As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the penultimate race on its 36-race schedule at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, Kyle Busch and his No. 18 M&M’S team are focused on controlling their own destiny as Sunday’s Can-Am 500k serves as the final cutoff for the Championship 4 the following weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), currently sits 28 points ahead of fifth-place Kurt Busch and needs a strong performance in Sunday’s playoff cutoff race to advance to the Cup Series finale with a shot at this year’s championship.
Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick are already locked into the winner-take-all Championship 4 at Homestead with their victories at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, respectively the last two weekends. Two more drivers will complete the Championship 4 field after the Phoenix race is complete. Busch and defending-champion and fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr., who’s four points behind him, hold down the next two spots in the standings. Finishing ahead of Truex in Sunday’s first two race stages and at the race finish enables Busch to control his own Championship 4 destiny. An outright race win would also automatically put Busch into the Championship 4 for the fourth consecutive season.
In 26 Cup Series starts at the mile oval known as the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has one win, eight top-five finishes and 18 top-10s while scoring top-five finishes in five of his last six starts there, including a runner-up finish in this year’s spring race.
Busch finished a solid eighth in his very first outing at Phoenix in the spring of 2005, followed by his second career Cup Series victory in his next start there in the fall race that year. Coincidentally, Busch’s first Cup Series win came just 10 races prior in another desert-like setting not too far from his hometown of Las Vegas – Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
So as the Cup Series season and playoffs wind down, Busch will focus on running well and controlling his own destiny in Phoenix in order to be among the four drivers who will compete in the winner-take-all Championship 4 at Homestead next weekend.
|KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:|
|What are your odds of advancing through this round and getting to Homestead?
“I’d like to think our odds are pretty good. Obviously, anything can happen. Things didn’t go our way at Texas last weekend and we felt we had a good car, but things just didn’t fall our way after having the loose wheel. You still have to have some luck on your side and have everything kind of go your way. It’s tough to rebound, sometimes, after a difficult start to a day or, even if you have trouble later in the day, it’s really difficult to rebound and get a good finish like you need. We’d love to be able to win and automatically lock ourselves through but, if that’s not the case, then you just have to be smart and mindful of a good points day and try not to hurt yourself – just try and keep what happens to you under your own control if you can.”
How do you think moving the start-finish line will impact this weekend’s race at Phoenix?
“I don’t know that it will change a whole lot, really. Have to kind of wait and see, I guess. But overall, the race and the restarts are going to be the biggest difference I see and, to me, it’s kind of going to remind me of Richmond. A lot of us are restarting in the turn at Richmond and they thought that was going to kind of be a problem when they first asked me, as far as start-finish line placement, where do you think it can go or should be or where would be weird for it. I’m grateful they asked me, but I told them exactly that. Where Richmond’s is, it’s in the corner almost, anyway, so it doesn’t matter where it is and kind of what’s going to happen with guys coming up through the gears and where guys are going to go once you clear the start-finish line on the restart and fanning out and getting out to turn one. There’s not a lot of room out there and, with the speed that you need to carry through one and two, it’s going to be pretty crazy, I think.”
What is your outlook for Phoenix after how hard Joe Gibbs Racing has worked to improve there?
“Yeah, that’s the key right there – we’ve worked a ton about everywhere, but especially at Phoenix, and we’re getting to where we want to be. We almost won that race in the spring, so I feel good about our chances again this weekend. From there, all the focus will be on trying to get to Homestead.”
What does it take to be successful at Phoenix?
“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but heading there with our M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry will be interesting to see how the race plays out.”
In addition to 10 Xfinity Series wins at Phoenix, you also won in your second Cup Series start at the mile oval. Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix?
“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave. For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different sets of corners at Phoenix.”