HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 23, 2015) – It was only the first race of the 10-race run to decide the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, but Kyle Busch and hisPEDIGREE® team started NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship with a solid effort.
The driver of the No. 18 PEDIGREE® Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) brought home a ninth-place finish Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, leading 121 laps and enabling the No. 18 team to come out of the gates with a solid finish to start the Chase just four points out of the lead. In the second year of NASCAR’s current playoff format, it appears consistency is the formula for advancing through the first two rounds, while winning will be the key once the championship chase comes down to the final six races.
Even more good news for Busch and Company is that the next race on the schedule is Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Busch, an avid animal lover and dog owner, would like nothing more than to bring the dogs riding along on the Pedigree Toyota back to victory lane at New Hampshire, a place he’s quite familiar with. It was the site of one of the four 2015 wins for Busch and the No. 18 team during their last trip there together in July. In fact, Busch and the PEDIGREE® team have four top-two finishes at the 1.058 mile oval dating back to July 2013 and have not finished lower than eighth there since the 2012 season.
Busch has enjoyed plenty of success at the “Magic Mile” throughout his career as he has eight top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 21 starts to go with his two wins there. Outside the Sprint Cup ranks, Busch has four wins, one pole and seven top-five results in 10 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Loudon to go with three wins, one pole and six top-10s in seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts there.
And while it’s “so far, so good” at the start of this year’s Chase, things could turn into “so far, really good” with another solid run at the outset of this year’s Sprint Cup playoffs. If their last trip there is any indication, they just could be the ones to watch come Sunday afternoon.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Did you learn a lot about strategy for the championship format last year?
“I feel like last year we knew going in what we needed to do in order to move ourselves through. Last year, Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole, we weren’t capable of winning those races – we needed to point our way through to the end and we were doing a good job of that, a fine job of that until Talladega (Superspeedway) came around. We got wadded up on the backstretch there. We finished third at Kansas (Speedway) and fifth at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) or something and we were the best non-winner going into Talladega and still got eliminated, so anything can happen in this game. The only way to solidify your chance through to the next round is get that win and get that automatic berth to the next round. This year can be different for us at Joe Gibbs Racing because we do have that ability to win those races and we can go out there and try to get those wins and have that automatic berth.”
How does it feel to kick off the Chase with a top-10 finish?
“There’s no doubt, certainly you’d rather win one and we had a good car all day and circumstances didn’t play in our favor at the end. There are still nine more weeks – nine long weeks – to go, but I know this team is focused and we’ll try to have another good race at New Hampshire with our Pedigree Camry and keep up some positive momentum from the last several weeks.”
Is the key to the Chase consistency?
“You’ve got to have one or the other. If you haven’t got consistency, then you better be winning. If you’re having consistency, then you don’t have to be winning. But, there’s nothing better than being able to win and move yourself automatically.”
The New Hampshire race is one of the shortest on the circuit. How do you approach that race, knowing you might have a little less time to get to the front at the end if you’re not there, already?
“Essentially, at Loudon, you’re looking at how good your fuel mileage is and you have to look at when you have to make your last pit stop, since that’s what everyone looks at. You end up running it almost like a road-course race because you do want to be the first guy on the last round of pit stops to pit. You want to get in there, get your tires and fuel, and then stay out the rest of the race and keep your track position since it’s so important there. It’s just a challenging race because it’s so hard to pass there. You can be two-tenths faster than a guy and not be able to pass him because everyone typically runs the same speed. You’ll have it where the leader might be a tenth better than the second-place guy, but everyone is separated by so little that it takes a mistake on someone’s part in order to pass them there.”
When you make a mistake at Loudon, do you have much of a chance to recover?
“You don’t because you’re always on edge there. You’re trying to go as fast as you can into the corners, as deep as you can into the corners while rolling as much speed, or just a bit higher than everyone else so you are able to get back to the gas sooner. You’re going harder than everyone else in order to make the straightaway a little bit longer and get your momentum built back up. It’s definitely a challenging racetrack. I have won there in the past so, if we get a good car, then we might have a shot to win there.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine