Kyle Busch faces a challenge to reach the championship race for a record-extending sixth consecutive year and win back-to-back titles.
No Cup driver winless at the end of July has made it to the championship race since stages were introduced in 2017.
Since the playoffs began in 2014, two drivers winless after July advanced to the title race. Neither won the championship.
Busch heads into August without a Cup victory this season.
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NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty said on this week’s “Splash and Go” that Busch is someone who could still challenge for the title despite not winning a race to this point.
“Kyle Busch, that we haven’t heard from, that we haven’t heard from all year long, may get hot, and we all know that Cup racing can come and go,” Petty said. “Hot streaks. Cold streaks. Hot streaks. Cold streaks. Kyle is in a cold streak. When he gets hot, everybody better watch out because as cold as he is, when he gets hot, he’s going to melt a racetrack. He’s going to burn it down.”
Busch has three runner-up finishes this season. He also has eight top-five results but only one such finish in the last five races.
Busch is one of four former Cup champs winless at this point of the year.
Former champs Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth also do not have a Cup victory this season. Of those four, only Kyle and Kurt Busch are in a playoff spot heading into Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Busch has two wins at New Hampshire since 2015 and has six top-10 finishes in the last eight races there.
“It’s definitely a challenging racetrack – not one of my best racetracks, I’ll admit that,” Busch said in a media release this week. “I’ve won there twice so, if we get a good car – I guess I’ll need to have a really good car, apparently – then we might have a shot to win there.”
New Hampshire is one of seven races remaining in the regular season before the 16-driver playoff field is set. Between New Hampshire and the playoffs are doubleheader weekends at Michigan and Dover, the inaugural Cup race on Daytona’s road course and the regular-season finale on Daytona’s oval.
Advancing deep into the playoffs and reaching the title race in Phoenix could prove difficult for Kyle Busch and other former champions if they don’t score more playoff points by winning stages or races. The Busch brothers and Jimmie Johnson have one playoff point each. Kenseth has none.
With so few playoff points, those drivers would have little margin for error in the playoffs to advance provided they did not win in the postseason.
Combined, the Busch brothers, Johnson and Kenseth have won three of the last 20 playoff races. All three of those wins were by Kyle Busch, including last year’s title race in Miami.
Kenseth’s last win in the playoffs came in 2017. Johnson’s last playoff win came in 2016. Kurt Busch’s last victory in the playoffs was in 2011.
Ryan Newman (2014) and Jeff Gordon (2015) are the only drivers who were winless after July to advance to the championship race. Newman finished second to Kevin Harvick for the series crown.
“It does become more difficult as you get to this point in the season if you haven’t been successful to play catch-up,” Newman said. “It doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I do believe that the math is there to do what we did in 2014. Now keep in mind, we did that with quite a bit of drama among the rest of our peers to get to that point. There was some crashing, there was some fighting and a little bit of laying low and playing it safe that helped progress us to that point to where we were in the final four.”