Focused on the Big Picture
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Nov. 5, 2019) – As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the penultimate race on its 36-race schedule at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, Kyle Busch and his No. 18 M&M’S team are focused on the big picture. They know they can control their own destiny in the championship hunt as Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500k serves as the final cutoff for the Championship 4 the following weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), sits 22 points ahead of fifth-place Denny Hamlin in the playoff standings and needs a strong performance Sunday to advance to the Cup Series finale with a shot at this year’s championship. Even better news for Busch is that he’s won the last two Cup Series races at Phoenix and, coincidentally, those two race wins were the first two events on the renovated and reconfigured track surface with the start-finish line moved from what is now the backstretch over to the dogleg in front of the new main grandstand. In fact, Busch has led an impressive 422 laps in the last three races run in NASCAR’s premiere series at the mile oval in the Arizona desert.
Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick are already locked into the winner-take-all Championship 4 at Homestead with their victories at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, respectively the last two weekends. Two more drivers will complete the Championship 4 field after the Phoenix race is complete. Busch and Joey Logano hold down the third and fourth spots in the standings with Logano sitting just two points behind Busch. Finishing ahead of Logano in Sunday’s first two race stages and at the finish enables Busch to control his own Championship 4 destiny. An outright race win would also automatically put Busch into the Championship 4 for the fourth consecutive season.
In 29 Cup Series starts at the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has three wins, 10 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s while scoring top-five finishes in seven of his last eight starts there, which includes the aforementioned back-to-back victories.
So as the Cup Series season and playoffs wind down, Busch has the big picture in mind and he will focus on running well and putting himself in position yet again at Phoenix in order to be among the four drivers who will compete in the winner-take-all Championship 4 at Homestead the following weekend.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Do you have some confidence knowing you won Phoenix in the spring?
“I really like Phoenix and we won there in the spring, but that was nine months ago. So when we go back there, hopefully, but a lot’s going on in the development of everybody’s cars and things like that for this season. We’ll see what we have this weekend with our M&M’S Camry.”
Do you know where the improvements are in the cars across the board for people with regard to Phoenix?
“I don’t know for everybody. We’re all picking and choosing everything on the cars, whether it’s front downforce, rear downforce, lower drag, setups, different combinations of shocks and springs and what kind of wheel rates and things like that, that we’re all working with and dealing with and how the cars evolved. There’s a lot. It’s not just one little thing and it changes a lot over the course of a whole season.
How do you feel heading to Phoenix this weekend to get back to victory lane?
“We all know one guy is going to move through on points and we have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy. If we can obviously go to Phoenix and have a strong run and be able to go out there and win, that will put us through, as well. We’re two (points) up on the 22 (Joey Logano), so it’s going to be a race between the 18 and the 22. Imagine that. We’ll look forward to the challenge and hope we have a strong run in order to make it through to Homestead.”
You have good memories at Phoenix. How does that play into this weekend?
“The last couple times we’ve been to Phoenix, we’ve run pretty good. Hopefully, that can translate to this time around again. We were good at Richmond and normally Richmond translates good there. Loudon (N.H.), that translates there. I’m optimistic about it. I think we can do OK. It’s just a matter of running another clean race and not making mistakes.”
What does it take to be successful at Phoenix?
“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but heading there with our M&M’S Toyota Camry will be interesting to see how the race plays out.”
You’ve won the last two Cup races at the mile oval. Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix?
“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave and then more recently flipping the start-finish line to a different spot. For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different sets of corners at Phoenix.”
Notes of Interest:
- The Bluegreen Vacations 500k will mark Kyle Busch’s 533rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 29th NASCAR Cup Series start at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.
- Busch has career totals of 55 wins, 31 poles, 198 top-five finishes, 294 top-10s and 17,243 laps led in 532 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in June at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came in October 2018 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
- Busch has three wins, 10 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s and has led a total of 1,121 laps in 28 Cup Series starts at ISM Raceway. Busch’s average ISM Raceway finish is 11.1.