HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 12, 2013) – Even though Kyle Busch sits in fourth place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, 57 points behind five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and too far out to compete for the title, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot on the line for Busch Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch’s best previous finish in the Sprint Cup standings was fifth in 2007, the year before he joined JGR. The statistics show that the 2013 Chase has been his best ever, with five top-five finishes and six top-10s in the first nine races of NASCAR’s 10-race playoffs.
For the season as a whole, Busch has 16 top-fives and 21 top-10s. Another top-five finish Sunday at Homestead would tie his career high of 17 top-fives in 2008 and best his career high of 21 top-10s, also set in 2008.
Homestead had never been kind to Busch until last year’s season finale. He dominated the 267-lap race in 2012, leading six times for a race-high 191 laps. While he had the dominant car, the Las Vegas native had to settle for a fourth-place finish after a long, green-flag run to finish the race had the M&M’s team come up short on fuel and foiled a seemingly certain win in the closing laps.
Busch’s 2012 result was his first top-five finish at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval, bettering by far his other seven finishes of 41st, 28th, 20th, 19th, eighth, 32nd and 23rd.
While mathematically eliminated in the championship hunt, Busch still can climb as high as second in the final standings as he is currently 29 points behind second-place JGR teammate Matt Kenseth, and 23 points behind third-place Kevin Harvick. Behind Busch lurks Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is six points behind Busch in fifth, and Jeff Gordon, who sits 23 points behind Busch in the sixth spot.
So, before the curtain falls on the 2013 Sprint Cup season at Homestead, Busch will reach for a Homestead win in order to top off the strongest Chase of his career, and he and the M&M’s team hope to take the momentum from their best Chase ever and build it into Busch’s first Sprint Cup title in 2014.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
The numbers say so, but does this actually feel like the best Chase that you’ve ever had?
“I think so. Obviously, you look at some of the things that we could have done better, too. We proved to ourselves we could do it and we came out here this year and we were able to follow up on last year’s success. Barring Kansas, I think we’ve done a really nice job. Wish we would have finished the race better at Martinsville, and we had a good run going at Texas and I messed up on pit road. But weeks like Phoenix last week, we probably had a 12th- to 14th-place car and we just kept digging and ended up getting a seventh out of it. Those are the encouraging weeks, along with some of the other top-five finishes we had. Other than that, we’ve run a lot better this year than in years past. The pace that those guys up front have kept up has been really tough. All we can do is go out there Sunday, try and win the race, and let the points fall where they may and hope we can gain a spot or two once the checkered (flag) drops.”
How did the car react at Homestead-Miami Speedway during your test session a few weeks ago?
“Everything was really, really close to last year’s stuff – very similar. The track seems to have aged a little more and maybe the tire compound could use a little bit of help to be better there just because we’ve run the same one I think now three or four years. The tire compound is fine, it’s not that big of a deal. Definitely a lot of grip for the first few laps and then it really tapers off and then everybody is running up next to the fence. I think that’s what we saw in years past. As it did get darker, the track seemed to widen out. It’s just during the day, when it’s hot out and it’s slick out, that the best you can do is run right next to the wall. As the nighttime came, you could start moving around a little bit more. It’s definitely still a racey joint, but track temperatures are very conducive to that. Our M&M’s Camry was pretty good and we’d really like to finish off the year with a big win.”
How close do Dave Rogers and Jason Ratcliff work together?
“Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and Jason (Ratcliff, JGR’s No. 20 crew chief) are probably, in my opinion, they are one of the two closest crew chiefs in the garage area just from the resources that they’ve had and the time that they’ve spent working with each other in the Nationwide Series. They were at JGR Nationwide since, I want to say, ’06 or something like that. They turned that program from not really winning many races to winning races and winning a ton of races. Those two together, they’ve worked a lot over the years and sharing notes and communicating and having offices right next to each other. Dave made the jump first over to the Cup side and, obviously, Jason followed a couple years later. I don’t think any of that communication has ever died down. They’re still fierce workers. They work each other competitively because each tries to burn as much midnight oil as he can. They’re really smart and do work together quite often.”
What are your expectations for Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway?
“That track hasn’t been great to me, but we really turned the corner there last year and Dave and the M&M’s guys brought a really good racecar. I’ve run well there in the Truck Series. I won the Nationwide race there in 2010 and 2011, as well. Homestead is a fun racetrack. It’s real challenging because of the way the race changes from the beginning to the end, and the way things change from the beginning to the end of your runs. You run the bottom, then you go to the top. You’re always moving around. You’re always thinking. It’s a cool racetrack. The sun is going to play havoc on our eyes getting down into turn one during the race.”
Like you said, Homestead has not been a great track for you, statistically, but that changed last year. Is Homestead a place you might be starting to figure out in the Sprint Cup car?
“We ran a lot better there in 2009 than where we finished and we were running top-10 in 2011 before we got wrecked, so, we’ve had a few races where our runs have been much better than the results have shown. In 2009, Denny (Hamlin) and I battled on that last restart and I just couldn’t quite stay ahead of him. Track position is big there and, once he got out in clear air, he was gone. I was trying hard to get back ahead of him and ended up scraping the fence. I’ve never run that well there overall, but Dave (Rogers, crew chief) really gave me the best car I’ve ever had there last year. I’m hoping we can have another strong car and finish off the season strong, and it can give us some momentum for the offseason and for next year.”