Wild Card Game

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Oct. 9, 2018) – With Major League Baseball’s postseason in full swing, two division runners-up from each league played in a pair of winner-take-all Wild Card games for the chance to continue their postseason. The American League’s New York Yankees and the National League’s Colorado Rockies were able to move on in the playoffs by winning their respective games last week.

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend, NASCAR’s top series holds its annual “Wild Card Game” of a different sort four races into its own playoffs and during the month of October. Heading into Sunday’s 1000bulbs.com 500, there arguably isn’t a track on the circuit like Talladega, upon which racing is as much of an unknown as its mammoth 2.66-mile oval.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has found fortune both good and bad during NASCAR’s version of the Wild Card Game. With lessons learned from his now 14-season career, the 2015 Cup Series champion knows anything can happen at Talladega. Starting last year, Talladega moved from a playoff elimination race, which was its place on the schedule the previous three seasons, to the second race in the Round of 12. 

Last weekend’s Round of 12 opener last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway saw Busch battle handling woes at the Monster Mile and run as far back at 17th before making a miraculous recovery late in the race and salvaging an unlikely eighth-place finish. While Busch and the No. 18 team are accustomed to running much better, every point counts in the current playoff format and the top-10 finish enabled Busch to expand his cushion over the ninth-place cutoff spot in the playoff standings to 63 points with two races remaining in the Round of 12. 

But Busch and his M&M’S team aren’t fooled at all by the word cushion, which isn’t comforting to hear at a place like Talladega. So far, only Chase Elliott, by virtue of his win at Dover last weekend, is guaranteed a spot in the Round of 8. Despite Busch’s tough day at Dover, his success during the regular season, as well as in the Round of 16, earned him a total of 55 playoff points that will certainly help his cause going into the wild card race at Talladega.  

But as Talladega looms, Busch knows one lap, or even one corner, could change a driver’s fortunes quickly.

He has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. In his 26 starts at the track, he has 12 top-15 finishes, and four outings that ended in an accident. So, the Las Vegas native knows the winner of Sunday’s 500-mile race will need to have a strong car and some good fortune at NASCAR’s longest track.

As NASCAR prepares for its version of “Wild Card Weekend” at Talladega, Busch hopes to stay in front of the chaos with his M&M’S Camry, then head to Kansas the following week with, at the very least, a strong shot of advancing in the tightly contested NASCAR playoffs.

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

How will you and the team approach this weekend at Talladega?

“I think you approach it the same way no matter where you are in the points. I’ve been in front and been a part of a wreck and I’ve been riding in the back and been taken out, too. There’s really no place that’s safe. With this race being the second race of the round, you have to try and run up front and hope that you don’t have some bad luck and just bring home a solid finish. We’ll do the best we can this weekend with our M&M’S Camry and see where the points fall for us afterward, then focus on what we need to do at Kansas.”

Which is your best remaining track?

“I don’t really look at one, necessarily. I kind of look at all of them. I look at all of them as being really good tracks for us that we can contend at. If I look at the most worrisome track for me, it’s Talladega this weekend. The rest of them, I feel like we’re pretty good. They are all places we are capable of running well at, even though we’ve seen Martinsville have some crazy finishes recently, but it’s a place I like and run well at. If we can have a decent finish this weekend, I feel like Kansas next weekend has been really good for us, recently.”

Is a win at a premium in the playoffs?

“I think wins are always important and I think the biggest thing now is that each round kind of has its own wild-card race, if you look at it. You’ve got the Charlotte roval in the first round, Talladega this weekend in the second round, and then Martinsville kind of turned into a crazy race in the third round. It’s all just going to be about trying to maintain and have a good day. If you can get top-five finishes, great, that’s going to propel us through with the amount of points we have and the point cushion we have, but wins are the ultimate. If you can get those, then you’re automatically in and that’s what we all strive for.” 

Do you try and duplicate what worked at Talladega before?

“Yeah, I think so. I mean, there are obviously times when you feel like you want to push hard and go get a win or go get a better finish than where you’re currently running. But, you know you’ve just got to do what you can in order to let these races kind of fall into place, and sometimes it’s just worth taking the finish that’s coming to you and moving on and going to the next one. It doesn’t always help to push too hard, either, at times. There’s a balance there, for sure. It can also help to just sit back, relax and finish where you can, so we’ll see how it plays out for us.” 

What is the key to pulling off a victory at Talladega?

“The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble. At Talladega, you pretty much stay around the bottom since there is a lot of grip there, and you can pretty much run wide open every single lap. Everyone can run up on top of each other. When you get single-file at the bottom, sometimes it’s hard to get a lane on the outside with enough good cars to get something going. It can be frustrating at times because of that. It also seems to still put on a good race each time we go there. If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy.”

Notes of Interest:

  • The 1000Bulbs.com 500 will mark Kyle Busch’s 493rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 27th NASCAR Cup Series start at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
  • Busch has career totals of 50 wins, 30 poles, 179 top-five finishes, 265 top-10s and 15,611 laps led in 492 career Cup Series racesHis most recent Cup Series win came three weekends ago at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came on the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May.
  • Busch has one win, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led a total of 233 laps in 26 career Cup Series starts at Talladega. Busch’s average Talladega finish is 20.5.