NASCAR Barometer: Kyle Busch Finally Scores 2020 Win

NASCAR Barometer: Kyle Busch Finally Scores 2020 Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

The NASCAR Cup Series drivers, teams and fans endured a multiday rain delay to finally see the finish of the 500-mile Texas Motor Speedway race that started Sunday and finished Wednesday night. For Kyle Busch, it was worth the wait. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver leveraged speed and pit strategy to come out on top and finally pull into Victory Lane for the first time since winning the championship last season at Homestead Miami Speedway. The win means he has won a race in each of the last 16 years of NASCAR Cup competition, but obviously comes too late to help him defend his 2019 title. The win was sweet redemption after enduring a tough 2020 being locked out of Victory Lane.

Busch's win had some impact to the playoff picture with just one race left for drivers to earn a spot in the championship finale. The biggest beneficiary of Busch's victory is arguably Kevin Harvick, who made early contact with the Texas wall and left Texas with a 16th-place finish. A nonplayoff contender win left him in a relatively comfortable points position. On the other side, it was probably most harmful to teammate Martin Truex Jr., who was assessed a 20-point penalty prior to the race. Truex finished second to Busch. Had he won, that penalty would have been erased and he would be in the finale. Instead, he is 40 points behind the cutline in sixth position in the standings ahead of this week's visit

The NASCAR Cup Series drivers, teams and fans endured a multiday rain delay to finally see the finish of the 500-mile Texas Motor Speedway race that started Sunday and finished Wednesday night. For Kyle Busch, it was worth the wait. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver leveraged speed and pit strategy to come out on top and finally pull into Victory Lane for the first time since winning the championship last season at Homestead Miami Speedway. The win means he has won a race in each of the last 16 years of NASCAR Cup competition, but obviously comes too late to help him defend his 2019 title. The win was sweet redemption after enduring a tough 2020 being locked out of Victory Lane.

Busch's win had some impact to the playoff picture with just one race left for drivers to earn a spot in the championship finale. The biggest beneficiary of Busch's victory is arguably Kevin Harvick, who made early contact with the Texas wall and left Texas with a 16th-place finish. A nonplayoff contender win left him in a relatively comfortable points position. On the other side, it was probably most harmful to teammate Martin Truex Jr., who was assessed a 20-point penalty prior to the race. Truex finished second to Busch. Had he won, that penalty would have been erased and he would be in the finale. Instead, he is 40 points behind the cutline in sixth position in the standings ahead of this week's visit to Martinsville.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch was able to stay in close enough contact with Martin Truex Jr. in the second stage that he capitalized on a brief fuel bobble from the No. 19 that gifted Busch the lead. That hiccup from Truex gifted Busch the go-ahead segment win in Wednesday's rain-delayed race. Busch then used a bit of strategy and a quick car to come out on top after late green-flag pit stops and then nursed his fuel load to the finish with the rest of the field in his mirrors. It was a long-awaited win from the defending champion who had already been bounced out of the championship battle this season. Busch has two Martinsville victories but finished 14th and 19th in his last two trips to the Virginia racetrack. Wins are all he is looking for in these last two races.

Clint Bowyer – After taking the lead prior to a multiday rain delay, Bowyer resumed racing at Texas in the lead and held onto that position to win the opening stage. The car was quick throughout the rest of the race, but Bowyer was unable to make the most of that speed for the finish after falling back under green-flag pit stops. His 17th-place finish was not representative of the pace he started the race with and will come with some disappointment. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver announced his retirement from full-time racing for a role in the announcers booth next season and he heads to one of his better circuits this week in Martinsville for one of those final two races. He won at the track in 2018 but only finished 17th there earlier this year after starting fourth.

