Strong contender: Kyle's year?
It really was interesting to me how the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway played out Sunday evening. For most of the evening, Kyle Busch seemed to have a car that was barely going to be able to stay in the top 10 of the race. This went on for the biggest portion of the night. When the checkered flag fell, however, it was the No. 18 car with Kyle behind the wheel taking home the trophy and the even bigger check.
In his post-race comments, Kyle said he felt this was a championship-run kind of race for them. As we all know, Kyle doesn’t go to the track to race second. He also said that his crew knows that he can get animated on the radio because he is always searching for perfection.
He and the team kept chipping away at it. They got some help from some drivers that fell by the wayside during the race like Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski. Actually, it seemed like leading the race was something like a hot potato.
The point, though, was that the No. 18 team didn’t quit. Kyle gave great feedback and the crew kept working on the car to make it better. Obviously, when it counted, they got the car where it needed to be for Kyle and he brought home his fourth win of the season with now only one race remaining before the Chase starts.
One thing that cannot be overlooked is the important role his pit crew played in crunch time. On the final pit stop, Kyle came in running third and went back out in first. Don’t forget this was the very same scenario that won them the Texas race earlier this year. Back in that event he was running second to Martin Truex Jr. but won the battle off pit road and ultimately the race.
It was clear Sunday night that the best place to be on restarts was either first or third. That outside line just couldn’t go, so your best chance was to always restart on the inside line. That’s not to take anything away from Kyle or crew chief Dave Rodgers, but the spotlight needs to shine on that pit crew.
Here’s something I bet very few fans realize: Kyle joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008. The same six guys that went over the wall then are the same six guys that go over the wall now for Kyle. That is so extremely rare in our sport. It shows the relationship, trust and chemistry that the driver, crew chief and pit crew all have in each other. That’s something pretty special.
With picking up his fourth win, Kyle also gains three additional bonus points for when the Chase contenders points are re-set following Richmond next Saturday night. This team has come a long way. Remember they didn’t even make the Chase last year. What’s ironic to that was how well they actually ran in those 10 Chase races last year.
I think this team is finally at a point where they can put together the success of the first twenty-six races of the regular season and combine that with great runs in the final ten races and finally make a strong run at the championship.