HUNTERSVILLE, N.C.– During his team’s magical run to the 1983 NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship, the late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano first made famous the now-familiar phrase, “Survive and Advance”.
Since then, each and every March during the NCAA tournament, the phrase continues to be used by coaches and television analysts alike in describing the necessity of surviving each game in order to live on to play another day, ultimately accruing six consecutive wins to earn the grand prize – the national championship trophy.
NASCAR’s revamped postseason format for its Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship begins this weekend. It includes a series of elimination rounds throughout the 10-race playoff. So, there’s no doubt Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), and his fellow 15 Chase competitors will have to survive and advance as the 2014 Chase kicks off with Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
The new championship format will break the 10-race Chase into a four-round grid. The first round, named the Challenger Round, features races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and Dover (Del.) International Speedway. After Dover, four drivers are eliminated and 12 drivers remain for the next round, named the Contender Round. The three races of the Contender Round will be run at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. After Talladega, just eight drivers will remain for the next round, named the Eliminator Round. Races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and Phoenix International Raceway will comprise the Eliminator Round. After Phoenix, just four drivers will remain for the following week’s championship race and season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. At Homestead, the goal is simple – the highest finisher among the final four drivers will be the 2014 Sprint Cup champion.
Much like the NCAA tournament’s 68-team field that features first- and second-round games, then Sweet 16 and Final Four weekends, NASCAR’s Chase Grid will challenge teams to survive and advance to each round to stay in contention at Homestead, or NASCAR’s version of the NCAA’s Final Four. Race winners from each round automatically advance to the next round, with the remaining advancing teams determined by total points accumulated.
Along with setting his sights on advancing throughout the Chase, Busch is looking to rekindle the magic he showed at Chicagoland in 2008, when he captured a dramatic Sprint Cup win at the track just southwest of Chicago.
When a late-race caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, Busch lined up behind now six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. On the final restart, the Las Vegas native made a bold and surprising move to the outside in turns one and two, passing Johnson and holding him off to bring home the win. Last season at Chicago, Busch got off to a strong start by leading 67 laps before eventually finishing second behind JGR teammate Matt Kenseth.
As Busch looks ahead to the kickoff of this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland, he and the M&M’s team may consider channeling their inner Jim Valvano, for if he can simply “Survive and Advance”, it could very well lead to his first Sprint Cup Series championship.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your overall thoughts heading back to Chicagoland for Sunday’s race?
“I won at Chicago in 2008 but we didn’t have many good runs the few years after that. It really turned around for us starting two years ago and got better with a JGR 1-2 finish last year. I’m looking forward to Chicago with our M&M’s Camry this weekend. I like going there. We were able to test there a few weeks back and I feel like we learned a few things that will help us. I think we’ve got a great team and I’m sure we’ll be working hard to try to win and get off to a good start in the Chase.”
What is the strategy for the first round of the Chase?
“I feel like we are capable of outrunning a few guys and, that first round, you’re going to knock out those guys and you just don’t want to be one of those four guys by having a bad day. By being able to get through the first couple of races with solid finishes, I think we’ll be fine as a team. Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover are all good places for our M&M’s team and we’re hoping that helps us get off to a good start.”
Do you need to be more aggressive to win races in the Chase?
“It’s important to win, but I don’t think you need to be ultra-aggressive to get those wins. If you finish second every week, it’s going to get you to Homestead, but you have to win Homestead. Last year, we started out with a second and a second – those would be two great finishes to have again this year if we could have them and try to move on and get into the second round.”
How do you feel about how you’ve run at Chicagoland in recent years?
“At Chicago, we ran really well there in ’08 and, unfortunately, ’09, ’10 and ’11 we kind of a struggled. Two years ago, we had a really solid top-five run there and then finished second last year and thought we had a good shot at winning the race. I like going to Chicago. It’s been a really good track for us in the Truck and Nationwide Series and we’ve got to get our Cup stuff a little bit better there. We had a decent car at Texas and Kentucky, too – some of those places that are kind of the same as Chicago.”
Where does the 2008 Sprint Cup win at Chicagoland rank in terms of special wins for you, knowing how you made a spectacular move on the outside to win?
“Winning both (Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup) races at Chicago that year, it was just a great weekend. It was special, but there have been several special wins the last few years. It was a special year in 2008, since we won at Atlanta, Daytona and Sonoma. And winning at home in (Las) Vegas, and on my birthday in Richmond, were also great races that year. But winning Chicago in 2008 and beating Jimmie (Johnson) was definitely neat. Ultimately, I have a lot of respect for him, Jeff Gordon, and anybody in this sport since it’s so competitive. To go out and beat guys like that, it’s something pretty special and I really cherished that, for sure.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine