Kansas - Not so Spooky Anymore
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Oct. 17, 2017) – If one were to look at Kyle Busch’s last seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, the difference for the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) couldn’t be any more stark.
The 1.5-mile oval built in 2001, which originally featured a constant 15 degrees of banking in the turns, underwent a massive renovation project leading into its October 2012 Cup Series event. The changes included repaving of the existing track surface, reconfiguration of the oval, and the addition of a new infield road course. The oval’s geometric shape also was changed to feature variable banking of 17 to 20 degrees in the turns.
To say that Busch didn’t take well to the new surface would be quite the understatement. From October 2012 to 2013, Busch had three consecutive DNFs (Did Not Finish) there, with accidents ending his day each time for final results of 31st, 38th and 34th.
Feeling snakebit on the new Kansas surface, Busch and his M&M’S Halloween team took a different approach starting with the April 2014 race there by starting from scratch with a brand new car. They attacked the track in the Heartland of America with hope that a fresh outlook would produce vastly different results. While a pit-road speeding penalty cost them precious track position and an even better finish in the race, the result was still much different than the three previous trips. They began to turn the corner in terms of competitiveness and results.
Starting with the October 2014 Cup Series race at Kansas, Busch brought home his first ever top-five finish at the track. Anyone who has ever followed Busch’s career knows the 2015 Cup Series champion never cared much for moral victories. However, the momentum carried over from the October 2014 top-five to his next Kansas race in October 2015, when he finished a solid third. It was a finish that helped vault him through to the next round of the Cup Series playoffs and eventually to the championship stage.
Busch keeps making strides each time he goes back to the Heartland, where he broke through for his first Cup Series win at the 1.5-mile oval in May 2016 as the surface finally started to wear and become more agreeable to Busch’s driving style.
Sunday afternoon in Kansas, Busch and the M&M’S Halloween team will look to tackle the final race of the Round of 12 of the 2017 Playoffs. Busch is looking to overcome a seven-point deficit to the all-important eighth-place spot in the playoff standings after bad luck struck when he was collected in a multicar accident Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The Las Vegas hopes for a strong run at Kansas in order to advance to the Round of 8.
So, as the Cup Series heads to the Heartland of America Sunday, a sixth top-five finish in a row at Kansas could be just what Busch needs to move on to the next playoff round. And even though Halloween is fast approaching, Kansas isn’t as scary as it used to be for Busch and his colorful M&M’S Halloween Toyota.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
With a seven-point deficit to eighth place coming into Kansas, what is the mindset going into this weekend as you go to place you have improved so much over the last three years?
“We’re going to do the same things we’ve always done – same preparation, nothing different. I think we need to go in there and do our best to be prepared and when it comes to race time, try to limit our mistakes. I think that helped out there over the years and that has turned our team into a contender every time we race there, now. We’ll just do the same things this time around. It’s no different than what we typically do each and every week, though. I know Adam (Stevens, crew chief) will have a good M&M’S Halloween Camry and we will keep doing what we’ve been doing well all year long and see where the points fall for us if we can’t get a win.”
What difference have the bonus points for stage wins and race wins made for you so far in the playoffs?
“We’ve obviously had a terrible round and we are still within striking distance. If we didn’t have those bonus points, we wouldn’t have much shot going into this weekend. So I’m thankful that the system is in place that rewards the good runs we had during the regular season. We are still some points out but we can go out there and try and get as many stage points as possible and, if we get a good run, we still have a shot to make it through. We’ll just have to do what we’ve been doing all year and see where that puts us.”
You won at Kansas in 2016 after all the trouble and so many close calls and so much bad luck. Does it help your confidence at all that you’re going into Kansas knowing that you finally hit on something there?
“It certainly did. Not that long ago I probably wouldn’t say those words but, you know, it’s suddenly become a really good place for us recently. We’ve had a good string of top-fives so, hopefully, we can go there and have another good run to give us a shot of making it to the next round. We just have to move on from the last two weekends, try to score the most points possible.”
Kansas had been a frustrating place for you during your career, but have you and your team turned the corner there with five top-five finishes in a row there?
“I think so. We ran third there in the fall of 2014. I wasn’t there in the spring race of 2015 since that was the last race I was recovering from my injury, but (Erik) Jones ran up front until he ended up wrecking. Last fall, Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the M&M’S guys did an awesome job and we ran top-five again. The last few several races there, the track really has started to change and the groove is starting to spread out, and it makes me more comfortable when a track gets worn in. Adam and the guys have been bringing really good racecars to the track every weekend and, when you have great cars and run up front, good things are going to happen.”
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