Kyle Busch says retiring with one NASCAR title would stink, but five is ‘still attainable’

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Busch doesn’t relive his “what-if” moments and missed opportunities. But he said he’s not where he hoped he’d be after 15 full-time NASCAR Cup Series seasons.

The 34-year-old No. 18 Toyota driver is the 2015 NASCAR champion, he’s tied for ninth on the all-time Cup wins list with 55 and, earlier this season, he earned his 200th checkered flag across NASCAR’s three national series. He’s the most polarizing driver on the track, but his skill is undeniable.

But Busch will never be satisfied — at least, not until his championship total, at a minimum, triples.

“I’m behind for sure — definitely behind and in wins and championships,” Busch said Thursday ahead of the 2019 championship race Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Why? The list goes on. It’s a pretty long one, so how many can you get now is about where it’s at. If I end with one, that’s gonna suck. If I can only get two, ehh, whatever. But three, four, five — I think five’s still achievable. But when you get to this final race in this moment, this championship format the way that it is, and five years in a row and you only come away with one, that gets pretty defeating.”

Kyle Busch poses for a selfie with a fan during practice for the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo: John David Mercer, USA TODAY Sports)

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Busch isn’t quite there yet, but he clearly holds himself to an exceptionally high standard.

He’s one of four remaining 2019 championship contenders, along with teammates Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., plus Kevin Harvick. This is the fifth straight year Busch has advanced to the Championship 4 race under the current playoff format, which was implemented in 2014. But he hasn’t won it all since his first title.

To be fair, Jimmie Johnson is the only active driver with more than one championship, and he won his record-tying seventh in 2016. Unprecedentedly, Johnson also won five consecutively, which Busch said is “certainly hard for the rest of us to beat.”

And despite already achieving what is likely enough to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Busch isn’t impressed. When asked if he ever gives himself credit for winning as regularly as he does, he said, “No, not really.”

Since his 2015 championship, Busch’s best finish in the standings was second to Truex in 2017. He was fourth in 2018 behind champion Joey Logano, Truex and Harvick and third in 2016 after Johnson and Logano.

"Just there’s been too many missed opportunities,” he said, specifically citing 2016.

“There’s a lot of stuff out there that coulda, shoulda, woulda, and it just didn’t happen for whatever reason. And we just got to figure out how to leave all that behind this weekend though and go out there and succeed.”

The 2019 regular-season champ, Busch has four wins so far this season, but he hasn’t been to Victory Lane since June. Between his own skill, the brilliance of crew chief Adam Stevens and the fastest pit crew on the track, he’s still been able to dominate thanks to in-race points earned.

Through 35 races in 2019, he’s led a series-high 1,462 laps (14.64 percent), he has 16 top-5 finishes (45.71 percent) and he didn’t finish just two races.

He said he only briefly enjoys his successes because he’s just so aware of how much more he wants to attain.

“Trust me,” Busch said, “there ain’t gonna be anybody happier than me if we cross the finish line first on Sunday — for at least the first 10 minutes.”

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