Kansas – Not So Spooky Anymore
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Oct. 13, 2015) – As Halloween quickly approaches, there was a time not long ago where the scariest thing for Kyle Busch in October was the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stop at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
But Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to Kansas for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 coming off a third-place finish during his most recent trip there last October. On top of that, Busch was able to test at the 1.5-mile oval last month with crew chief Adam Stevens and his M&M’S team. Busch hopes he can parlay last October’s third-place finish at Kansas and recent test session into another solid top-five or even a win this weekend at a track that has caused him misfortune, but also a place where the surface has finally started to wear in and become more agreeable.
This weekend’s Kansas race took on added importance for Busch and the M&M’S Halloween team after misfortune struck last weekend at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway during the first race of the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. While running third, Busch and Kyle Larson made contact at the entrance to pit road. The resulting damage and subsequent repair job put Busch and the No. 18 team behind the eight-ball. They were able to salvage a 20th-place finish, however, and ended up just 10 points behind the eighth and final transfer spot to the next round with two races remaining in the Contender Round. With this weekend’s race at Kansas, followed by the huge unknown in the restrictor-plate race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, there’s plenty of opportunity for Busch to race his way into a transfer spot to the Eliminator Round.
Despite the dry spell at Kansas in NASCAR’s top series, Busch has tasted success at Kansas in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition – as is the case at most racetracks on the Xfinity schedule – with victories in 2007 and last fall, a runner-up finish in 2009, and a pair of third-place runs in 2006 and 2010. Busch also brought home a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Kansas in April 2014, all of which no doubt add to his growing confidence on the fast, 1.5-mile oval.
Busch has won at 18 of the 23 tracks at which the Sprint Cup Series competes, and he’ll hope that he can cross another track off the dwindling list and earn an automatic bid to the Eliminator round. The Las Vegas native has only failed to reach victory lane in Sprint Cup competition at five tracks – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Charlotte and Kansas.
So, as Busch heads back to the Heartland this weekend for the fifth race of NASCAR’s playoffs, he’ll count on his growing confidence with his Halloween-themed M&M’S Camry, knowing that he and his team are more than capable of moving up in the Chase standings Sunday afternoon.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Can you take what you learn in Charlotte and use it at Kansas?
“Not Charlotte to Kansas, but I think maybe a little bit from Chicago, where we had a really good M&M’S Camry. Chicago is probably the closest to Kansas, yet the pavement now, with the fresh pavement at Kansas, is entirely different. I don’t know, all those mile-and-a-halves, you look at them from the top side and they all may look the same, cookie-cutter, but I think they all race entirely differently. You have to know what things work differently at every single one of those tracks.”
What has this Chase been like with Adam Stevens?
“Adam (Stevens, crew chief) is a great team leader. He and I, I think we share in that responsibility and I think it’s been a lot of fun this season to work together and to be as good as we have as quickly as we have. I feel like we weren’t really sure whether we were going to be Chase-eligible this year at all without getting a win or without getting enough points to be in the top-30. But, once we were able to accomplish all those things – this is Adam Stevens’ rookie year in the Chase, so he’s got a lot of pressure on himself as well as me having a lot of pressure on me to be able to make it through those rounds and get to the round that matters, and that’s Homestead.”
You’ve had some tough runs at Kansas, but how much does your finish there last year help your confidence?
“I’m not sure what it is, but (Erik) Jones was doing a fabulous job there in the spring. He was really fast and looked good and then got caught up in a crash in the late going. I’m looking forward to getting back, especially with the speed that Erik Jones had with the limited experience he has in a Cup car. I felt like that was a positive for how Adam Stevens is and what he does with his racecars. And then we went there and tested just a few weeks ago, also for the single-day test that we had as part of the NASCAR plan, and things went well. I thought everything was pretty normal and we look forward to getting back there.”
Do you like this Chase format and did it give you a chance to come back from your injury to compete for the championship?
“I think with the Chase rules the way they are, it gave me an opportunity to make the Chase. Years ago, with the old format, obviously I wouldn’t have had a chance for the championship. We would have just been racing races and racing for wins. It’s different now and I appreciate that but, at the same time, sometimes it’s really cool the way the points are and sometimes it’s very frustrating the way the points are. As a team and as a driver, and as a competitor within it, it’s all over the board and your emotions are all over the board. As a fan of the sport, if you were on the outside looking in, I think it’s great. It’s very entertaining and very unpredictable and you have to keep following and keep watching until it’s over in order to figure out who’s going to win the championship. With the way our season’s gone and reflecting and looking back on it, I don’t know that I’m necessarily ready to do that, yet. I feel like I want to get through Homestead and hopefully get to Homestead with a chance to race for a championship. We still have a lot of racing left to get to that point.”
Was it a daunting feeling to know what you had to do to make the Chase coming back from the accident?
“I wouldn’t say it was a daunting feeling. It just kind of was what it was. Having the opportunity to go out there and achieve those points and get what we needed to get in order to make the top-30 was a task that was set forth for us and we had to go achieve that. It definitely felt good when we were able to achieve that with a race remaining going into Richmond, and we were free and clear of being a Chase team and that’s what we worked toward. After being back in the car for a month, it didn’t look very good after Michigan in June, but we certainly turned the tables. Without those four wins we had in the regular season, we wouldn’t have made it through the first round of the Chase. Those bonus points that we had going into the first round went a long way to get us to this round, but now we still have plenty of work left to do.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine