Kyle Busch began the 2019 season tying a record mark for consecutive top-10s (11) to open the calendar, then reeled off four wins – back-to-back at Phoenix and Fontana, Calf. then again at Bristol-1 and Pocono-1. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota won the regular season championship and began the Playoffs with a sizable points cushion, should he need it.
Four races into the Playoffs, however, and the 2015 series champion hasn’t won since June at Pocono – while all three of his JGR teammates have hoisted trophies since. He’s had two top 10s and two finishes of 19th or worse in the Playoffs. He was runner-up to his teammate Martin Truex Jr. at Richmond only to have a mechanical issue leave him 37th at the Charlotte ROVAL a week later. He finished sixth at Dover, Del. despite qualifying farthest back (18th) among the 12 Playoff drivers.
He is currently third in the standings – behind JGR teammates Truex and Denny Hamlin – but a hefty 52 points above the Playoff’s cutoff that will set the next round of the postseason following next week’s race at Kansas Speedway.
Busch is one of nine former Talladega winners in the field this weekend – his victory celebration coming in May 2008 – 11 seasons ago. He has six top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 28 starts and his average finish of 20.3 is 19th-best in Sunday’s field.
He was 10th at Talladega this May and 26th in the 2018 Playoff race there.
“I think you approach it the same way no matter where you in the points,’’ Busch said of the Talladega Superspeedway. “I’ve been in front and been part of a wreck and I’ve been riding in the back and been taken out too. There’s really no place that’s safe.
“With this race being the second race of the round, you have to try and run up front and hope that you don’t have some bad luck and just bring home a solid finish.’’