By taking a quick look at the win column so far in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, one thing is clear –the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota of Kyle Busch and the No. 4 car of Kevin Harvick have owned the first part of the season.
Both Busch and Harvick own three-race win streaks – Harvick winning three in a row at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway near Phoenix, and Busch taking home three consecutive victories at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Richmond (Va.) Raceway. With Harvick adding his fourth win last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, the two drivers have accounted for an astounding seven wins in the first 11 races.
So as Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City for Saturday night’s NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series KC Masterpiece 400, he’ll have an excellent shot at bringing home his fourth win of the season. However, there was a time not long ago when Busch’s outlook heading into Kansas wasn’t nearly as optimistic.
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 Caramel team took a different approach starting with the April 2014 race by starting from scratch with a brand new car. They attacked Kansas 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 turn the corner in terms of results.
In the October 2014 Cup Series race, Busch brought home his first-ever top-five finish at Kansas. 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 his first top-five at Kansas in October 2014 has remained to this day. Finally, with the surface starting to wear, Kansas has become a place much more agreeable to Busch’s driving style as he has five top-five finishes and six top-10s in his last six starts there, including his first Kansas win coming two years ago in this very race.
So, as the Cup Series heads to Kansas for Saturday’s race under the lights, Busch hopes to score his second career Cup Series win in the Heartland of America and, furthermore, he’ll look to capture his fourth win of the season and solidify his spot on top of the point standing and the early season playoff outlook.
|KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:|
|What did it mean to win at yet another track for the first time in the Cup Series when you were able to add Kansas to the list?
“Before three years ago, I’ve not had very many opportunities to win at Kansas and hopefully we can get into victory lane there again this weekend with our M&M’S Caramel Toyota. I’m excited about that opportunity and working with this team of guys and (crew chief) Adam Stevens and everybody he has assembled. It’s so much fun. As you’ve seen so far this year, there are certain circumstances that can go against you, and you just have to persevere and keep fighting until the checkered flag falls, as we’ve won some races even though we hadn’t had the dominant car in a few of those. It’s a bummer what happened in Dover, but we’ve run at the front almost the entire season and winning at Texas should help give us some confidence heading to another 1.5-miler (at Kansas).”
Do you think you’re running better than Kevin Harvick right now?
“Man, I think we’re pretty equal, honestly. I think I’ve got to give them the notch a little bit. I think they’re a little bit better than we are. I think (Kyle) Larson’s right there, too. I think he may actually be in the mix, as well – the 42 was strong last week. It’s just going to be a fight to the end, you know? I think that we kind of saw the guys, the main players kind of come rise to the top last year through the end of the regular season and through the playoffs, and I think those same guys are kind of the top guys right now with some few more mixed in. I think Denny’s (Hamlin) getting better. I think Kurt’s (Busch) getting better. I think a couple of the Hendrick cars will start showing their speed here probably in the next three months or so, I would predict, and we’ll see what happens with how it all goes down between now and then. A lot of it all comes down to execution when things are this tight with the 4 and us. They were able to execute better at the start of the year on their streak, and also last week, and we’ve been able to execute in order to get our wins. We haven’t been dominant each week, but we’ve been able to execute as a team – myself as a driver – to be able to get those wins.”
Are you looking forward to racing at Kansas more now that you’ve won there?
“I am. Also, it was – even the last few times before we won there two years ago, that we’ve had some really strong runs. We finished in the top-five, I think, six of the last seven or eight races that we’ve had here. We’ve seem to have gotten a setup or a hold of that place, I’d say, and hopefully we don’t screw that up this time around and we can continue our strong runs and our fast pace of being able to have a shot to win.”
Kansas had been a frustrating place for you during your career, but have you and your team turned the corner there with your recent ability to finish in the top-five there consistently?
“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. That fall, Adam (Stevens) and the M&M’S guys did an awesome job and we ran top-five again. The last few 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.”