Kyle Busch overcomes struggles on and off the track for victory at Kansas
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
Kyle Busch no doubt ranks as one of the most polarizing drivers in NASCAR.
The two-time Cup champion earns wins in not only the sport’s top circuit, but he also dabbles in the two top development circuits because he loves to race, he believes it can help him on Sundays, and for the truck team he operates, he can generate sponsorship, as well as assess his team’s equipment.
Busch is often surly after he loses – it doesn’t matter which series – and he can be brash when he wins.
Given all of that, no one thinks Busch’s victory Sunday at Kansas Speedway will win over a bunch of haters, despite the two-time Cup champion coming off a one-win 2020 season in which he was eliminated in the quarterfinal round and went through an emotional roller coaster outside the race car.
Busch will continue to be himself, now a 36-year-old who celebrated his birthday Sunday at Kansas with a victory, the 58th of his career, tying him with Kevin Harvick on the all-time list. Busch’s wife, Samantha, wasn’t with him, as this triumph came days after they found out that Samantha’s pregnancy will end soon.
The couple have struggled with infertility for several years, and their Bundle of Joy Fund covers in vitro fertilization costs for several couples each year. Kyle and Samantha were successful with the procedure nearly six years ago, with the birth of their son, Brexton, but they have been unable to have another child.
Samantha wrote a book about her challenges and has documented their journey on social media.
"It's crazy when you can do everything you think is the right way to do it, and the doctors tell you everything is great, and everything is the way it needs to be, and it looks amazing, and it just doesn't work," Kyle said. "It's like, well, ‘Why?’
"Obviously, there's a greater factor that's involved that just isn't favoring us yet."
Busch never considered not racing at Kansas and swept the weekend, winning the truck race Saturday. Samantha went racing with Brexton, who is competing in cars designed for kids.
"For all the struggles that we have had so far, the biggest thing we don’t take for granted for sure is Brexton and the miracle in him and it working for him," Kyle said.
"That’s really special for us. We want to have everything as enjoyable as we can for him and his life. If we can’t bring a baby sister into this world, then he will be an only child, and he will always wonder why, but it’s definitely not due to lack of effort. That’s for sure."
In some ways, it seems silly to even talk or ask or write about racing after hearing Busch talk about his family's struggles.
But the racer, the athlete mentality that allows him to focus amid the desire to win and hating to lose makes transitioning to the topic of how he is doing on the track seem quite natural.
"I know every time he straps into a car that he's giving 100 percent, so I don't ever feel like he's off a beat because of other stuff going on outside the track," crew chief Ben Beshore said.
"This is his main focus. He's always locked in every week. I don't feel like that's really been a distraction. Maybe it's been a motivation to him. I'm not sure."
Beshore took over as Busch’s crew chief in the offseason, as Busch thought his cars weren’t as strong as they needed to be with no practice or qualifying, and he had great trust in his former Cup engineer and Xfinity crew chief.
Crew chiefs don’t last long with Busch if they don’t win, so Beshore knew he needed to earn a victory.
"I’m extremely excited, especially for my team to be able to come out here and grab a win and lock ourselves in the playoffs ... [but we feel] relief at the same time to prove that we can do it, that we have the speed in the cars, and we can go out there and do it," Beshore said.
"We weren't as good as [Kyle Larson on Sunday at Kansas], but we were there at the end, and Kyle didn't make any mistakes and had some great restarts and was able to pull it out."
Team co-owner Coy Gibbs mentioned after the race that "[Busch] and Ben are clicking, so we're looking for a lot more."
That's the way it's supposed to go, right? Win one, and then rattle off several others.
But it hasn’t worked like that for Busch since the middle of 2019. He won the championship that year — but only because he won the final race while snapping a 21-race winless streak.
He then muddled through a miserable, 33-race winless streak to open 2020 before he won at Texas. He snapped another 12-race winless streak Sunday.
"We still have a little bit to gain, especially at the 750 [horsepower short] tracks," Busch said. "I wouldn't say that we're the best or where we need to be on that stuff. We have definitely gained a ton of ground on the 550 [horsepower bigger track] package, so I feel really good about that.
"That was definitely a push through the offseason and what we learned late last year in order to get ready for this year."
A day before winning Sunday, Busch said he thought the team needed to run more consistently in the top-5 before feeling it could win consistently.
"We've got some ideas of what we need to do to work on," he said.
Busch always has ideas. He has great knowledge of race cars. And his competitive drive and talent often make him believe he can do great things if he can get his car just good enough for his skills to take over. Typically, he is right.
"It’s hard sometimes," Busch said. "When you go through the lows, you go through the disappointment, you go through the dejection and the non-understanding of just whether or not you can still do it.
"There’s a sense of doubt there for sure. You just have to keep persevering, keep digging and putting your focus forward to be able to come out here and win this thing."
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Thinking Out Loud
NASCAR decided Sunday to not throw the caution for a tire that sat in the grass that separates the racing surface from pit road for 15 laps. It seemed a little long for NASCAR to wait. NASCAR wanted to wait for everyone to pit because those who were holding out for the caution would have gained an advantage.
While NASCAR has shown a willingness to wait for the green-flag pit cycle to be completed, it typically doesn’t take 15 laps for that to happen. Was it a huge safety issue? No. But was it a safety issue? Yes.
Is 15 laps an acceptable time to throw the caution? That’s the biggest question. Ask 10 people, and there might be 10 different opinions. And it might change with each situation. The same arguments are made when NASCAR doesn’t throw the caution on the final lap so a race can end under green, even though it might throw the caution in the same circumstances earlier in the race.
With as fast as the cars go at Kansas and the wrecks that have occurred there, my finger would have flipped the caution light in this instance after only a couple of laps.
Stat of Note
Kyle Busch’s 17 consecutive seasons with a win ties David Pearson for second all time, and he sits only one spot behind Richard Petty’s record of 18 consecutive seasons with a win.
They Said It
"I've always told Kevin Harvick he's one of the biggest Kyle Busch fans because he wears my name on him every single week, so it was nice to beat him today." -- Kyle Busch
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!