HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Nov. 14, 2017) – The current elimination format of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is down to the final weekend of its fourth season, and one thing has been clear during the format’s first three seasons of finales – you must win if you want to bring home the season championship.
And the good news for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is he did just that two years ago as the winner of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, taking home the 2015 Sprint Cup title.
While the rules state that the highest-finisher Sunday among the four championship-eligible drivers at Homestead will win this year’s championship, it’s been proven thus far that it’s about more than simply being the highest finisher, it’s a must-win situation. Jimmie Johnson was the latest to win the finale at Homestead, bringing home his record-tying seventh career title last November. In 2015, winning was also a necessity for Busch to bring home his first title as another Championship 4 driver, Kevin Harvick, finished in the runner-up spot. In 2014, the winner-take-all scenario also rang true as Harvick won the race and the title while Championship 4 contender Ryan Newman finished second.
The road to Homestead for Busch and the M&M’S Caramel team has been anything but easy. While this is the third consecutive year that Busch has made it to the Championship 4, his path in 2017 proved to be much different than the two previous seasons. In 2015, Busch’s path paved with six top-five finishes, and seven top-10s in the 10 playoff races – his lone win coming in the championship race at Homestead. During last season’s 10-race playoffs, Busch was even more consistent with six top-fives and nine top-10s, but he was without a playoff win.
But in 2017, Busch has made it through to Homestead with three victories – at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. In all, Busch has three top-fives and five top-10s in this year’s nine playoff races, and he knows he’ll likely need to find one more victory in order to become the 2017 Cup Series champion and bring home his second championship.
There have been 15 NASCAR Cup Series drivers who have won two or more championships since the sport was founded in 1959. Busch is hoping to become the 16th this season to go with his first title in 2015.
Busch also knows the task of winning at Homestead is a big one as he’ll compete against former champions Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, along with fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr., who has seven wins this season and has shown the most speed over the entire year. Thus, it is a strong Championship 4 field that will vie for the title in the one-race shootout for the Cup Series championship trophy Sunday afternoon in South Florida.
While Busch’s statistics at Homestead may not look strong with an average finish of 19.8, it certainly isn’t indicative of how he can run at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval. Busch dominated the 267-lap season finale in 2012, leading six times for a race-high 191 laps. But while he had the dominant car, the Las Vegas native had to settle for a fourth-place finish after a long, green-flag run to the checkered flag saw the M&M’S team come up short on fuel and foiled a seemingly certain win in the closing laps. He backed up his strong run from 2012 with an eighth-place finish in 2013, and had a strong run going in 2014 before a driveline issue put him in the garage for several laps, foiling another chance at the win. His most impressive race at Homestead came in 2015, when he was the top championship-eligible car for much of the 400-mile race, leading six times for a total of 41 laps and bringing home the win and the championship. In 2016, Busch led 41 laps but fell short of the championship with a sixth-place finish.
So, as Busch heads to South Florida with everything on the line Sunday, the M&M’S Caramel driver has the mindset that it’s a must-win situation in order to guarantee a second Cup Series championship.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How big is it to have a chance to win another championship?
“It’s huge. It’s our opportunity to succeed and you know God’s given us every opportunity to go do that. Joe and J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs, everybody on this Joe Gibbs Racing team, they’re phenomenal. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys had great racecars for me all season long, but we were able to turn those good cars into wins the second half of the year and we were hoping for one more this weekend. That’s what it’s likely going to take to win the championship.”
How does it feel to be able to go and race for a championship at Homestead for a third year in a row?
“It’s obviously a great opportunity to be able to go race for a championship, and that’s what this format is. It doesn’t mean a whole lot to make it to the Championship 4 if you don’t win it. You know, it’s all reset to zero. There are four of us who go for winner-take-all at Homestead. It means a lot to have that opportunity not only for myself, but for M&M’S Caramel, Toyota, Interstate Batteries and everyone at JGR who helps us to be as good as we’ve been. It’s what your whole season comes down to. I’m looking forward to Homestead and we’ll see if we can bring home another championship.”
Even though times have changed and the aero package has changed, how much will it help that you’ve gone through this experience and came out on top with the last winner-take-all race at Homestead?
“It’s going to be a tough race. It’s never easy. All the Championship 4 (drivers) are going to be fast and have a lot of experience winning championships and races. It’s that way every single time we go down there. It’s crazy to look at it today, how many of the championship guys were right up front in the top-six, top-seven, during the last round, in particular. That’s just kind of the way this business is when it comes down to the end of the season.”
From your recent experience, how has Homestead changed over the last several years?
“The track seems to have aged a little more and maybe the tire compound could use a little bit of help to be better there, just because we’ve run the same one, I think now, three or four years. The tire compound is fine – it’s not that big of a deal. Definitely a lot of grip for the first few laps, and then it really tapers off and then everybody is running up next to the fence. I think that’s what we saw in years past. As it did get darker, the track seemed to widen out. It’s just during the day, when it’s hot out and it’s slick out, that the best you can do is run right next to the wall. As the nighttime came, you could start moving around a little bit more. It’s definitely still a racey joint, but track temperatures are very conducive to that. Our M&M’S Caramel Camry was pretty good the last couple of years, but we would like to be able to go back to Homestead and do what we did there in 2015.”
Notes of Interest:
- The Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will mark Kyle Busch’s 462nd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 13th NASCAR Cup Series start at Homestead.
- Busch has career totals of 43 wins, 27 poles, 160 top-five finishes, 240 top-10s and 14,338 laps led in 461 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came three weekends ago at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 27th of his career, came in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. He has eight poles this season, a career high.
- Busch has one win, two top-five finishes and five top-10s and has led a total of 279 laps in 12 career Cup Series starts at Homestead. Busch’s average Homestead finish is19.8.
- Championship 4 Bound: With his win three races ago at Martinsville, Busch clinched a berth into the Championship 4 at Homestead for the third year in a row. The 2015 Cup Series champion will look to bring home his second championship in the season finale Sunday in South Florida against fellow Championship 4 competitors Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski.
- Starting Up Front: Busch captured another pole in September at New Hampshire, which was the eighth of 2017 for the Las Vegas native. Eight poles is the most Busch has captured during any season of his career with 29.6 percent of his career poles coming this season alone. In fact, prior to 2017, the most poles Busch had captured in a season was three, which he did on two different occasions –2013 and 2014.
- 43 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Martinsville, the 43rd points-paying win of his career, Busch now sits alone in 17th on the all-time Cup Series win list, and one win behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott for 16th all-time. With his 40th Cup Series victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in August, Busch became the fourth-youngest driver to reach 40 Cup wins at 32 years, 109 days, behind only Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, and Herb Thomas