HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – There were many important statistics that came out of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ April trip to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. But for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), the most important notation in the box score included one word – “Running.”
Why was that important? Because in his previous three races at Kansas – which also happened to be the first three events on the track’s newly repaved surface – Busch was not running at the end of 400 miles because of accidents that knocked him out of the race.
So as the series heads back to Kansas for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, Busch hopes he can parlay April’s top-15 finish at Kansas and translate it into a solid top-10, or even a win, at a track where misfortune has struck for him so many times.
In that April Kansas race, Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers started from scratch with a brand-new car. They attacked the track in the Heartland of America with a different approach with the hopes 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 and effort was much different than the three previous trips. Instead, they were competitive enough to now have much higher hopes heading to Kansas for the start of the Contender Round of this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as one of the top-12 drivers advancing in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Kansas isn’t the only track that has given Busch fits during his career, now in its 10th year as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. Places like Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth are just two where Busch struggled early in his career, only to bring home wins from those places in recent years by taking a different approach than he did originally.
In fact, Busch has won at 17 of the 23 tracks at which the Sprint Cup Series competes. The only six tracks Busch has failed to reach victory lane in Sprint Cup competition are: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Kansas. While there are six tracks where he’s yet to score a Sprint Cup win, Kansas is the only track where Busch has yet to record even a top-five finish, and he’s looking to change that Sunday afternoon.
Despite the dry spell at Kansas in NASCAR’s top series, Busch has tasted success at Kansas in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition – as is the case at most racetracks on the Nationwide schedule – with a victory in 2007, a runner-up finish in 2009, and a pair of third-place runs in 2006 and 2010. Busch also brought home a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Kansas in April, which will no doubt add to his growing confidence on the fast, 1.5-mile oval. However, the best he has to show for his 14 visits to Kansas on the Sprint Cup side is a seventh-place finish in 2006.
So, as Busch heads back to the Heartland this weekend for the fourth race of the Chase, he’ll look to transform “running” to “winning.”
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Kansas is a place where you’ve traditionally struggled over the years, particularly since it was repaved. What is your mindset going into the weekend there?
“Our mindset in the spring there was completely different, and we saw an improvement there. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and I worked together to start over, from how we set up the car to how I approached it. We didn’t get the finish we wanted, but we ended up 15th, I think, with a clean racecar. We had a pit-road speeding penalty that really hurt us with track position, so you try not to make another mistake like that and hope you can hang in there and have some things go your way at the end. There are many places we’ve been in my career that I’ve struggled at, but we’ve gone back to the drawing board and, thanks to Dave and the guys, we’ve made huge strides at a number of places. I’ve been terrible at places like Martinsville, Pocono, Michigan and others, but we’ve had some solid finishes at those places by trying different things. So we’re hoping we can build on what we learned there in the spring and improve our finish and run a smart race and see where it puts us with our M&M’s Camry.”
Why has Kansas been so difficult for you over the years?
“It’s not that you might not like a track or might not like a race, or something like that. It’s just a matter of trying to figure it out. Once you kind of get it figured out, or get the right situations kind of lined up, you can have a shot. I look at this place a lot like Michigan. That’s a place where I struggled for a long time, but we finally were able to break through there for a win two years ago. Of course, just like Michigan, as soon as I figure it out, they repaved it, along with Kansas.”
Does your performance in last year’s Chase give you confidence this season?
“It does – you know you can do it. There’s opportunity there. It’s not necessarily that there are tracks I don’t run well at. We’ve crossed off all of those that I can run well at or we can win at. That’s not a problem – just being able to put the right setup under the car at the right time for track conditions. You have to have things kind of go your way and work out right. You have to be smart about it and just talk as much as you can with your crew chief about things that you know you need in the car, or what you’re feeling wrong, and work on those.”
Are other drivers as hungry as you are to win a Sprint Cup championship?
“I think anybody who doesn’t have one is just as hungry – I believe that. The amount of work and effort and dedication and the things I feel like I’ve done probably exceeds a little more of what some of the guys have done in their careers. I have no idea – I just say that because I feel like I’ve worked really hard and got a lot of good breaks to go my way and have done some other things that have gotten me to the level I’m at. It’s anybody’s game right now. There are now 12 guys who have the opportunity, so may the best man and best team win.”
How does this new Chase format change the approach?
“It lends 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. Fifteenths or better for the first round – we did what we needed to do with results a little bit better than that. Then, probably, you have to have 10ths or better in the Contender 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 likely only going to be one guy who doesn’t have a win who gets to move on.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine