Kyle Busch: NASCAR NextGen Car ‘A New Realm of Confusion’

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

DARLINGTON, S.C. – The NASCAR Cup Series is over two years into the NextGen era, and some veteran drivers are still struggling to find the footing that they once had. Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch is one of the veterans that is still searching for solid ground in the seventh generation of Cup cars.

Kyle busch continues searching for his footing to have success in the nascar nextgen cup car.
May 05, 2024: NASCAR races at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, KS. (Photo by David Graham/Harold Hinson Photography)

The Richard Childress Racing driver likened the confusion that he’s had to the high downforce aerodynamics package that the Cup Series ran in the late 2010s. Depending on how the cars were built, with downforce or drag in mind, often determined who was or wasn’t running at the top of the leaderboard. Busch’s teammates at that time, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. both had different philosophies on making speed.

“This is a new realm of confusion,” Busch stated. “I think the last time we had this much confusion was when we had the high downforce package on the Cup cars – the old Cup car where you didn’t know if you wanted to be the downforce guy or the less drag guy at the different racetracks.

“I think (Martin) Truex (Jr.), if I remember right, they poured all the downforce on his cars and he was fast his way, and they made Denny’s (Hamlin) cars less drag and he was fast that way. It was like – ‘okay but which way is the way?’ I think that was the last time I was confused. But that’s just car build stuff, not even lap-to-lap as you’re going through the turns with your balance issues and aero issues that you have.”

During his time in the NextGen car to date, Busch has had a wide range of results. In his final ‘lame duck’ year at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2022 he scored one victory, on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Las Vegas, NV native then scored three wins in the first half of the 2023 season with Richard Childress.

However, Busch’s average finish has ticked down since the NextGen car debuted. Since it debuted, the 39-year-old’s average finish has been 15th or worse. That’s his worst consecutive season run of average finishes since his first full-time seasons in 2005 and 2006.

“I think the better piece that you have at the racetrack, it’s going to mask a lot of things,” Busch admitted. “It’s going to make your job easier and the opportunity of going out there and getting strong finishes or wins a lot easier. Some guys have done a better job of that.

“We were leading, I think twice, and had engine failures in the final races of the JGR cars. And then last year, we were good out of the gate. We had some good stuff, and then as times have changed, the setups have evolved, and guys have found how to make their stuff go faster. We just haven’t been able to do that.”

Kyle busch continues searching for his footing to have success in the nascar nextgen cup car.
May 05, 2024: NASCAR races at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, KS. (Photo by David Graham/Harold Hinson Photography)

In recent weeks Busch has scored two top-10 finishes, including a pole and a top-five at Dover Motor Speedway. Although the veteran driver admitted that simply being consistent inside the top-five was respectable.

“It looked good the last two weeks,” Busch explained. “I felt like the last two weeks at Dover (Motor Speedway) and Kansas (Speedway), we were respectable; contenders and much closer. That was a nice change of pace. We were consistent top-five runners. Being a consistent top-five runner; get those top-five finishes and then that consistency will build into putting yourself in the right place, at the right time, in the end of these races to get a win.”

Where Busch’s is ‘lost’ is the unpredictability of the NextGen car. The different nature of the Gen 7 car compared to the Gen 6, the ‘Car of Tomorrow’ (Gen 5), or even the ‘twisted sister’ (Gen 4) is dramatic. Striking a balance in how to drive the car has been difficult for the likely future NASCAR Hall of Famer.

“It definitely drives different than the old car,” Busch said. “What that is, I’m not exactly sure. When you lean into the corner and the right-front is outside the right-rear, the car is much tighter, when you get to the center off of the corner and the right-front is inside the right-rear coming downhill, it’s much looser. Trying to find that balance of that has been difficult… trying to get that right.

With a different balance comes a different sensation. From how to take a corner smooth corner to aerodynamic deficiencies in track, Busch explained how the drivers are now grasping at minute differences in speed to be up front instead of outside the top-25.

“But the old car didn’t have that sensation,” Busch recalled “It was easy to just make a smooth corner and have the balance stay the same the whole time, where now I feel like I’m fighting many more balance issues. And on top of fighting those balance issues by yourself, throw in the aero deficiencies that you have in traffic and now you’re just confused. You think that you’re going to expect it to do one thing, and it does something else and you lose a tenth of a second because you’re trying to garner that feel of what it is.

“We’re literally all grasping at half of a tenth of a second to be the best car on the racetrack. Many of our pace studies that come out after these races – two-tenths is the difference between first and 25th. You’re literally grasping at very small gains to move yourself up that pylon.”

Despite his struggles, Busch enters the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway 12th in the points standings. He is 153-points behind leader Kyle Larson and 27 ahead of the playoff cutline, currently held by Brad Keselowski.

The Goodyear 400 at ‘The Track Too Tough to Tame’ is scheduled for Sunday, May 12, at 3:00 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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