KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The near-misses that have plagued Kyle Busch all season would have eaten away at him earlier in his career, when he was less secure not only of his driving ability but of himself.
He would stew and rage and carry the angst from track to track.
But a lot has happened in a few short years: He sustained serious injuries during a 2015 crash at Daytona, returned that season to win his first Cup championship and along the way watched his wife give birth to a baby boy after they spent years struggling to conceive.
“You put things into a different perspective,” Samantha Busch explained, “so a bad day at the track might have stuck with you ’til Tuesday, but now you go back to the bus and you have Brexton and you’re so blissfully unaware of everything going on, and he’s still so happy. And it makes things easier for Kyle when things don’t go the right way.”
Samantha paused, then added: “But on the track he’s still Kyle. He’s always going for the win.”
He thought he had it last weekend at Talladega.
Busch led a race-high 48 laps and thought he was positioned to win for the first time this season, only for everything to unravel in overtime. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. roared past him for the win on the last lap, and Jamie McMurray managed to get by to relegate Busch to third.
It was another solid finish. It was also another frustrating one.
“We just weren’t in the right place at the right time, I guess. I thought we were,” Busch said Thursday afternoon at Kansas Speedway, where he’s the defending champion of the spring race.
“We legitimately had a shot to win five races this year, in my mind,” he said. “We’ve been in a position or had a shot to win five different times this year and we just haven’t been able to close the deal. That’s the most frustrating thing for us. We haven’t been able to get to victory lane.”
Busch lamented his misfortune while standing, appropriately enough, in victory lane, where he was helping other Toyota drivers pack boxes to distribute to women’s shelters on Mother’s Day.
The run of misfortunate began at the Daytona 500, where Busch led 18 laps before a tire went down and he crashed out of the race. An on-track dustup turned into an off-track fight with Joey Logano at Las Vegas, then an untimely crash by Logano at Phoenix spoiled Busch’s late lead.
At Martinsville, Busch led 274 laps before he cast blame on a bad set of tires for costing him a chance. And at Richmond, Busch was running second to Logano when he tried to follow the leader onto pit road during a late caution, but committed too late and was forced to serve a penalty.
“I’m looking forward to having fast cars throughout races, not having pit-road speeding penalties or issues that knock us back and we have to fight our way back from those. We did that at Richmond,” he said. “We came back through the field, we got up front and we had another penalty that put us in the back. It’s just all-around.”
Now, let’s be clear: Busch’s well-known temper has been evident after each mishap, usually in the shape of comments to TV networks and snappy responses to questions from reporters.
But the tension dissipates a little quicker these days once Busch gets to spend time with his wife and coddle his bouncing boy. All the stress and anxiety of Joe Gibbs Racing’s failure to win this season evaporates for a short period of time while Busch revels in a bit of fatherhood.
“I caught (Brexton) and Kyle yesterday practicing how to say, ‘Happy Mama’s Day,'” Samantha Busch said, taking a break from packing boxes, “and I almost started crying.”
There was a time in his career where Busch would have assumed his misfortune would continue at Kansas. It seemed every start there ended in a wreck. But much like his outlook on everything else has changed, so has his opinion of Kansas. His first Cup victory last year merely capped a string of solid finishes, and he followed it up with a fifth-place run during the fall Chase race.
Now, Busch is optimistic everything finally will come together this weekend.
“We seem to have gotten a setup or ahold of this place. We’ve had some really strong runs here,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t screw that up this time around.”
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