Alex Bowman – Bowman has been distinguishing himself in the playoffs, and he continued that again in Texas. The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished fifth after the prolonged rain delay, which was his third top-five finish in the last five races and sixth top-10 since the playoffs began. He has 14 total top 10s in 2020 so far. That success has not put him in position to advance to the championship finale, however. He sits 31 points behind Brad Keselowski in the final championship spot and really needs to aim for the win this weekend. In nine Martinsville starts, he has two top-10 finishes. One of those is from earlier this season when he finished sixth. He has also never led a lap at the Virginia circuit, but could still be a reliable option for fantasy players this week.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski did not have a flashy race week at Texas, but he did the job he needed to do to help his chances of being part of the Championship 4. Keselowski started third last week and finished sixth. That was nothing spectacular. However, when so many of his championship rivals struggled with problems, those sixth-place points, coupled with a few stage points, leave him fourth in the playoff standings with a 30-point gap back to Chase Elliott in fifth position. If neither Elliott, Bowman, Truex nor Kurt Busch win this week in Martinsville, Keselowski should expect to have a relatively comfortable transfer into the Phoenix finale alongside teammate Joey Logano. Martinsville is a great circuit for him, though. He is the latest winner there after Truex and hasn't finished lower than 10th there since 2015.

DOWNGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick drifted up the racetrack and made early contact with the outside wall after being the fastest car in the early miles. The damage forced him to pit road and took away most of his early speed after returning to the track and upon the resumption of racing Wednesday evening. He rebounded quickly once racing resumed and managed to finish inside the top 10 in the second stage, but that pace left him as the race wore on. When all was said and done, the championship-favorite finished 16th in a race he probably could have won without the contact. Harvick has one Martinsville win and only managed a 15th-place finish there earlier this season. He does have five top-10s in the last six races at the track, however.

Martin Truex Jr. – The Texas race weekend did not start on a good note for Truex. NASCAR confiscated his rear spoiler, docked the team 20 points, suspended his crew chief and sent him to the back of the field for the start of the race. The penalty left Truex with a huge points gap to overcome to make the final four championship contenders in Phoenix. He quickly moved to the front, and ultimately finished second in the race, but he heads to Martinsville 31 points behind Brad Keselowski in the final spot of the Championship 4. Truex faces a must-win situation in Martinsville to keep his championship hopes alive. He won the last two races there, however. His championship may have suffered a big hit, but all is not lost, since he led nearly 600 laps in the last two Martinsville races.

Bubba Wallace – Action on the track at Texas had just barely resumed when Matt Kenseth lost control and tagged Bubba Wallace. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver was an innocent bystander and ended up exiting the race after waiting three days while rain consumed the circuit. Wallace now has just two races remaining to sign off from the No. 43 car on a high note before heading to his new team for 2021. While he has been known to perform well on short tracks, Martinsville hasn't produced a top-10 for him yet. In five series starts, his best finish at the Virginia oval came just this season when he finished 11th. His average finish in that span is 21.8. Wednesday's crash was a disappointment, and activity with his current team is winding down.

Chase Elliott – Elliott visited pit road twice in the second stage after experiencing a vibration due to severe tire wear after initially attempting a fuel-only stop to gain an advantage. As he left pit road without changing tires, he felt the issue and headed right back again to make the change. The misstep put him well behind the leaders and caused him to miss out on valuable stage points. As a result of the mistake, he also started behind for the final segment and finished the race 20th. Elliott has one more chance to make the breakthrough and gain entry into the championship decider this week at Martinsville Speedway. In 10 series starts he has five top-10 finishes with a runner-up finish last season. He was fifth at the track earlier this year.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson started last week's Texas race as a solid top-10 contender. Having previously announced his retirement from full-time competition at the end of the season it looked like another top-10 or top-five finish would be in the offing before he signed off to go IndyCar racing in 2021. Those expectations literally went up in smoke in the second stage, however. An engine failure put him out of the race and left him with a 36th-place finish. That was the second race in a row that the former champion finished worse than 30th, too. Those are not the results his current pace would warrant, nor are they how he hoped to finish his career in the series. There are still two races for him to turn that around, though. He finished 10th last time out at Martinsville, a track at which he has nine wins, and he led 70 laps earlier this season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Christopher Bell – Bell came on strongly toward the end of the rain-delayed race at Texas. In the final laps, he was solidly third and closing in on second-place. His third-place finish Wednesday night was his second top-five of the season and his second consecutive top-10. The finishes he has been able to secure with Leavine Family Racing have been impressive for a rookie. In fact, the races like he drove Wednesday have been enough to earn him a full-time ride with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2021. While Bell may not have yet visited Victory Lane like fellow rookie Cole Custer, he has done more than enough to prove he is a prospect for the future. This week's race at Martinsville may be a good chance to measure his progress this season. He finished just 28th there earlier this season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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