HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina – As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend for the final race of the Round of 12 in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kyle Busch’s SNICKERS Halloween Toyota is appropriately dressed for the occasion with a special Halloween-themed livery.
Talladega will undoubtedly have the usual treats in store for some drivers, but there also can be some scary moments in store for many others during Sunday’s Alabama 500 – the biggest “unknown” of the Sprint Cup playoffs.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Halloween Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has found fortune both good and bad during the first two seasons of NASCAR’s elimination-round format of the Chase.
In the fall of 2014, Busch entered Talladega with a 25-point lead on the eighth and final transfer spot. He ended up being wrecked from behind during a chain-reaction accident, heavily damaging his car and ultimately relegating him to a 40th-place finish and elimination from that year’s Chase.
Last season, Busch headed to the Talladega elimination race ninth in the standings and six points out of the final cutoff spot. He did what he needed to do to advance that day by avoiding trouble and bringing home an 11th-place finish, which advanced him to what is now called the Round of 8. Busch was able to post solid finishes in the Round of 8 to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he brought home his first career Sprint Cup title by winning the season finale.
With lessons learned from the last two seasons and knowing anything can happen at Talladega, Busch again enters the weekend as one of 12 remaining Chase drivers who will look to earn the chance to continue their playoff run by advancing to the Round of 8 starting next weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. This year, Busch sits well above the cutline with a 27-point cushion back to ninth-place Austin Dillon. But he and his SNICKERS Halloween team aren’t fooled at all by the word cushion, which isn’t comforting at a place like Talladega. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are thus far the only drivers guaranteed a spot in the Round of 8 by virtue of their victories in the opening two races in the Round of 12. One lap, or even one corner, could make the difference between making the cut or not as there probably isn’t a track on the circuit that presents as much of an unknown as the mammoth 2.66-mile Talladega oval.
Busch has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. In his 22 starts at the track, he has 10 other 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.
So as Busch and his fellow competitors head to Talladega this weekend, they’ll hope that a treat will be waiting for them Sunday afternoon in the form of a ticket to the Round of 8, keeping alive their dreams of repeating as Sprint Cup champions.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Do Talladega and even Martinsville present the chance for a shakeup in the standings?
“Obviously, both races are difficult because you can get yourself into trouble by getting caught up in a mess not of your doing. It’s tough, and you’ve got to be able to pull through in all of these races, and you’ve got to have a little bit of luck go your way, too. You’ve got to have the execution of everything go your way. It starts with coming off the hauler and getting good practice sessions going, qualifying well, trying to always stay up front, and then putting yourself in position for a chance to make it through this weekend. I know Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys will have our SNICKERS Halloween Toyota ready to go, we just have to be prepared for anything and also hope for some good fortune on top of that.”
Do the solid finishes at Charlotte and Kansas give you any comfort heading to Talladega?
“You never can have any comfort and you do what you need to do in order to transfer through. It’s all about the racing gods when it comes to the story of Talladega. I’ve been on both sides of it at Talladega in the first two years of this format. We’ve had a cushion before and been wrecked out, and we were on the outside looking in last year and were able to stay out of trouble and make it through to the next round.”
Does it feel easier this year trying to duplicate what worked last year?
“Yeah, I think so. I mean, there are obviously times where 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 and try to advance yourself. It can also help to just sit back, relax and finish where you can.”
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.”
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