Survive and Advance

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Oct. 5, 2021) – During his team’s magical run to the 1983 NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship, the late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano first made famous the now-familiar phrase, “Survive and Advance”.

Since then, each and every March during the NCAA tournament, the phrase continues to be used by coaches and television analysts alike in describing the necessity of surviving each game in order to live on to play another day, ultimately accruing six consecutive wins to earn the grand prize – the national championship trophy.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), will no doubt take on this famous phrase as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to the final race of the Round of 12 in this year’s Cup Series playoffs – Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

There are multiple paths to advance into the Round of 8 that begins the following weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. As Busch sits eighth in the standings, nine points ahead of the cutline, he knows that a solid day will move him through to the next round. But, as the tricky 2.28-mile, 17-turn Roval has shown in its first three seasons, the results there can be as unpredictable as at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where the Cup Series raced last weekend. Busch was involved in an accident in Monday’s rain delayed race on the 2.66-mile Talladega oval but was able to leave Talladega with a cushion to the cutoff line, which is much different than his points situation one year ago.

It will be the fourth race for the Cup Series competitors on the Roval, which combines parts of the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval with its relatively new infield road-course section. The slippery infield portions feature heavy breaking zones that can turn a driver’s fortunes quickly and, again, make racing there just as unpredictable as Talladega.

Busch is hoping he can equal the feat he accomplished in the May 2018 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, albeit on the oval, when he brought home his first career points-paying win at the track in one of the crown jewels of NASCAR’s top series.

While this weekend’s Charlotte Roval is still a bit of a unknown, Busch has established himself as one of the top road-course racers in the Cup Series. If the two-time Cup Series champion was to grab another checkered flag in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400, he could join some elite company as a road-racing ace in NASCAR’s top series.

As far as overall road-course proficiency, Busch is tied with David Pearson and Mark Martin with four Cup Series road-course wins apiece. That’s some pretty good company, already. But with a fifth road-course win, he could tie Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Dan Gurney on the road-course win list. The top three in all-time road-course wins in the Cup Series are Chase Elliott and Jeff Gordon with seven apiece, and all-time leader Tony Stewart, who has nine wins. In the six road-course races contested so far this year, Busch has three top-fives and four top-10s, including top-five finishes at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. 

So as Busch heads to the Charlotte Roval this weekend, he will hope to survive and advance to the Round of 8, which will take Busch to three tracks where he has excelled during his career. But he knows he has to be in it to win it in order to have a shot for his third Cup Series title.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 

 You’ve had some good runs during your first three races at the Roval, but not the results you typically look for. What’s the approach this weekend?

“We did have some optimism where we ran better with a different setup package at the Daytona road course the last couple of years and at the Roval last year, but we just haven’t been able to finish those races off.  Hopefully we can go to Charlotte and have a 10th-place day – that’s all we need. You look at the guys you’re racing around a little bit. A couple of the Hendrick cars are right around us in points. They’re fast on the road courses, so any one of them could possibly win. We just have to keep ourselves above the cutline. We just have to get track position and keep it as much as we can, get as many stage points as possible, and see what we need to do at the end of the race.”

 What is the most difficult part of the track to figure out at the Roval? 

“I think the hardest part is just trying to understand the different dynamics between the slow sections in the infield portion of the track versus the high-speed and high-banked portion of the oval track. You are slipping in every corner, there’s not a corner where you are necessarily feeling really good about it. It’s going to be a technical challenge all the way around yet again this year.”

 How do you look at this weekend as far as being a crapshoot?

 “It’s just a different challenge. It’s alright. There’s a whole lot of differences there than a typical road course. There have been spots on the track where I could make up time and a lot of other spots where I would lose time, and now those spots where I could gain time are gone. We’ve worked on getting better there and hope we can show that this weekend.”

Is road-course racing something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on?

“It’s definitely something you have to work on. With rule changes and tire changes, it’s something you work on every year. There’s always change that you have to work on to be competitive. When I was a kid back in Las Vegas in Legends cars, that’s where I was able to learn about shifting and turning left and turning right. I had the natural instincts for it and won a couple of championships in the winter series we had out there. We actually went out to Sonoma back then and ran the national championship races two years in a row and finished third both times, so I had a little bit of experience on road courses as I came up through the ranks. Certainly the game has changed as far as road course racing this year, with several more races than we used to have, so you have to adapt and adjust. We’ve run well at the majority of the road courses so far this year and I’m hoping we can keep it going this weekend in our M&M’S Camry.”

What is it that you like about racing on the road courses?

“Just enjoy road racing. You used to only have two a year and you kind of treated them like an off weekend – come in, have fun and try to run hard and what not. Now, there’s four, five, six of them or whatever it is so there’s a bit more work involved to it, but still feel as though it’s fun. I’ve always been fast most times on the natural road courses. It’s nice when you have a shot to come up to a track that you know you can get up in the top-three or four and go shoot for a race win.”