HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 14, 2015) – To say that Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has had a rollercoaster season might be quite the understatement.
At Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February, Busch suffered injuries that would sideline him for the first 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the season. But not only did he come back, he came back better than ever. With hard work and fierce determination, the M&M’S Crispy driver won four races in just the 15 races since his return to the driver seat. In addition to those four wins, Busch posted six top-five and nine top-10 finishes that helped him not only impress in his return, but also lock his spot into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
NASCAR’s 2015 Chase begins this weekend. It includes a series of elimination rounds throughout the 10-race playoff. Busch will aim to continue his magical comeback season and perhaps top it off with a championship as the Chase kicks off with Sunday’s MyAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
The championship format, in its second year in existence, will break the 10-race Chase into four segments. The first segment, named the Challenger Round, features races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and Dover (Del.) International Speedway. After Dover, four drivers are eliminated and 12 drivers remain for the next round, named the Contender Round. The three races of the Contender Round will be run at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. After Talladega, just eight drivers will remain for the next round, named the Eliminator Round and featuring races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and Phoenix International Raceway. After Phoenix, just four drivers will remain for the following week’s championship race and season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. At Homestead, the goal is simple – the highest finisher among the final four drivers will be the 2015 Sprint Cup champion.
In order for Busch to get to the championship four at Homestead, he’ll likely have to find a way to beat three other drivers with the same equipment as JGR as a whole has also had a strong season. All four JGR drivers – Busch, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin – have combined to win 11 races during the 26-race Sprint Cup regular season.
Along with setting his sights on advancing throughout the Chase, Busch is looking to rekindle the magic he showed at Chicagoland in 2008, when he captured a dramatic Sprint Cup win at the track just southwest of Chicago.
When a late-race caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, Busch lined up behind now six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. On the final restart, the Las Vegas native made a bold and surprising move to the outside in turns one and two, passing Johnson and holding him off to bring home the win. He’s gotten off to a strong start in the Chase each of the last three years at Chicagoland, posting top-10 finishes each time.
So as Busch looks ahead to the kickoff of this year’s Chase at Chicagoland, Busch and his M&M’S Crispy team are as determined as they’ve ever been. With all they’ve been through as a group, they would like nothing more than to finish the job at hand and help bring Busch home his first Sprint Cup Series championship.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How does it feel to make it into the Chase after such a roller-coaster season?
“It certainly was a roller-coaster season, probably more for my team and guys and everybody who started the season in Daytona, switching seats out, having other drivers in my car. Can’t say enough about the team and the effort Adam Stevens (crew chief), everyone who continued to focus and work hard, wait for the star quarterback to come back. Once I did come back, they were all ready, ready to perform. Felt like we did a really good job of that. Maybe the first month was a little rough. After that, once we got through Sonoma, it was on. We had a really good stretch and still continue to run strong each week. I’m really proud of everybody on this M&M’S Crispy Camry team. Makes our job easier week in and week out to have fast racecars. Now it’s time to focus and put your head down to the dirt and make sure that you get all you can get when you go through these next 10.”
Are you surprised to make it into the Chase after all that you’ve been through this year?
“It was an unbelievable beginning and a pretty believable middle part of the season and how we ran. That’s just how we’re supposed to be and how this 18 M&M’s Crispy Camry is supposed to be every week. Just proud of Adam Stevens (crew chief) and all my guys. They never gave up. They fought hard and they worked really well together as a first-year team, so I’m proud of all of that. It’s come together really well and it’s just a matter now of being able to put our heads down and getting the job done. We definitely have equipment capable of doing it. It might be a race between all four (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) cars come Homestead, but I’m sure Joe (Gibbs) will love that.”
How would you assess your team at this point in the season compared to a year ago?
“Way better – I think the whole team, the whole organization. I think we’ve been proving that the last two, two and a half months just being able to execute and get some wins. All of us have been. It’s been really, really good to see and it’s so much fun to come to the racetrack knowing you are that good. We’ve just got to do the right things and not screw it up ourselves here at the racetrack. Everyone back at the shop should be really proud of everything we’ve done and where we’ve come from. We were struggling last year and a little bit the year before that. We knew building cars, pieces and everything that, once it all kind of came together and once we could all hit on everything, we’d have all of the pieces and it certainly came about May, June – something like that this year. It’s been really fun and we look forward to these last 10 weeks. It’s going to be grueling out there, especially with all of my teammates.”
How do you take this momentum into Chicago?
“I think, when you have good races and good cars and stuff like that, it makes your job a heck of a lot easier going to the racetrack – to be able to be competitive and to continue to strive and to push and to get those wins and have good finishes. Last year, I’d say our cars and stuff – our equipment – we were just struggling. We were just off and we were just kind of missing something and, with the realignment of the crew chiefs and bringing on Carl (Edwards) this year and having that opportunity to have four cars, I think that just elevated our program and gave us everything we needed in order to have a strong showing, and we’ve proven that the last two, three months.”
What is your mindset going into the Chase?
“I think the mindset is just the same as what we’ve been doing. Keep going, keep hitting it hard and don’t screw up. That’s the biggest thing is just try not to make any mistakes. That’s the biggest thing about this Chase but, with the opportunity you have now with ‘win and you’re in,’ or ‘win and you transfer through,’ you can make a mistake and come back, but you better be good when you do come back.”
Where does the 2008 Sprint Cup win at Chicagoland rank in terms of special wins for you, knowing how you made a spectacular move on the outside to win?
“Winning both (Xfinity Series and Sprint Cup) races at Chicago that year, it was just a great weekend. It was special, but there have been several special wins the last few years. It was a special year in 2008, since we won at Atlanta, Daytona and Sonoma. And winning at home in (Las) Vegas, and on my birthday in Richmond, were also great races that year. But winning Chicago in 2008 and beating Jimmie (Johnson) was definitely neat. Ultimately, I have a lot of respect for him, Jeff Gordon, and anybody in this sport since it’s so competitive. To go out and beat guys like that, it’s something pretty special and I really cherished that, for sure.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine