From Hate to Love
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 6, 2022) – Kyle Busch’s relationship with Kansas Speedway in Kansas City has been well documented over the years. The 1.5-mile oval started as a miserable experience for the Las Vegas native, capped by three consecutive DNFs (did not finish) in 2012 and 2013. But his initial hatred for the track slowly turned into love, particularly over his last 15 races there, during which he’s netted 10 top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. He’ll look to add to that consistency when he returns for Sunday’s second race of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
The Kansas oval was built in 2001 and originally featured a constant 15 degrees of banking in the turns. But it underwent a massive renovation project leading into its October 2012 event. The changes included repaving of the existing track surface, reconfiguration of the oval, and the addition of a new infield road course. The oval’s geometric shape also was changed to feature variable banking of 17 to 20 degrees in the turns.
To say that Busch didn’t take well to the new surface would be quite the understatement. From October 2012 to 2013, he had the aforementioned three consecutive DNFs there – with accidents in all three that rendered him with results 31st, 38th and 34th, respectively.
Feeling snakebit on the new Kansas surface, Busch and his M&M’S team took a different approach starting with the April 2014 race by starting from scratch with a brand new car. They attacked Kansas with the hopes that a fresh outlook would produce vastly different results. While a pit-road speeding penalty cost them precious track position and an even better finish in the race, the result and effort was much different than the three previous trips. Instead, they were competitive enough to turn the corner in terms of results.
In the October 2014 race, Busch brought home his first-ever Kansas Cup Series top-five. Again, the 2015 and 2019 Cup Series champion has never cared much for moral victories. However, the momentum kickstarted by his first Kansas top-five has remained to this day. Finally, with the surface starting to wear, Kansas has become a place much more agreeable to Busch’s driving style as he brought home his first victory there in NASCAR’s top series in May 2016, putting an exclamation point on the aforementioned strong runs there. Busch added another Kansas win in the spring of 2021, and in his last 15 races there has three finishes outside the top-10.
In last weekend’s opening race of the 2022 playoffs, Busch and his M&M’S team put in a performance befitting a two-time Cup Series champion. Busch won a stage and led a race-high 155 laps and was sitting in the lead with just over 20 laps to go when his engine expired, leaving him with a disappointing 30th-place finish. He heads to Kansas to tackle the second of three Round of 16 races, Busch sits 11th in the playoff standings, eight points above the 12th-place cutline to advance to the next round.
So as Busch heads back to the Heartland of America with plenty of love for the 1.5-mile oval, he would love nothing more than to bring home his is third career Cup Series win there that would automatically advance him and his M&M’S team into the Round of 12.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Have you looked forward to racing at Kansas more after you won there?
“I have. Also, it was – even the last few times before we won there for the first time in 2016, we had some really strong runs there. We finished in the top-10 a lot there over the last 15 races or so. We seem to have gotten a setup or a hold of this place, I’d say, and hopefully we don’t screw that up this time around and we can continue our strong runs and our fast pace there and be able to have a shot to win. Looking forward to getting back in our M&M’S Camry and have a solid run like we did there in the spring and be able to improve on what we did there just a little bit and have a shot to win.”
What is the most challenging part about racing at Kanas Speedway?
“The wind always seems like it’s high in Kansas and it will also change directions. It can change directions day to day, so you can practice in one wind direction and you can race in another one. That completely throws off the balance of your racecar and what you are feeling, and which corner of the track you attack the most, so you’ve always got to be leery of that, and we certainly will be this weekend.”
You’ve had a love-hate relationship with this track. Do you think it will be more track or car you are fighting this week?
“I would say it’s been – you said love-hate, I would go more hate-love. It started out bad and has been good lately. We will hopefully keep that going in our favor. This place was trickier for me with the old asphalt, but since they repaved it, it seems to have come into more where I’m understanding it. I feel like we’ve got a good shot at continuing that – that good run tradition – and doing well this weekend.”
Talk about what it’s like to race in Kansas.
“Kansas has been a good place for our sport. You know, the crowd, the reception, the infrastructure, the community all have really built up around the racetrack there over the last 15 years or so. It’s been a lot of fun to see all that happen and I’m looking forward to the race. It’s been a great racetrack for us, lately. We’ve had some good runs there once the track aged. We’ve kind of seemed to maybe have figured out the place a little bit better. And, you know, we’re looking forward to the opportunity of being able to go out there and hopefully get ourselves a win with our M&M’S Camry.”