Kyle Busch appeared to be waiting for an opportunity.
Seated at the stage for his weekly media availability at Richmond Raceway, the two-time series champion heard a question about whether it has been one of the more mentally trying years of his career.
Many of the recent headlines around Busch have been on the ongoing contract negotiations with Joe Gibbs Racing, but there have also been questions about learning a new car and about a stretch of races that have gone anything but well for the No. 18 team.
So, has this been one of the more mentally trying years for Busch?
“Yeah, for sure,” he said.
And then it happened.
“Please hold,” Busch said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPhone. “I’m getting my facts right here.”
Busch indeed had the facts. It wasn’t a webpage of his results or race recaps written by the team each post-race. They were in a lengthy breakdown by race that Busch had written in the notes app on his phone.
“All right, let’s throw some facts — which is performance — on top of the optics — which is results,” Busch said before reading through the list.
“Sonoma: collectively, JGR — we all sucked,” he said.
Busch finished 30th at Sonoma. The highest finishing Toyota was brother Kurt Busch in 18th place.
“Nashville: We were P2, led the most laps, coulda, shoulda won the race barring a strategy call at the end,” Busch said. “RoadAmerica: [The] driver made a mistake; pit road [was] over the wall too soon; speeding penalty. Race went green to the end.
“Atlanta: good car; drove from 19th to the top three in the opening run. We had a hiccup on pit road [and] we were involved in the next crash. New Hampshire: We spun twice; we weren’t very good. Our teammates were a little bit better than us, obviously; still was able to salvage a 12th.”
Busch incredibly did not hit anything and was not hit by someone else in either of his spins. One teammate, Christopher Bell, won the race while another, Martin Truex Jr., led a race-high 172 laps from the pole.
“Pocono: one of the top three cars all day; led the most lapse; finished P2 before the room of doom,” said Busch.
The No. 18 led 63 laps at Pocono and crossed the finish line second to teammate Denny Hamlin, but he and Hamlin’s cars were both disqualified post-race for tape on the front fascia.
“Then Indy road course, we were probably a 10th to 12th place car,” said Busch. “We put ourselves inside the top 10 [and] we just passed the No. 2 because [Austin Cindric] leading into the second to last caution of the day and the No. 2 because ended up finishing second, making his way through all the chaos at the end, and we did not. I think I finished 11th on that one; was still able to come from 24th to 11th on that last restart.”
In the last eight races – Sonoma to Michigan – an 11th place finish at Indianapolis is Busch’s best result. In six of those races, he finished 20th or worse.
“A lot of bad luck in there, and that’s not indicative of how we’ve been running,” Busch concluded by putting his phone down. “So, if we can just finish where we’ve been running, we’re no slouch. I feel like we’re still contenders.”
As for the contract, there is no new update on what Busch will do in 2023, but he also noted this isn’t the first time having to go through working on a new contract. That doesn’t make things any easier despite wanting to stay where he is, and Gibbs and Toyota wanting him to continue to be their driver.
“It’s just a matter of being able to put all the pieces in the right place,” Busch said. “It’s not as simple as a seven-year-old puzzle. It’s a 50-year-old puzzle just with the amount of pieces and how long this thing has been taking. We’re still working through all that.”