Staying on Offense
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Nov. 2, 2017) – With his win this past Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Kyle Busch is locked into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While the pressure to win races is off for the next two weeks for Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), it doesn’t mean he won’t be trying to keep the pressure on his fellow NASCAR playoff competitors, starting with Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Why is that the case? To borrow a football analogy, the M&M’S Caramel team doesn’t plan to just run the ball and drain the clock just because Busch is locked into the Championship 4 at Homestead. With two races remaining in the Round of 8, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens will still be throwing the ball down the field, in a football sense, and trying to not make it easy for the rest of the remaining playoff field to automatically punch their tickets to Homestead like Busch did this past weekend.
This year’s scenario is much different for Busch than it was the last two seasons, even though he also remained championship eligible at the Homestead season finale.
In 2015, once he got to the Championship 4 at Homestead, he brought home a huge victory to secure his first title in NASCAR’s top series after scoring six top-five finishes through the first nine playoff races. Same goes for 2016, when he also matched the six top-five finishes in the first nine playoff races.
In 2017, Busch has taken a completely different path, as he scored finishes of 29th, 27th and 10th in the Round of 12 but still making it through to the Round of 8 thanks to the all-important playoff points he carried over from the regular season.
After his second career Texas win in the spring of 2016 and a fifth-place finish last fall, Busch has had to also follow a different blueprint at the 1.5-mile oval when it was repaved and slightly reconfigured prior to the start of the 2017 season. He struggled to a 15th-place finish this past April, but Busch comes to town knowing he owns seven top-five finishes in his last nine starts there, and has 11 top-fives in his 23 career Texas starts.
Along with his two Cup Series wins at Texas, Busch been a frequent visitor to victory lane in most everything else he’s raced there. He reeled off an incredible string of five consecutive Xfinity Series wins at Texas from April 2008 to 2010. Add his two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins in November 2009 and 2010 and Busch has quite the collection of signature cowboy hats given to Texas race winners.
So while Busch and his M&M’S Caramel team look to add yet another signature cowboy hat and six-shooters as race winners in the Lone Star State to their steadily growing trophy collection, Busch and his team will keep throwing the ball down the field in order to stay aggressive and keep the pressure on the seven other playoff competitors. If all goes according to plan, they very well may be the ones hoisting the Cup Series championship trophy down in South Florida in two weeks.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Now that you are locked into the Championship 4, what is the game plan over the next couple of races before the series gets to the Homestead?
“I think the biggest thing we can do is to allow ourselves to look at the next two weeks and try to keep on winning and allowing the anxiety level of these guys to keep amplifying each and every stage and each and every race and to keep them on their toes as to whether they are going to advance or not. If they all have to race for points and race for positions, that’s just going to make it harder for them. Anytime anyone automatically punches their ticket through, that gives them a breather and an opportunity to work on Homestead and what you need to focus on for that race. We’ll just keep racing hard and try and keep winning the next two weeks even though the pressure is off and see what we can do at Homestead.”
What are your thoughts heading into the Texas race, being the second race after the repave?
“Yeah, it’s a whole new deal with the repave. It’s a part of our schedule, it’s a part of our sport. Five years from now, six years from now, it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to that aspect of it. We struggled there in the spring, but I have heard the track has changed color a bit, so maybe the summer wore down the surface just a bit. Right out of the gate, going there, we’ll still be trying to put rubber down. It was slick, man. It was so treacherous, hard to get ahold of, hard to understand what you were feeling with your car because you would think you’re tight, that you’ve got all the grip in the world, that you’re going around the corner, and then, ‘Boom,’ it just busts loose right out from under you with no warning. That’s the worst thing. That’s why the older racetracks, the more aged racetracks – the Atlantas, the Californias, the Homesteads – you’re sliding the whole time, so you’re already against the slide. You don’t have maximum grip. You’re already playing with it and trying to get the most out of yourself and the car that you possibly can. You’re not just locked down, locked in solid, then it just jumps out from under you. So, I don’t think we are going to be able to take much info from Texas this weekend that we can use at Homestead, but we’ll go there and work on having a good run with our M&M’S Caramel Camry.”
You’ll have another chance at a championship at Homestead. How big is that for you and your M&M’S Caramel team?
“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 M&M’S Caramel team, they’re phenomenal. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys have been bringing great racecars for me every weekend. Like I said, I would like to keep the pressure on those other guys for the next two weeks, but winning last weekend gives us the flexibility to look ahead to what we need to do to win at Homestead.”
Do you approach Texas differently than other mile-and-a-half racetracks?
“You do now just because of the repave. Texas is a really fast mile-and-a-half racetrack. Charlotte has been fast the last few years and Texas has always kind of been that way. You’ve got to be able to move around a little bit and run the middle, run the top and show some ability to go all over the racetrack, so getting back to doing that soon would be great. Hoping that the track has worn in a bit more since the spring, and I’m curious to see how it’s going to be this weekend.”
Notes of Interest:
- The AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth will mark Kyle Busch’s 460th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 24th NASCAR Cup Series start at Texas.
- Busch has career totals of 43 wins, 27 poles, 160 top-five finishes, 239 top-10s and 14,331 laps led in 459 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came last weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 27th of his career, came last month at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. He has eight poles this season, a career high.
- Busch has two wins, 11 top-five finishes and 12 top-10s and has led a total of 741 laps in 23 career Cup Series starts at Texas. Busch’s average Texas finish is 11.7.
- Championship 4 Bound: With his win last weekend at Martinsville, Busch clinched a berth into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the third year in a row. The 2015 Cup Series champion will look to bring home his second championship on Nov. 19 in the season finale in South Florida.
- 16 races and counting: Busch is on a streak of 16 consecutive races in which he’s led at least a lap, a streak that started in July at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The consecutives races of leading laps is the longest such streak since Jeff Gordon led 19 races in a row back in 1995. The longest streak of consecutive races led in the modern era was set by Bobby Allison, who led at least one lap in 39 consecutive races that spanned the 1971 and 1972 seasons.