Nobody was quite sure how Kyle Busch, after a decade and a half of calling Joe Gibbs Racing his home, would fare with his shift over to Richard Childress Racing and a return to Chevrolet starting with the 2023 season.
“Rowdy” answered any questions about his ’23 prospects in short order, manhandling the field over the final run Sunday at Auto Club Speedway to pick up his 61st NASCAR Cup Series victory and first on a non-dirt track since 2021.
Now that’s out of the way, here’s the next question — will we see back-to-back bows?
NASCAR.com’s Pat DeCola and Zach Sturniolo debate whether the No. 8 Chevy driver will muster a second straight victory this weekend in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
DeCOLA: Obviously, there’s no debating that Busch can do this — we’ve seen him win multiple Cup races in a row, with 2019 being his most recent example — it just comes down to will he.
In short, no.
Busch is arguably the most talented driver racing in the world today, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We’re two weeks removed from some (but not all!) pundits not even including Rowdy in their playoff prognostications, let alone predicting a multi-win season. So back-to-back weeks? Certainly possible, but certainly a stretch.
How soon we forget the unprecedented parity ushered in with last year’s Next Gen racer, which saw a whopping 19 unique winners in 2022, didn’t see a repeat victor until Martinsville in April and only once — when Kevin Harvick did it in August — did a driver go back-to-back.
Perhaps I’d think it more likely to happen if we were racing this weekend at Bristol (eight wins) or Richmond (six wins) or, heck, even Texas (four wins, 11.7 average finish). He’s got a strong average finish at Vegas over the years (10.8 in 23 starts) and has been exceptional there over the past five years (6.5 in last 10 races), but he has just one win there, and it was all the way back in 2009. In seven of those last 10 races, he landed third through seventh, just unable to get over the hump to pick up a win.
Finding that little extra edge in his third race with a new manufacturer and team to win for the second straight week? Again … possible, just not likely.
If he does, though, holy cow. Watch out. That’ll be a strong message to the rest of the field.
STURNIOLO: Kyle Busch with momentum? Yeah, take that bet every time. Busch has yet to miss a beat since stepping into the No. 8 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing. More impressive has been his and the team‘s ability to perform on a multitude of different tracks already.
Quarter-mile track in the exhibition Busch Light Clash at the LA Coliseum? Third-place finish. The 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway? Leading at Lap 200, the scheduled conclusion of the Daytona 500. Worn-out, abrasive 2-miler at Auto Club Speedway? Race winner.
Nothing has limited Busch and Co. yet. Why should the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway be any different this weekend?
Busch has only one win at his home track, made only more surprising by the fact his victory came way back in 2009. Don‘t mistake that for any poor runs, though.
The two-time Cup Series champion has finished third in three of the last four races at Las Vegas and hasn‘t finished worse than sixth in the venue‘s past five events.
Busch came excruciatingly close to Vegas‘ Victory Lane last spring, heading the field for 49 laps. But a caution fell with two-and-a-half laps remaining as Busch was busy fending then-teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the race win. With that yellow flag came pit stops — and an opportunity for others to use some strategy to take the lead.
A trio of Hendrick Motorsports cars — Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron — darted to the front of the pack thanks to their two-tire pit stops, and Bowman charged to the win, leaving Busch steaming with a fourth-place finish.
If the first three races of 2023 have been any indication, Busch‘s move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing is only unlocking further success for the native Nevadan.
Expect Busch in Victory Lane on Sunday.