In a crazy turn of events, Kyle Busch managed to blow up two engines in three races to be eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. By the time his smoldering racecar hulk pulled past the wall at Bristol Motor Speedway, wild speculation had already begun that Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing had deliberately sabotaged the number 18 after Busch had announced he would not be returning to the team in 2023.
To honestly believe something like that is simply absurd.
The money that goes into a Cup effort, from the driver and team to store staff and marketing activation, is a tremendous sum.
The revenue generated from a championship win helps fund an entire organization for the entire next season. Busch hasn’t had a great year, but in the last three races he’s shown speed in every event and appeared to have his sights set on a win in at least two of them ahead of the disastrous events. Every time Busch enters a race, he’s a contender for victory, and the better his gear and team, the better his chances.
For the tin hat-wearing crowd, the entire season could serve as a testament to how poorly they prepared Busch’s cars. He has a win with seven races to go in the season. That came as he returned to victory after Chase Briscoe briefly lost his talent and drove Tyler Reddick into the wall during the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He has six top five finishes, three fewer than in any year he has raced a full season, or even in his truncated season due to injury that resulted in his first title. His 13 top 10 finishes are tied to his two worst seasons in that category in his career. While the stats warrant some nefarious activity, it’s more likely that Busch simply failed to get a handle on this new iteration of the car.
Not only have Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, through their Toyota Racing development arm, poured the aforementioned exorbitant amount of money into competition on the Cup circuit, they also invest thousands of hours in wind tunnel testing and other research and development for all of their racing teams. This information feeds into every vehicle that comes out of their racing shops. The cars that are produced at JGR are intended for a specific driver/team late in the preparation process. This preparation methodology in and of itself makes it highly unlikely that an ignominious circumstance could be introduced to undermine the efforts of one team in the organization over another.
The word team has appeared several times in this column. The number of people involved in a cup organization can number in the hundreds, especially in a four-team operation like JGR. The number of people unique to a single team in the organization can be 50 or more.
While Busch didn’t commit to JGR earlier this year and has since announced his approval of the move, the majority of the rest of the team will continue to call JGR home going forward. JGR is focused on taking care of all team members, their families and their future. A family oriented team like JGR will not turn their backs on dedicated teammates because after one season the rider has made the decision to continue.
Word has gotten around in the last few days that there could be a systemic problem that arose with the Busch retirements and is actually a problem for all Toyota teams. TRD President David Wilson told NBC that there appears to be a durability issue with the Toyota power plants when they hit the NASCAR-mandated rev limiter. Busch missed a shift at Darlington Raceway that resulted in the engine hitting the chip. Shortly thereafter, the engine went out.
Similarly, at Bristol, the NASCAR-mandated gear ratio caused the engines to hit the chip, particularly when the cars were running on the high line, where Busch found success on Saturday night (September 17). Wilson stated that it was unacceptable for the engines to struggle at that rpm and felt they should be able to handle situations where the limiter is hit without any sort of malfunction.
The idea that a multi-million dollar company would embark on an organized effort to ruin the season and a potential championship run for the most successful driver in the manufacturer’s history of involvement in any sport is just plain insane. While fans may conjure up some wacky ideas and extravagant schemes, the end result is that far too much is invested in a racing team for an organized, subversive plan to be executed and the series’ lone multiple champion to be sidelined by Endgames.
Did Busch have an off-season this year? Absolutely. Has Joe Gibbs Racing squandered millions of dollars in support of their manufacturer Toyota to commit a hateful, stubborn act against the most successful driver in their company’s history? No way.
Believe what you will, but JGR didn’t jeopardize its relationship with Toyota for some childish prank.
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