Busch, the reigning series champion, has yet to earn a victory in the 2020 season. In now his 16th fulltime year in the Cup Series, Busch has never reached the 26th race of the season without at least one victory.
It’s an unprecedented situation for Busch and stands out not only because he is coming off a championship season but also because his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, has amassed six victories already this year.
Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway is the last chance for a driver to “win” their way into the playoffs and a final opportunity for Busch to enter defense of his title off the momentum of a win.
Winning at Daytona
Superspeedway races, however, are also the most unpredictable, where drivers have much less say in controlling the outcome.
“For us, you still want to win everywhere you go, every single week. To win at Daytona is always cool. It’s definitely special,” Busch said. “It’s the birthplace of NASCAR – the superspeedway aspect of it.
“I definitely love going there. It’s hot, it’s slick, and you can make the most out of yourself as a driver and what you’ve got in the car. We won there in 2008 and I’m hoping we can get a win this weekend.”
Also notable in Busch’s performance this season has been the No. 18 Toyota team’s inability to run up front.
Chances of defending 2019 title
Through 25 races, Busch has led 214 laps. Only twice in his Cup career has he led less than 500 laps in a season, with the fewest being 362 in his 2005 rookie year.
Not being in the hunt for victories on a weekly basis is what gives Busch pause on his ability to improve his performance in the playoffs.
“I have no expectations. Just take every event as it comes to us, every opportunity that comes to us, try to do what we can do,” he said. “There’s really no expectations. It’s just a matter of being really, really far behind.
“We’re going to start every single one of these playoff scenarios behind the eight ball, basically on the outside looking in. We’re going to have to do everything right. In a perfect world you win races in each of those rounds to push you all the way through to the final round, you’re good at Phoenix.
“That’s kind of the name of the game. If we can Tony Stewart it, hopefully that will be what we can do.”
In 2011, Stewart failed to win a race in the regular season but still qualified for the playoffs. He then went on to win five of the 10 playoff races and his third series championship.
Behind on bonus points
NASCAR’s current playoff system now provides playoff points for stage wins and race victories during the season, giving teams a bonus for winning and consistency.
The lack of those bonus points in the playoffs is why Busch knows he’ll be fighting from behind the likes of Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
“Earlier this year (we had) plenty of top-fives, top-10s, none of them wins. That’s where the frustration sets in, not getting the wins,” Busch said.
“Seeing your teammates, even though they’re good, fast, they have it all under control. I also want to be one of those teammates winning races. We’re kind of missing the boat on that unfortunately.”