MIAMI, FL.—Kyle Busch didn’t enter the 2019 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the favorite—sentimental or otherwise—entering the Championship 4 Round.
He didn’t have the momentum, the winningest record or the best track average. Ultimately, none of that mattered. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota performed best when it mattered most and left with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship.
Clearly, the moral of the story is: Don’t bet against Kyle Busch.
“Everybody always says you never give up, and we’re no different,” Busch said. “We just do what we can do each and every week and sometimes we may not be the best and sometimes we may not have the right track position. We had a really good car, and I could race around and move around.
“That’s what’s so special about Homestead-Miami Speedway – is the ability to put on a show. Kind of like we did there racing those guys. It was exciting from my seat. It was a lot of fun to cap off such an amazing year.”
As Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens was quick to point out, the number of wins a team has over the first 35 races simply doesn't matter.
“When you don't win, it's frustrating,” Adam said. “There's not a number of wins that makes your season successful. What makes your season successful is winning the championship. Unless you win every single race, you left something on the table because we have the tools at our disposal to go out and win on any given weekend.”
Busch scored a respectable four victories prior to the Playoffs. He had a 21-race losing streak entering Homestead. The No. 18 team’s quest to the title was similar to their 2015 run, where Busch had not won in 15 races prior to the season finale.
“Aside from the broken leg, obviously,” Steven said. “But in 2015, Kyle came back, we got off to a pretty hot start, won a few races, we won Indy, and then we didn't win again until we got to Homestead. But we weren't running poorly. We were competitive. We were leading laps. We were toward the front. And it takes a lot of things to go your way to win a race. One of those things that has to go your way is you can't make any mistakes.
“This year it was kind of similar. We won some races early. We tied the record for a top-10 streak or something I'm told early in the year and had a couple races get away from us. But it wasn't because we weren't fast. It wasn't because we weren't prepared. They just didn't go our way. And there were some things that we could have done better and some circumstances that happened. It's just the way that racing is.”
Busch didn’t enjoy a sexy run through the post-season, but with the stage and playoff points he accumulated over the first 26 races, there was very little for the No. 18 to worry about.
“We had to claw our way through the rounds, and we got in by virtue of points, which we've done three out of the five times we've made it,” Stevens added. “You know, it's about showing up and being your best when it matters the most, and (on Sunday) it mattered the most.”
Certainly, Busch benefitted from the other Championship 4 contenders misfortunes in the Ford EcoBoost 400. But there’s no discounting the relationship Busch has developed with Stevens over the last five seasons together. In 169 starts with Stevens, Busch has amassed two titles, 27 of his 56-career wins and 16 of his 32 poles.
“Kyle and I felt like it was going to take a near perfect night to come out here and win,” Stevens said. “We expressed those views to the pit crew and to each other and to the team. It's a Game 7 situation, and you can't afford to be back on your heels or holding back. You have to run the race that's in front of you and judge off of what's the circumstances that everybody else is having.
“It's just a tremendous belief in each other that I know even through his worst day that he's doing everything he can do as a human. We're all human, and we all make mistakes, but it's just a tremendous belief in each other, I think, and that trickles down to the rest of the team.”