It’s been more than a decade since someone won consecutive NASCAR Cup Series championships. Not since Jimmie Johnson pulled off the trick in 2009-2010 has a driver hoisted the title trophy in back-to-back seasons.
The prospect for winning two straight championships became infinitely more challenging when NASCAR introduced the elimination-style Playoffs and Championship 4 format in 2014. Kevin Harvick won that year and since has been followed by Kyle Busch, Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Busch again last year.
But the hopes of anyone putting two in-a-row together came to an official end when Busch missed the cut to advance into the Round of 8.
Busch knew the degree of difficulty just getting out of the round was going to be tough with the prospects of Talladega and Charlotte’s Roval lurking after the opener in Las Vegas. Truth be told he barely got out of the opening round and in a moment of both frustration and disappointing after finishing second at Bristol declared his title hopes all but over.
"We’ll be eliminated in the next round so don’t care," Busch said after finishing second to Harvick.
It was a heat of the moment comment that unfortunately for Busch became prophetic.
After kicking off the second round with a sixth-place Vegas run, disaster struck Busch with a 27th at Talladega and finishing 30th at the Roval.
"I don’t know, it’s not just this race," Busch said. "It’s a whole season and it’s a culmination of things that led to this and led to our elimination. We knew it coming into this round that this was going to be the hardest round for us to get through. Pretty much impossible and it was. We weren’t able to make up enough or get a win. We’ll just have to fight for a win here the rest of the year."
That last point is even more surprising than Busch not having a chance to shoot for a third career title in next month’s Championship 4 finale at Phoenix Raceway. Somehow, some way a driver who has won 56 times in NASCAR’s top division and scored at least one victory per season since becoming full-time in 2005. His season stats aren’t terrible with 12 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes through 32 races.
But there are also six DNFs on Busch’s resume, a stat that is perhaps a better depiction of just how much of a struggle this season has been.
He has four chances left to erase the goose egg in the win column and keep his consecutive season win streak alive at 15 straight.
If he’s unsuccessful there might not be a better example of just how truly bizarre 2020 has been.