standing, seventh or eighth in the standings.
So that would have certainly been a bit more helpful, but it gained us some optimism of how we were able to run in that race. That’s the best we were able to run all year, I feel like. Being able to drive up through the field, drive up to the front, lead laps, but that’s Kyle Busch at Bristol. So take it with a grain of salt.
PB: Many still feel you are a contender. And some drivers, if they had the choice, wouldn’t want to compete against you at Phoenix. Is that respect justified given you are the defending champ? And is that something you can use to try to psych some drivers out, that you’re always going to be someone they keep an eye on each week?
Busch: Yeah. Certainly, when you have the statistics and the accolades that I do, and the way that we’re able to carry ourselves as a race team with the M&M’s 18 Camry every week at the racetrack, we’re always supposed to be a force to be reckoned with.
So nobody’s ever supposed to take us lightly. So that would certainly bode well for us through the playoffs, but we just haven’t really shown it this year. So we’re still working on being able to show that charisma and that strength that we’re used to in order to really put these guys on their back.
PB: You’re racing from behind for the first time in this current [playoff] structure, in regards to playoff points. The current system allows for a “win and advance” scenario. And you’ve remarked about Tony Stewart going winless and winning five in the playoffs to win the  championship. Has this changed your mentality for the playoffs this year compared to past years when you had a bunch of playoff points?
Busch: Yeah, it certainly has for sure. I said it last year when we were at Las Vegas and we were running forwards and then had a bad finish because of a lapped car, we did have insurance. With all those points that you’re able to acquire and get through the first part of the year, that builds your insurance policy for the playoffs. And when you have to use those insurance points, you don’t always want to have to use them. But they’re there if you need them. And this year, there’s no such thing.
I didn’t pay my premiums this year, apparently. So I don’t have insurance. So we’ve got to be able to go out there and succeed in every single one of these races. And whether it’s… Well, it is. The fact of the matter is that it’s running top five every single race in order to transfer through to be one of those guys that gets to the round of 12, or that gets to the round of eight. And when you’re in the round of eight, you better be a guy that wins. Because the top four guys are so far ahead on points that they have an easy way to point their way through to that final championship race at Phoenix.
PB: Oh yeah. You can get away with good finishes in the first round, maybe the second round. But once you get to the eight, trying to get those last four spots, it really does have to do with wins.
Busch: Correct. No question.
PB: Now, you’re coming back home this weekend, racing in Vegas. Obviously, it’s going to be different from past Vegas races because of no fans and social distancing. Regardless, will going back to Vegas still be special for you? And can that be the place to kick start some winning momentum?
Busch: Hopefully so. But we’ve run well at Kansas and Texas earlier this year. We had some pretty good races going there. Those are similar mile and a half’s. Definitely not the same, but similar. So I feel like if we’re able to do some of the same things that we did in those races, maybe we have a good shot to be able to run up front, and try to race for a win. But statistics and realisticness shows that we’re a fifth to eighth place car on our good days when we go to Vegas. So if that’s what we have to strive for right now, then that’s what we strive for right now. But we’ll see once the race starts and we’re out there and we’re going.
PB: For sure. I wanted to touch on some off-the-track things you’ve been a part of. It seems so long ago that we had televised iRacing, and you took part. How was that experience like?
Busch: It was good. It was definitely interesting. It was fun. I haven’t done it in such a long time. iRacing when I was a kid was essentially the NASCAR racing 1998, 1999, whatever those games were. That’s what I was playing. So-
PB: Me, too.
Busch: The technology of that system has come so far. And it’s really interesting, and it’s pretty fun, too, if you can get the hang of it. And you’re racing against guys that are all across the country and are super good at it. So it can definitely be frustrating at times. But at the same time, it can be a tool if you know how to use it.
