As the Onion Peels... And Its Impact on Kyle Busch
As I watched the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Awards ceremony, it was hard not to think back to the first trophy Kyle Busch was presented in Nashville. How can anyone forget his 2009 Xfinity Series win at the Nashville Speedway? The trophy that night was one of the coolest, most respected and coveted trophies in the sport-a Sam Bass custom designed Gibson Les Paul guitar.
Ten years have passed. A lot has gone on since that night. A lot has changed. A lot more change is to come.
With Seven-time Cup Champ Jimmie Johnson announcing that the 2020 season would be his final full-time Cup season, Frank Buhrman’s recent article entitled What’s the Right Age To Quit NASCAR and Thanksgiving Day passing of a long-time family friend I became a bit reflective while watching the show. Reflecting on things like life... work... racing.
A friend once tried to explain things to me with the following analogy. It was long before Forrest Gump’s mom gave the world hers. His went simply, “Life is like an onion. We start in the middle. Safe. Protected. No end in sight. But as time goes on, layer after layer gets peeled away. Before we know it, we can see through that outer layer. That’s where we are now. Too soon after, we are the outer layer.”
He didn’t have to finish... I got the picture.
I prefer Momma Gump’s “box of chocolates” life assessment to my friend’s onion, but unfortunately there is a lot of truth in his analogy. In life, I’ve had to say good-bye to too many friends. I’ve seen it at work as more folks around me are calling it a career.
That got me thinking about the NASCAR “onion”.
Truthfully, we see it in racing as well, most recently Jamie McMurray, David Ragan and Paul Menard stepping out from behind the wheel and Jimmie Johnson announcement for the 2020 season. The Jamie, Paul and David outside layer is peeled away, exiting with a total of ten career Cup wins.
That puts Johnson, age 43 on the new outside layer of the NASCAR onion. He has made it known that this “layer” will be pulled away next season. With it will go at a minimum seven Championships and 83 wins... maybe more, depending on how his final season goes.
It’s only natural to ask... who is next? And to take it a step further what impact will all this have on the sport and on the 2019 Cup Champion Kyle Busch?
When you look at that “onion”, there are at least four distinct “layers.” In the next “layer” you find Kevin Harvick, who like Johnson is 43, Ryan Newman 41, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch are 40. Martin Truex Jr. is 39 and Denny Hamlin is the baby at 38. Looking at that list, those drivers in this outer layer account for half of the 36 wins this season, with Truex winning 7, Hamlin 6, Harvick 4 and Kurt Busch 1. Three of the 2019 Championship Four came from this layer. This layer also includes the 2004, 2014 and 2017 Cup Champions.
Then there is a big gap before we find the next layer of Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola-35 and 2019 Cup Champion Kyle Busch and Michael McDowell are 34. This layer accounts for another eight wins, with Busch having five and Keselowski with the remaining three. This is the layer we find the 2004, 2014 and 2019 Champions.
There is another gap and the next “layer” starts with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. at 31 followed by “The Twenty-Somethings”, led by Joey Logano and Austin Dillon-29, Daniel Hemric-28, Daniel Suarez, Matt DiBenedetto, Ty Dillon, Corey Lajoie-27, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher-26, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace-25. This group accounts for five wins, with Logano taking two and Larson, Bowman and Blaney winning one each. The 2018 Cup Champion, Joey Logano is in this layer.
The inner “layer” of Chase Elliott, Erik Jones-23, William Byron-22 and Justin Haley-20 make up the final five wins of 2019, with Chase winning three, Erik and Justin getting one apiece. Elliott and Jones qualified
So going forward, what does it all mean? 2020 should look a lot like this season since it is the final year for this generation/iteration of the car. Yeah, Chevy brings a new body. Hopefully, Ford will get a better handle on things but unless things change, maybe drastically, it’s going to be hard to wrest control from Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.
That should suit the 2019 Champion just fine.
2021 has been promised to be a new game, new car, new schedule, bringing more competitive racing. It’s hard to see that change bringing any falloff in Kyle Busch’s future. He hates the current horsepower/aero “packages” used this season and yet went out and won the regular season championship, won five races, including the Miami-Homestead finale to give him the championship. He led the most laps for the season. If the 2021 car is any better, any more to his liking, it’s going to be scary to see what he does going forward.
