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 the big picture. They know they can control their own destiny in the championship hunt as Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 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), sits 22 points ahead of fifth-place Denny Hamlin in the playoff standings and needs a strong performance Sunday to advance to the Cup Series finale with a shot at this year’s championship. Even better news for Busch is that he’s won the last two Cup Series races at Phoenix and, coincidentally, those two race wins were the first two events on the renovated and reconfigured track surface with the start-finish line moved from what is now the backstretch over to the dogleg in front of the new main grandstand. In fact, Busch has led an impressive 422 laps in the last three races run in NASCAR’s premiere series at the mile oval in the Arizona desert.
Martin Truex Jr. 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 Joey Logano hold down the third and fourth spots in the standings with Logano sitting just two points behind Busch. Finishing ahead of Logano in Sunday’s first two race stages and at the 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 29 Cup Series starts at the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has three wins, 10 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s while scoring top-five finishes in seven of his last eight starts there, which includes the aforementioned back-to-back victories.
So as the Cup Series season and playoffs wind down, Busch has the big picture in mind and he will focus on running well and putting himself in position yet again at Phoenix in order to be among the four drivers who will compete in the winner-take-all Championship 4 at Homestead the following weekend.