Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch sputtering
Kurt ran a respectable 13th in the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevy Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, but he is not Houdini. He is one of the best drivers in NASCAR, but without a solid team and top-flight equipment, great driving isn't enough.
"It was a good finish for us," Kurt said after the race. "We had little struggles, but we were able to overcome those. It was a nice top-15 finish for us."
A 13th-place finish a year ago might have sent Kurt into a tirade, but he gets it. That was then and this is now. Expectations have changed.
"Like a lot of people these days, we're doing more with less," Kurt said. "This has been a year with different challenges. We get cars, motors and some body support from Hendrick Motorsports, but at the end of the day, it's still what you do with the people you have.
"Being a team that only has 18 employees, we've got to get the best out of every guy. I think every guy on the team literally has three jobs. We've had our struggles this year, but we've had some good moments. The good days are that much sweeter because of how much harder everyone here has to work to get the job done."
Kurt and Kyle also are learning that lesson this year with Kyle's Nationwide team. After dominating the series when he ran in the Joe Gibbs Racing cars, Kyle's struggling with his own team.
Kyle hasn't finished better than eighth in his five starts in the No. 54 Toyota. Kurt finished 30th at Texas last weekend, his first start in the Nationwide car.
"I think we can win our first time out," Kurt said before the Texas race. "Will we be disappointed if we don't? No, we just need to have a good, solid run our first time out."
Need it, yes. Got it, no. At least Kyle's Nationwide car has full sponsorship from Monster Energy Drink.
If James Finch doesn't get more sponsorship for the No. 51 Cup car, running the full season is in jeopardy.
"I've had a handshake agreement with Finch to run the full season since December," Kurt said. "We've talked and that hasn't changed. Do we need sponsorship? Absolutely. You have to go pretty far back in history to find a team that has contended for wins on a consistent basis without sponsorship.
"Finch and I are working on some things that will help us, but the search for sponsorship is ongoing. We just had one of our best performances of the season where we beat a lot of bigger and better-funded teams. Hopefully, there are companies out there considering our sport and they're paying attention to what we're accomplishing."
The Busch brothers are top-tier drivers, but it takes more than a wheelman to win races. It takes big money and everything working together, just like any other team sport. And it works both ways.
The No. 18 Nationwide team isn't as good without Kyle behind the wheel. He won three of the first six races in that JGR car a year ago. The No. 18 Toyota has one win so far this season using three drivers: Joey Logano, won at Auto Club Speedway, Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin.
The No. 22 Dodge also isn't as good in Cup without Kurt. He was fifth in the standings after the first seven Cup races last year (five top-10s) in the Penske Racing machine. AJ Allmendinger is 19th with one top-10 (second at Martinsville).
Both teams also changed crew chiefs, so it isn't just a driver comparison, but you get the idea.
And sometimes it doesn't work as well even when the personnel are the same from the previous year. Kyle was second in the Cup standings with one win and five top-10s at this point a year ago in the No. 18 Toyota. He's 14th now, winless with only two top-10s.
The frustration showed when he qualified 17th on Friday at Texas.
"Definitely not what we wanted," Kyle said. "We need to be way faster than what we ran there. We missed about two-tenths worth. Just too loose. Couldn't get the throttle down as good as I needed. We have struggled really bad most of the weekend."
Factor in Kyle's obvious skills as a driver and it's clear something is missing. That missing component can be difficult to find.
There is a fine line in NASCAR between consistent success and frustrating mediocrity. The Busch brothers are experiencing the latter now after many years of enjoying the former.
The Rock overrated?
I understand the nostalgia of going back to Rockingham, but it had an "announced" crowd of 27,500 for the Camping World Truck Series race Sunday, out of 31,000 seats.
I wouldn't call that a roaring success, considering all the hype about the return. But by reading most accounts you would think millions had gathered at the Promised Land.
The racing was OK, and I realize this was only a stand-alone truck race, but I still say that turnout for the big return race, regardless of the series, when everyone raves about the past grandeur of The Rock and how they want it back on the NASCAR schedule, shows many people look at this through rose-colored glasses.
The track deserves a Truck series race and maybe a Nationwide event as well. It's not a place for the Cup series.
One other note on this race: Just like the Busch brothers, Kasey Kahne can win when things are right. After struggling most of the year in his first season driving the No. 5 Cup car at Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne went to Victory Lane in his only CWTS start.
A little positive momentum helps. Kahne posted his best finish of the year with a seventh-place showing at Texas only 16 hours earlier.
Most improved? Michael Waltrip Racing
Michael Waltrip Racing easily is the most improved organization in Cup this season.
MWR has two drivers in the top 10 -- fourth-place Martin Truex Jr. and 10th-place Clint Bowyer -- and would have three if you counted the combined points of Mark Martin and Brian Vickers. The No. 55 Toyota is seventh in owner points.
MWR still is looking for its first win, but it's coming.
"I'm satisfied, at least for now," said Bowyer, who left Richard Childress Racing to join MWR this season. "I guess the reason I'm satisfied is I see that we've had opportunities to battle through adversity and we've made good decisions.
"That's what it takes to succeed at this level. It's not who can take a good day and run good with it, it's who can have some struggles throughout the day and make the right decisions to put yourself in position to get the best finish possible. I feel like we've done a good job of that so far this season."