Dr. Diandra: Three reasons Kyle Busch will thrive in 2023
Kyle Busch ended his 15-year relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2022. The 2023 season brings a new owner in Richard Childress, along with a new crew chief and a new manufacturer.
Busch expects to be successful with RCR out of the gate. Three pieces of data support the expectation that Busch will thrive in 2023.
But there’s also one caveat.
Reason one: The Next Gen car didn’t cause Busch’s bad 2022 season
There is no debating that Kyle Busch had a disappointing 2022 season.
- He posted his highest average finish (16.7) since 2014.
- He had the most DNFs in a season (7) since 2005.
- He finished 13th for the season, tying his lowest finish since 2012.
- He had more top-five finishes in 2015 when he ran only 25 of the 36 races than he did in 2022.
But Busch’s decline started in 2020.
- Busch won five races in 2019, more than the next three years combined.
- His average finish of 13.8 in 2020 was his worst since 2014.
- Busch didn’t finish a season between 2015-19 ranked lower than fourth, including two championships. He hasn’t ranked higher than eighth in the last three years.
Excluding DNFs — more on why in a moment — Busch’s finishing averages are not that different from 2021. The table below breaks out average finishes by track type.
Busch was similar or better in all categories except road courses and the three “other” tracks.
“Other” tracks — large tracks that are neither superspeedways nor road courses — are Busch’s second-best track type, with a career win rate of 10.1%. In 2022, he crashed at Michigan and was disqualified at Pocono.
Reason two: Many of Busch’s 2022 problems were not his fault
I excluded DNFs in the above analysis because they reflect on both driver and team. You might blame a driver for causing a crash, but it’s not the driver’s fault if the car gives out.
Busch had two engine failures. Both were in the first round of the playoffs while running at or near the front. He was leading at Darlington and in the top five at Bristol. He also started from the back twice due to engine changes.
A piece of tape wiped out a second-place Pocono finish when NASCAR disqualified Busch and teammate Denny Hamlin. Busch’s car overheated at Fontana.
Toyota teams took longer to come up to speed with the Next Gen car. For example, Christopher Bell had the best average finishing position at road courses (11.5, including one win) among JGR teams. But second-best Martin Truex Jr. had an average finish of only 17.8 and a high finish of seventh.
Busch does have to take responsibility for leading the series in spins; however, the number of spins in 2022 was three times the total in 2021, so he wasn’t alone there.
Reason three: Busch is a good match with RCR
Although Richard Childress Racing has an amazing legacy, none of its drivers has finished a season in the top 10 since Ryan Newman in 2014. Before 2022, they posted just four wins in eight years.
But RCR earned four wins in 2022, anchored by Tyler Reddick’s three checkered flags. Although Busch won only one race, he outperformed Reddick in all but road course and the “other” category of track.
Reddick, who will race for 23XI in 2023, won two road courses and finished top eight in five of the six road courses in 2022. RCR knows how to build and set up road course cars.
Busch has a career win rate of 8.5% at road courses, third highest among track types for him. Look for Busch to return to form in road courses in 2023.
Busch’s perennial weakness is superspeedways. His career average finishing position is 20.0 with a 2.74% win rate. Superspeedway performance is even more important going forward given six superspeedway-type races per season.
RCR’s strength is superspeedways. Busch’s new teammate Austin Dillon has a 5.0% career win rate at superspeedways.
Personality and culture collisions can torpedo driver-crew relationships, especially when the team isn’t winning.
Busch typically is not patient when things aren’t going the way he wants them. Crew chief Randall Burnett’s challenge will be managing the driver as much as the car. Burnett seems to understand this, but beginnings are often filled with friction.
If Busch and his new team can overcome the pitfalls of a new partnership, look for him to have a much better 2023 season.