HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – It was only the first race of the 10-race run to decide the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, but Kyle Busch and his M&M’s team started NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship with a solid effort.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) brought home a seventh-place finish Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, leading 46 laps and enabling the No. 18 team to come out of the gates strong. Under the new NASCAR playoff format, it appears consistency is the formula for advancing through the first two rounds, while winning will be the key once the championship chase comes down to the final six races.
Even more good news for Busch and Company is that the next race on the schedule is Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. It was the site of another strong second place for Busch and the No. 18 team during their last trip there together in July, when they started from the pole. In fact, Busch and the M&M’s team have three consecutive second-place finishes at the 1.058 mile oval dating back to July 2013.
Busch has enjoyed plenty of success at the “Magic Mile” throughout his career as he scored a Sprint Cup win in July 2006 to go with seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 19 starts. Outside the Sprint Cup ranks, Busch has four wins, one pole and six top-five results in nine NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at Loudon to go with three wins, one pole and six top-10s in seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races there.
With a near-win in July, might this finally be the weekend Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers, and the M&M’s team will have things fall into place in the form of a magical finish together at the “Magic Mile?” If their last trip there is any indication, they just could be the ones to watch come Sunday afternoon.
And while it’s “so far, so good” at the start of this year’s Chase, things could turn into “so far, really good” with another solid run at the outset of this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How does it feel to kick off the Chase with a solid start?
“There’s no doubt, certainly you’d rather win one. There are still nine more weeks – nine long weeks – to go, but I know this team is focused and we’ll try to have another good race at New Hampshire with our M&M’s Camry and keep up some positive momentum from last week.”
How does this new Chase format change the approach?
“It levies itself to many different options and circumstances to win the championship this year, obviously. You can’t have mediocre days or bad days without wins. That’s not going to work. To have 15th-place finishes or better the first round – each of those three weeks you’re going to move on. That’s pretty simple, I think. Then, probably, you have to have 10th-place finishes or better in the next round to be able to move on to the next one if you don’t have wins. From there, it’s just going to get tougher. Each round, it’s going to get tougher. You have to be the top-finishing guy. If there are three different winners in Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix – those three guys automatically go and there’s only going to be one guy who doesn’t have a win that gets to move on.”
The New Hampshire race is one of the shortest on the circuit. How do you approach that race, knowing you might have a little less time to get to the front at the end if you’re not there, already?
“Essentially, at Loudon, you’re looking at how good your fuel mileage is and you have to look at when you have to make your last pit stop, since that’s what everyone looks at. You end up running it almost like a road-course race because you do want to be the first guy on the last round of pit stops to pit. You want to get in there, get your tires and fuel, and then stay out the rest of the race and keep your track position since it’s so important there. It’s just a challenging race because it’s so hard to pass there. You can’t be two-tenths faster than a guy and be able to pass him because everyone typically runs the same speed. You’ll have it where the leader might be a tenth better than the second-place guy, but everyone is separated by so little that it takes a mistake on someone’s part in order to pass them there.”
Will you take the same approach to Loudon that you did there in July to finish second?
“I think you’ll see some of the other teams take the same approach there that we did in July in order to finish second. We were essentially an eighth-place car but we were able to stay out on fuel over the last couple of cautions while other guys had to dip in to top off on fuel and we jumped them on (the pit stop) cycle and we were able to finish second.”
You have three consecutive second-place finishes at New Hampshire. What is it that you like about the track?
“I think it’s just optimism that we can run well there. It’s a tough place to pass and can be really aggravating at times. You want to be able to pass that guy in front of you because you know that you are faster than them, but the way the air works and it being one groove, it makes it tough. It makes it hard for guys to make moves and get up to the front where they think they should be.”
When you make a mistake at Loudon, do you have much of a chance to recover?
“You don’t because you’re always on edge there. You’re trying to go as fast as you can into the corners, as deep as you can into the corners while rolling as much speed, or just a bit higher than everyone else so you are able to get back to the gas sooner. You’re going harder than everyone else in order to make the straightaway a little bit longer and get your momentum built back up. It’s definitely a challenging racetrack. I have won there in the past so, if we get a good car, then we might have a shot to win there.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine