HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, Kyle Busch and his No. 18 M&M’S Toyota team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) continue to follow the blueprint as the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup heads down the homestretch.
Why is that the case? With just three races remaining in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Busch and his team are very much in the championship battle, and a win Sunday at Texas would punch his ticket to the Championship 4 showdown at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks. Last season, Busch’s blueprint to the Sprint Cup title was solid, as he steadily advanced through each round via solid finishes. Once he got to the Championship 4 at Homestead, he brought home a huge victory to secure his first title in NASCAR’s top series. Last season, Busch scored four top-five finishes through seven Chase races. This season? Busch has improved on that, scoring six top-fives in the seven Chase races contested so far, including a solid fifth-place finish to kick off the Round of 8 Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
After winning this year’s April race at Texas, Busch looks to also follow the blueprint from that impressive weekend as he attempts to bring home his third Texas Sprint Cup win. He’s certainly been trending in the right direction at the 1.5-mile oval with six top-five finishes in his last seven starts there. He has 21 career Texas starts with 10 top-fives in all.
Along with his two Sprint Cup wins at Texas, Busch been a frequent visitor to victory lane in most everything he’s raced there. He reeled off an incredible string of five consecutive Xfinity Series wins at Texas from April 2008 to 2010. Add his two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins in November 2009 and 2010 and it’s no wonder Busch is feeling good about his chances of reaching victory lane yet again Sunday.
He sits fourth in the standings heading to Sunday’s second race of the Chase Round of 8. Jimmie Johnson punched his ticket to the four-driver, winner-take-all championship shootout at Homestead by virtue of his win at Martinsville last weekend. Now, Busch sits four points ahead of fifth-place in the standings and will look to either solidify his position among the top four drivers on the Chase grid or, better yet, automatically punch his own ticket to the championship round with a win Sunday.
So while Busch and his M&M’S team look to add yet another signature cowboy hat and six-shooters as race winners in the Lone Star State to their steadily growing trophy collection, Busch knows he and his team continue to follow the blueprint set during last year’s championship run by getting at least get a solid finish Sunday. If all goes according to plan, they very well may be the ones hoisting the Sprint Cup trophy down in South Florida in two weeks.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What makes Texas such a unique track among the Chase races?
“Texas is unique because its asphalt is starting to age and get older, but it’s not like Atlanta. Atlanta is, like, you run one lap and you’re done, you want a fresh set of tires. Texas, you can go a few laps and you can run a little bit before you kind of want to have that fresh set of tires. But, at Charlotte, you can run the same lap time for 25 laps. All those racetracks are really, really different, but Texas has kind of come into its own where it’s really a different place. The transitions in and out of the corners, and then of course the bump in the center of (turns) one and two, and then there are some more bumps that are developing at kind of the exit off two right in the middle lane. It’s kind of hard to run there, sometimes. And then, where the grooves have kind of been the last few times through three and four, right in the middle with left sides on that first seam, that has been a really good groove. Really, it’s got a lot of options for drivers and that’s what we all enjoy. I know our M&M’S Camry team will be ready for the challenge this weekend.”
Are you getting more comfortable at Texas each time you go back?
“It used to not be so much. I had some wild races there early on in my career and it wasn’t one of my favorite places, for whatever reason. Things have gone well, recently. The spring was a dream weekend for me, getting my second Sprint Cup win there. Obviously, the Xfinity Series wins I had there all in a row, and the Truck Series wins, have been real confidence boosters. I’ve sort of learned how to drive it a little bit better and I know what I need in my racecar to make it easier. The cars JGR has given me since I joined the team have also been a confidence booster there.”
How do you approach this final stretch of the Chase as the defending champion?
“I would say just trying to stay pretty even. Don’t get too excited, don’t get too down. We certainly had a good first round – that went really well for us. We had a solid second round, as well – much better than we did in 2015. Anything can happen so we just have to make sure we can take what’s given to us like we did last year. There were some times we didn’t get the finishes we wanted, but we were still able to transfer through. This year, we will try to get the finish we do want and make our way through the rounds if possible and get to the end. Certainly, you’re on the highest of highs at the checkered flag at Homestead last year, but it just continues to diminish all through this year because, you know, you try to repeat and, if you can repeat, you’ll be at the highest of highs again. But eventually, in about three more weeks, your reign is over so you try to repeat if you can.”
Do you approach Texas differently than other mile-and-a-half racetracks?
“Texas is a really fast mile-and-a-half racetrack. Charlotte has been fast the last few years and Texas has always kind of been that way. The asphalt is getting a little bit older. But, for as old as the asphalt is, it’s still really fast for a few laps and it’s still kind of a pain, sometimes, because it is so aero-dependent that, when you do run the bottom, it’s hard to pass. You’ve got to be able to move around a little bit and run the middle, run the top and show some ability to go all over the racetrack. We’re getting closer each and every time, it feels like. Sometimes not so much – you kind of go forward and then you go backward and then you kind of come back forward some.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine