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NASCAR Season Preview: Kyle Busch

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#18 M&M’s/Interstate Batteries Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

Born: May 2, 1985

Home: Las Vegas, Nevada

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Now married, the man they call “Rowdy” started off the season with a lot less to say, as people wondered whether or not he’d finally cleaned up his act. He became the first driver to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after winning at Michigan in August. He would finish the season with four wins and rank 12th in points. In the Nationwide Series, he took his 50th career win at Bristol in August, setting a new series record.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Deliberate retaliation against Ron Hornaday in a November Truck Series race at Texas, under caution no less, landed Busch on NASCAR’s naughty list once again. He was parked for that weekend’s Sprint Cup race, all but ensuring that he would bring up the rear of the Chase. Sponsor M&M’s bailed on Busch at the Sprint Cup level for the last two races of the season, and he almost beat brother Kurt to getting fired. And that’s not to mention the incidents with Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress, the time he got caught speeding in the Lexus…

SEASON OUTLOOK: The fun of racing in all three of NASCAR’s major series is over for Busch. After last season’s November meltdown, Busch won’t be driving for his own Camping World Truck Series team anymore, handing over the reins to Jason Leffler. He also won’t represent Joe Gibbs Racing at the Nationwide level anymore, instead moving his Kyle Busch Motorsports up and competing for the owners’ title while splitting the ride with brother Kurt.

That being said, these things all hurt the presumption that Busch is primarily a Sprint Cup driver, which is what he needs to be. It’s pretty clear that Gibbs is on his last nerve with Busch, whose driving talent is all too frequently overshadowed by late-season faltering and support series meltdowns. It’s highly unlikely that Gibbs will ever can his star driver for on-track performance – he’s just too good – but one more incident against Mars Inc.’s wishes will have Busch looking for a new job, just like his brother Kurt was this offseason. He’d better grow up, and fast.

– Chris Leone

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