PB: Well, the good thing about iRacing is it showed me, in a way, how you’re driven on the track. At the beginning [of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series], you maybe weren’t as great at first in getting it together, but you improved over time. And some of that’s like how you are at the track. I know you’re very big on studying other drivers, asking questions, studying film. And whether it’s doing iRacing or the Rolex 24 or driving a Cup car, you have that mentality of wanting to be better, and striving to be better. And it really showed during those weeks that they were broadcasting iRacing.
Busch: Yeah. No, no question. I think always improving is definitely a good thing. So when I did start, yeah. I was a bit rusty. Hadn’t done it ever, really, since I was 13 and was able to continue to get into it, and ingrain your way into the system of being able to understand what the pedals are doing and all that. Because it’s very different. It’s definitely not the same as real life. So you’re using it to try to figure out what you can do to make yourself better, and get more accustomed to what you’re feeling.
PB: Now, you’ve been involved with your own energy drink, Rowdy Energy. You’ve been selling cans of Rowdy Energy since the beginning of the year and you have six flavors right now. How important is it to diversify and get into various business ventures that you’re passionate in, especially when it comes to looking into the future at a post-driving career?
Busch: Yeah, that’s the name of the game right there. Is, obviously, just trying to figure out what we’re doing, and what’s going to happen once we get to post-driving. And, obviously, it makes sense to start it now and get going, and pushing it out there. And having, 10, 12 years, however long I continue to drive for, to build the brand and push it out there, and get it rolling and making it big.
And then, hopefully, whether one day it sales or whether one day I just keep it going and keep it in the family, we’ll see. But it’s an interesting process, and it’s definitely a business. It’s a real thing. So it’s hard to do, and it’s not always easy, but you got to push. And the harder you work, the more results you’ll see.
PB: Last, but not least. I saw your son, Brexton, is getting into racing, and even has his own sponsor now. What’s it like for you as a parent to see Brexton out there, having the same thrill you’re having out on the track?
Busch: Yeah, it’s cool. It’s really fun to watch him as a five-year-old and see the world through a five-year-old’s eyes of what’s going on in his mind, and how he likes to go to the racetrack and have friends and play around at the track. And get in his car and go race and stuff like that. But we’ve been working on him, and trying to teach him about the lines. And where to pick up the gas and let off the gas. And how to go faster, and he’s done good. He’s definitely pretty fast when we go to the test sessions. He’ll run a 13.0. And just this past week, if he would’ve qualified at a 13.0, he would’ve been first in qualifying.
PB: Oh wow.
Busch: But every time we show up to the track for the race, he always slows down a second. So [laughter] it gets a little aggravating as the dad when you’re like, “Man, I know you can do it. Go out there and to do it.” And he’s just not there yet. He’s having fun. I don’t think that the drive and the fire and the passion is quite there yet. So we’ll work on that. We’ll give him time to figure out if this is what he wants to do.
PB: Nice. Are you finding yourself as wanting to be more hands-on, and wanting to coach him all the time? Or be more behind the scenes, and let him go out and figure it out himself, and then give a nice steady hand to keep him on the right track?
Busch: Well, it’s both. You definitely don’t want him to go out there and not know what to do, or not be able to think what he’s supposed to do. You want to give him ideas and ingrain things in his mind that are the right things. So he does the right things from the start. And then by doing that, as you go, you’ll just get better at being able to do the right things. And refine your skills in order to be faster and a winner once it gets to that point. But it’s going to take a little while to get to that point, I guess. And everybody keeps telling me, “He’s only five-years-old. Let him have fun.” And I’m like, “Okay. Well, he can have fun, too, but I got to be able to teach him also.”
PB: Oh, yeah. Final question. I know we’re a long way away from this scenario, but if it happens that you and Brexton someday race together in the Cup Series, if he’s leading, and you’re in second with a chance to win, are you passing him for the victory?
Busch: [Immediately] Oh yeah.
Yeah. No. I don’t know if we’ll ever race in the Cup Series together, but I have a feeling we’ll probably race together in super late models or something like that. So you never know. Don’t ever say never. But it’ll be fun to see one of these days if this is the path that he continues to do.