As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway for the Season Finale 500k, Kyle Busch and his No. 18 M&M’S team are focused on playing the part of spoiler as stock car racing’s premier series decides its champion on Sunday afternoon in the Arizona desert.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has already played the spoiler role in these playoffs, having won two races ago at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth while keeping all the drivers in the Round of 8 of the Cup Series playoffs behind him. On Sunday at Phoenix, Busch will look to win at a place where he knows victory lane well.
Busch won at Phoenix for the first time in the fall of 2006, but went 12 years before his next turn at tasting victory there when he won back-to-back races. Those two races, in the fall of 2018 and then the spring of 2019, 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. Busch, in fact, has not finished worse than third in his last five Phoenix starts and has led a whopping 491 laps in that time.
While the M&M’S driver went 25 races between wins at Phoenix, he has been incredibly consistent throughout his career at the mile oval. In 30 Cup Series starts at the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has 12 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s while scoring top-five finishes in nine of his last 10 starts there, which includes the aforementioned back-to-back victories in 2018 and 2019.
Busch’s win in the rain-delayed Texas win, which began Sunday, Oct. 25 but wasn’t completed until Wednesday, Oct. 28, kept alive his streak of 16 consecutive seasons with at least one victory, and he knows there’s no better place than Phoenix to add to his win total this season with one last shot to do it this weekend.
So as the Cup Series season comes to an end, the 2019 Cup Series champion has one thing on his mind Sunday at Phoenix, where Busch and the M&M’S team hope to play spoiler on the same day a new champion will be crowned.
Do you have some confidence at Phoenix with how much success you’ve had there as of late?
“I really like Phoenix and we won there a couple of times the last couple of years. So much has changed since then. It’s entirely different now, so maybe we can still be good when we go back there, hopefully, but a lot’s going on in the development of everybody’s cars and things like that. We’ll see what we have this weekend with our M&M’S Camry and we would like nothing better to spoil the fun and take another trophy home.”
Does the momentum of the win at Texas help you at Phoenix to finish off the season?
“I would say yes and no. Certainly winning at Texas was a shot in the arm for our whole team. We went to Martinsville last weekend and gave it our best effort to win another one, we just didn’t quite have what we needed there. We’ll do the same thing at Phoenix this weekend. We always go to the track with the mindset of winning the race. Our M&M’S team has been really good there the last several years and even better since they changed the start-finish line. We’ve got nothing to lose so we’ll go out there and run up front and see what happens.”
You have good memories at Phoenix. How does that play into this weekend?
“The last several times we’ve been to Phoenix, we’ve run pretty good. Hopefully, that can translate to this time around again. We were good at Richmond and normally Richmond translates good there. Loudon (New Hampshire Motor Speedway), that translates there. I’m optimistic about it. I think we can do OK. It’s just a matter of running another clean race and not making mistakes.”
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 Toyota Camry will be interesting to see how the race plays out.”
You’ve won two of the four Cup races at the mile oval since the reconfiguration. Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix?
“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave and then more recently flipping the start-finish line to a different spot. 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.”