Not many expected Kyle Busch and Richard Childress Racing to be a threat during their first season together.
And the assumption wasn’t because Busch was a lackluster driver, or RCR didn’t have the capability to contend. It was simply a case of grace, as it’s not unusual to see new team-driver pairings struggle to find a rhythm.
Not even Busch thought it would happen the way it did.
“I would not have expected as good as we fired off — almost winning the Clash, almost winning the Daytona 500 and winning Fontana (Auto Club Speedway). I felt like that was a really, really good kick in the pants,” Busch said.
Busch also triumphed at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Illinois’ World Wide Technology Raceway to bolster his season record.
With an average finish of 12.6 since the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs began, the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet has weaseled into the Round of 12, which commences Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I think the Round of 16, a lot of people had us out. And so, the Round of 12, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more that will probably have us out,” Busch said.
However, the 38-year-old has easily shrugged off the external doubt. After spending 15 years competing for Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch is no stranger to feeling pressure to perform.
“As a JGR or an HMS (Hendrick Motorsports) guy, you’re expected to transfer through — make it through and be in contention for the final four spots,” Busch explained.
The expectation may be different at RCR, as they haven’t won a Cup Series championship since 1994, but it makes no difference when it comes to the standard Busch holds himself to.
The two-time Cup Series champion is hoping to keep his path to the Championship Four as uncomplicated as possible.
“Honestly, it’s just as simple as winning at Texas (Motor Speedway) and winning at Las Vegas (Motor Speedway) and you’re going to Phoenix (Raceway), you know what I mean. That’s all we can really focus on right now — what’s in front of us and this weekend is Texas,” Busch said.
The No. 8 Chevrolet is ranked sixth in the playoff standings, 17 points behind leader William Byron and eight points above the cutline.
“I would like to think that with normal races, normal circumstances, we can make it through this round,” Busch said. “There’s just so many variables and difference that you really don’t control your own destiny with this car as much as you used to. And so, I think it’s a lot more equal, there’s a lot more parity.
“So when you do get drug down, it’s hard to make your way back up that ladder and it’s getting increasingly more difficult as guys figure this thing out.”
Busch will start seventh in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive 400.