HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 10, 2013) – Last weekend’s 26th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway marked the end of the “regular season” for Kyle Busch and 11 other drivers locked into the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
So, as the Sprint Cup Series kicks off its 10-week, 12-driver “playoff” starting Sunday with the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., what kind of changes will the driver of the No. 18 Doublemint® Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) make in an effort to win his first Sprint Cup title? The answer: absolutely nothing.
Busch is seeded third for this year’s Chase, three points behind top seed and JGR teammate Matt Kenseth. He locked up a spot in the Chase for the sixth time in his eight-year career, with his best finish of fifth coming in 2007. Busch and second-seeded Jimmie Johnson both have four wins on the season and will start the Chase just behind Kenseth, a five-time winner in 2013.
NASCAR reset the points for the 12 Chase drivers at 2,000 each following Saturday night’s race at Richmond. The top-10 drivers also received three bonus points for each win during the 26-race regular season. Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman earned wild-card berths but no bonus points for their respective victories. For the drivers starting the Chase with identical point totals after the three-point bonuses were doled out, seeding was determined by the traditional tiebreaker of best finishes beyond race victories.
This weekend, Busch is looking to rekindle the magic he showed at Chicagoland in 2008, when he captured a dramatic Sprint Cup win at the track just southwest of Chicago.
When a late-race caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, Busch lined up behind now five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. On the final restart, the Las Vegas native made a bold and surprising move to the outside in turns one and two, passing Johnson and holding him off to bring home his seventh win of the season at the time.
As Busch heads back to Chicagoland this weekend for the start of the 10-race Chase, he’ll not only hope to reproduce some of that Chicagoland magic of 2008, more importantly, he’ll hope to keep doing what he’s been doing all this season. If he does so over the next 10 races, Busch just might be bringing home his first Sprint Cup championship.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your overall thoughts heading back to Chicagoland for Sunday’s race?
“We’ve been very good with our mile-and-a-half stuff this year. Chicago, in particular, really turned around for us starting last year. I’m looking forward to Chicago with our Doublemint Camry this weekend. I like going there. We were able to test there a few weeks back and I feel like we learned a few things that will help us. I think we’ve got a great team and I’m sure we’ll be working hard to try to win and get off to a good start in the Chase.”
How do you feel about how you’ve run at Chicagoland in recent years?
“At Chicago, we ran really well there in ’08 and, unfortunately, ’09,’10 and ’11 we kind of a struggled. And, last year, we had a really solid top-five run there. I like going to Chicago. It’s been a really good track for us in the Truck and Nationwide Series and we’ve got to get our Cup stuff a little bit better there. We had a decent car at Texas, Atlanta and Charlotte, too – some of those places that are kind of the same as Chicago.”
Is there more momentum with your team going into this Chase?
“I wouldn’t say so – I think our team is pretty even keel. These guys here, they have a job to do, they know what their job is, and you don’t want to get too wrapped around any of the hoopla or any of the pressure or anything like that. So you just try to stay as motivated and as determined as you can be to know that you’ve got something to shoot for and something to work toward. But, in all reality, it’s certainly one of the most challenging things to achieve in this sport and we’ve just got to be determined enough to go get it.”
Do you have a greater appreciation for being in the Chase this year after missing it last year?
“Oh, no doubt. Definitely. Every year, your first focus is to win races and to make the Chase. That’s what you’ve got to do and, last year, we sort of failed at that. We had one win and we could’ve made the Chase if we didn’t make a mistake at Richmond, but that’s racing, sometimes. That’s just the way it plays out. If we could’ve won Watkins Glen (last year), we would’ve had another win under our belt. We would’ve been in the Chase – we would’ve had the wild card with two wins. It’s ‘what ifs.’ There are too many of those. This year, there’s certainly a greater satisfaction of being included in the Chase and knowing that you’re locked in and knowing that you have a chance to race for the rest of the year to contend for a championship, hopefully.”
Does recent performance or race wins give you an advantage going into the Chase?
“Neither. It don’t mean crap. It doesn’t, I mean. You want to be able to run well all year long. You want to be able to keep the consistency all year long. You want to be able to win all year long. At any opportunity, at any given point, you want to be able to go out there and knock a win out or have the opportunity to do so. But, things are a lot tougher when it comes to the final 10 races. You do have to be able to focus a little bit more and be able to get your team focused a little bit more to be able to achieve what you want to. It’s a situation where, right now, do those previous 10 mean anything to us? It’s good to know, but not all of those racetracks are in the Chase, so we’ve got to be able to focus on our 10 Chase racetracks and be able to get the most out of those.”
Do you think performance leading up to the Chase is a predictor of who might win the championship?
“No, I wouldn’t say it’s a very good predictor. Look at Jimmie (Johnson). He’s won at all but maybe one or two Chase tracks, I think it is. They had a stretch of three bad races, but that’s not indicative at all of how they’re going to run. There’s (Clint) Bowyer – they were super-fast at Atlanta and had an engine problem. So, I think they’re going to be just as fast throughout the Chase. There are a lot of different variables from drivers to racetracks to situations on pit road. How all of that is going to work out through the Chase is going to determine a champion. We see it every year.”
Where does the 2008 Sprint Cup win at Chicagoland rank in terms of special wins for you, knowing how you made a spectacular move on the outside to win?
“Winning both (Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup) races at Chicago that year, it was just a great weekend. It was special, but there have been several special wins the last few years. It was a special year in 2008, since we won at Atlanta, Daytona and Sonoma. And winning at home in (Las) Vegas, and on my birthday in Richmond, were also great races that year. But winning Chicago in 2008 and beating Jimmie (Johnson) was definitely neat. Ultimately, I have a lot of respect for him, Jeff Gordon, and anybody in this sport since it’s so competitive. To go out and beat guys like that, it’s something pretty special and I really cherished that, for sure.”