ARE ROWDY AND BAD BRAD READY TO DUKE IT OUT FOR 2019 SUPREMACY?
For the first time in 2019 Kyle Busch finished outside the Top-10 in a Cup Series race at Kansas. In fact, it was his first finish outside the Top-10 in any NASCAR race this year, a run of 19 straight (with 10 of those being wins). His last Cup start outside the Top-10 was actually a 17th place showing at Texas Motor Speedway last November.
All of this is being written to recognize that what’s going to be said next isn’t done hastily. Yes, Kyle Busch has taken more than his fair share of battles in the early going this year, but could it be that his arch rival Brad Keselowski is actually the one who will win the war in Homestead?
Keselowski took advantage of Busch’s misfortune, winning for the third time in 12 races Saturday night, and where he did it could pay huge dividends the next time the calendar flips to those tracks. Kansas marks the end of the Playoffs’ 2nd Round, and Martinsville is the next week, the beginning of the 3rd Round. Add that to a Playoff-opening win last year at Las Vegas, and Bad Brad has all three rounds covered at some point in the past year.
Going back to that win in Vegas in 2018, it was his third straight week picking up the checkered flag, an almost stunning turnaround for a driver stuck in neutral most of the season. Before that run, Keselowski was 11th in points. Thanks to the back-to-back at Darlington and Indy, he entered the postseason 4th. Other than miscues in wild card races at the ROVAL and Talladega, Keselowski hasn’t really looked back. His only time outside the Top-20 since then was at Texas Motor Speedway in March, part of a disastrous Cup-Xfinity doubleheader for him.
As for Busch, you literally can’t find a date on the calendar where he hasn’t won, and he’s off to the most consistent start of his career. A Phoenix sweep could be the final ace in the hole needed to get him to Homestead this year, but it’d almost be shocking for him to even be in that position with one week left in the season. Like Brad, he’s got wins in the last year (Richmond – 1st Round, Dover – 2nd Round, Phoenix – 3rd Round) that would clinch his spot in the finale if they come at the right time.
On top of personal success, their teams are as good as they’ve been in some time. Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano finished in a flurry last year to win the championship, and he’s backed it up in 2019 with a win and the top spot in the points. Meanwhile, Busch’s longtime teammate Denny Hamlin followed up his zero-win 2018 with two wins in the first seven week this year, and new teammate Martin Truex Jr. has wins in two of the past four races. Teammates Ryan Blaney (Team Penske) and Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing) are firmly in the playoff picture as well. Only one race has been won by a non-Penske/Gibbs drivers in 2019, and that bodes well for the two talented drivers.
Add the animosity between the two, and it could be just what the doctor ordered as NASCAR rolls down the stretch this year. Who wouldn’t want more quotes like this?
“Brad and I can’t absolutely stand one another, hate each other, because every time he runs into me, he wrecks me and I’m out, right?” Busch said last summer when asked about why he can race hard with drivers like Kyle Larson but not with Keselowski. “Every time he just runs over me and wrecks me so there’s never a chance for that rebuttal. There’s never that camaraderie with racing. It’s just wrecking.”
It could be a fun fall for the Cup Series. We’ll just see if the heat of these two drivers’ meteoric rises survives the heat of summer on the circuit.