HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – As the curtain falls on the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kyle Busch is as focused as ever to finish strong.
Despite not being eligible to win the Sprint Cup championship, the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has plenty to race for in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.
The statistics show that the 2014 Chase has been strong for Busch and the M&M’s team overall, with three top-five finishes and six top-10s in the first nine races of NASCAR’s 10-race playoffs. However, accidents at both Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway last month and at Phoenix International Raceway last weekend have him sitting eighth in the standings heading into this weekend. For the season as a whole, Busch has nine top-fives and 15 top-10s, which includes a win in March at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Homestead, site of this weekend’s finale, had never been kind to Busch until two seasons ago. He dominated the 267-lap race 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 last year. Busch’s 2012 result was his first top-five at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval, bettering by far his seven previous finishes of 41st, 28th, 20th, 19th, eighth, 32nd and 23rd.
While mathematically eliminated from the championship hunt, Busch sits eighth in the standings, 40 points behind fifth-place Brad Keselowski. Busch also sits 16 points behind his seventh-place JGR teammate Matt Kenseth. The Las Vegas native can climb as high as fifth in the standings this weekend.
So, before the curtain falls on the 2014 Sprint Cup season at Homestead, Busch will reach for a Homestead win in order to top off another strong Chase. From there, he and the M&M’s team hope to take some momentum from Homestead to build upon for another Sprint Cup title run in 2015.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Do you feel like you’ve had two strong Chase runs in-a-row?
“I think so. Obviously, you look at some of the things that we could have done better, too. We proved to ourselves we could do it and we came out here this year and we were able to follow up on last year’s success. Barring Phoenix last weekend and the bad luck we had at Talladega, I think we’ve done a really nice job. At New Hampshire and Texas, we had basically wrecked race cars and brought home top-10 and top-five finishes. Those are the encouraging weeks, along with some of the other top-five finishes we had. Other than that, we’ve run a lot better in the Chase than we did throughout the season. The pace that those guys up front have kept up has been really tough. All we can do is go out there Sunday, try and win the race with our M&M’s Camry, and let the points fall where they may. We can get up to fifth and hope we can gain a spot or two once the checkered (flag) drops.”
How did the car react at Homestead-Miami Speedway during your test session a few weeks ago?
“Everything was really, really close to last year’s stuff – very similar. 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 Camry was pretty good and we’d really like to finish off the year with a big win.”
What are your expectations for Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway?
“That track hasn’t been great to me, but we really turned the corner there in 2012 and Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the M&M’s guys brought a really good racecar. I’ve run well there in the Truck Series. I won the Nationwide race there in 2010 and 2011, as well. Homestead is a fun racetrack. It’s real challenging because of the way the race changes from the beginning to the end, and the way things change from the beginning to the end of your runs. You run the bottom, then you go to the top. You’re always moving around. You’re always thinking. It’s a cool racetrack. The sun is going to play havoc on our eyes getting down into turn one during the race.”
Like you said, Homestead has not been a great track for you, statistically, but that changed the last two years. Is Homestead a place you might be starting to figure out in the Sprint Cup car?
“We ran a lot better there in 2009 than where we finished and we were running top-10 in 2011 before we got wrecked, so, we’ve had a few races where our runs have been much better than the results have shown. In 2009, Denny (Hamlin) and I battled on that last restart and I just couldn’t quite stay ahead of him. Track position is big there and, once he got out in clear air, he was gone. I was trying hard to get back ahead of him and ended up scraping the fence. I’ve never run that well there overall, but Dave really gave me the best car I’ve ever had there last year. I’m hoping we can have another strong car and finish off the season strong, and it can give us some momentum for the offseason and for next year.”
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