Editor’s note: In advance of February’s Daytona 500, our in-house NASCAR aficionado Mike V has been previewing drivers he predicts will emerge as the primary contenders for this year’s Cup Championship. In the previous edition, he caught us up on the charismatic North Carolinian Ryan Blaney. Here he acquaints us with one of racing’s great antiheroes.
Last week, I told you about a young driver who is as savvy behind a microphone as he is behind the wheel. This week’s driver, however, couldn’t be more different.
Kyle Busch can be best described off the track as salty, ornery, grouchy, cantankerous, dyspeptic, and often downright mean. It’s earned him a reputation that often results in a stadium full of boos during pre-race driver introductions. In front of a camera, he’s akin to a wrestling heel, always happy to voice his displeasure with any number of elements that don’t go his way before, during, and after a race. He’s thrown punches
, he’s been punched, he’s called other drivers out for racing dirty, he’s called other drivers out for beating him clean. His barbs are sharp and his claws come out often, and unless he is the one performing the requisite post-race victory lap burnouts, he’s always visibly angry.
Which is, many argue, what makes him one of racing’s most ferocious competitors. Kyle Busch is the type of athlete who hates losing almost as much as he loves winning. He cares not for second place, top-five finishes or a good day from a points-earned perspective. He cares not to be the driver who leads the most laps in a race if those laps don’t include the last one. He drives his car on the absolute razor’s edge of its capability and has performed moves and executed saves
that you’d only see elsewhere in Days of Thunder
or somewhere in the Fast and Furious
franchise. He’s a bulldog of a driver who prefers to drive out front as often as possible, gobbling up all of the track’s clean air and finding his best lines as the laps wear on.
It is that sense of first place or last being the only two ways to finish that often causes Kyle Busch his most damning moments on the track. Often he’ll push his car just a little too hard or try to squeeze through an opening just a little too small, resulting in a less-than-checkers finish at best or a wrecked 18 car at worst.
Each of the last three seasons have ended with Busch racing for the chance to win a Cup Championship, a feat he accomplished in 2015. This year will be no different, and we will, much to the chagrin of Busch’s legions of detractors, see the 18 car racing for a Championship at Homestead-Miami for the fourth consecutive year.
Rowdy, as he’s affectionately known among his fanbase for his hell-on-wheels approach inside the cockpit and his take-no-BS attitude outside of it, will have a season on par with his recent output. He’ll lead boatloads of regular season laps, notch plenty of stage wins, and take home at least four checkered flags. He’ll be locked in to a playoff spot early in the season but will still race every Sunday like his seat is on fire.
Once the playoffs kick off, The Candyman (as he’s also affectionately known thanks to his years driving the M&Ms car) will be able to coast through the first two rounds, having racked up enough points via the regular season’s stage wins. He’s a lock at least for the round of eight.
Whether he advances past that will depend on how well he can keep the nose of his car clean and how many of those final races he can close out in front. I think that will be of little issue this year and once the Homestead race arrives and the final four are locked in, we’ll see Kyle Busch—aka Rowdy, aka The Candyman, aka a lot of unprintable names that his haters will call him over the course of the season—racing for the Cup for the fourth straight year.