So back to the onion. What happens when that next layer starts to peel off in maybe 2021, 2022 or 2023?
This season, that outer layer was Kyle Busch’s main competition. The only drivers to win more than Busch (5) came from this layer, Martin Truex, Jr. (7) and Denny Hamlin (6). Harvick (4) was on his heels. The closest driver to Busch in laps led was Martin Truex, Jr. who led 211 fewer laps than Busch’s 1582. Keep in mind that over 1/3 of Truex’s laps led came in a single race-Fall Martinsville. And even when Kyle hit his 21-race winless streak, only Martin Truex Jr. outran him, finished higher than him 19 races to 17. Denny tied him 18-18. Kevin lost to him 17-19 races.
So when they weren’t beating him to the Checkered Flag, they weren’t outrunning him for position either. And right now this group is his closest competition. What happens when this layer of the NASCAR “onion” is eventually peeled away? Who becomes his competition? Who fills the voids created?
Naturally, you would think it would come from those in the new outer “layer” Kyle’s “layer”. Of those, Brad Keselowski was the only one who is even close. But he won two fewer races, led a third fewer laps (and over 40% of those laps led coming at Spring Martinsville) and in 36 races he was outrun by Kyle 2 to 1.
On the surface, the next layer that includes 2018 Cup Champion, Joey Logano looks formidable. Upon closer review however, Kyle won the same number of races as the entire “layer” Logano-2, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson with 1 win apiece. You would have to add together the laps led by the top three in this “layer” - Logano (899), Larson (529) and Blaney (422) to exceed Kyle’s 1582 laps led this season. And in head to head competition, Logano was his closest competitor, outrunning him 14 out of 36 races, followed by Larson (12), Aric Almirola (10), Bowman (9), Blaney (8), Austin Dillon, Daniel Hemric and Daniel Suarez (7).
The inner layer of Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, William Byron and Justin Haley showed some promise as together they produced the same number of wins as Kyle-Chase (3), Erik and Justin one each. However, the entire group-Elliott (601), Byron (233), Jones (172) and Haley (1) led less than 2/3 of the laps Busch did. Head to head found Elliott finished ahead of Kyle 11 times, Byron 10, Jones 8. So this layer has some work to go before they become the challenge.
As they say, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but if this season is any indication, as we go forward and as the outer, most competitive layer eventually gets peeled away, the future only looks to get brighter for the #18.
Editor’s note: This article was written before the banquet but held until afterwards in case anything changed on Thursday night.
Remember this Thursday night when NASCAR presents the Championship trophy. A lot has changed over the last decade since Kyle Busch was presented with his first trophy in Nashville shown above. Many “layers” have been stripped away since that night. Layers that included -
Gordon 93 wins, 4 Cup Championships
Tony Stewart 49, 2 Cup Championship
Bill Elliott 44, 1 Cup Championship
Mark Martin 40
Matt Kenseth 39, 1 Cup Championship
Carl Edwards 28
Dale Earnhardt, Jr 26
Terry Labonte 22, 2 Cup Championship
Bobby Labonte 21, 1 Cup Championship
Jeff Burton 21
Greg Biffle 19
Kasey Kahne 18
Jamie McMurray 7
Jeremy Mayfield 5
Michael Waltrip 4
Elliott Sadler 3
Robby Gordon 3
Brian Vickers 3
David Ragan 2
David Reutimann 2
Juan Pablo Montoya 2
Marcos Ambrose. 2
John Andretti 2
Paul Menard 1
Scott Riggs 0
Sam Hornish, Jr. 0
David Stremme 0
Scott Speed 0
Travis Kvapil 0
After that night in Nashville, as those layers were stripped off, Kyle Busch added the following to his record - 41 Cup wins. 5 Straight Championship Four appearances. 2 Cup Championships. No more Trophies destroyed.
As time goes on and the NASCAR “onion” gets peeled over the next decade or so, chances look good that what we saw Thursday night is a sight that will be seen again and again and possibly again, much to the delight of Rowdy Nation, before the inner “layers” rise up to challenge or Kyle’s “layer” is finally peeled away.
For the rest, unfortunately, they’ll be getting what you always get when you mess with an onion... lots of tears.
Congratulations Kyle Busch 2019 MENCS Regular Season and Playoff Champion.