Is Talladega Still A Wild Card Race?

Kyle Busch

 With Major League Baseball’s postseason in full swing, two division runners-up from each league played in a pair of winner-take-all Wild Card games for the chance to continue their postseason. The American League’s New York Yankees and the National League’s Colorado Rockies were able to move on in the playoffs by winning their respective games last week.

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend, NASCAR’s top series holds its annual “Wild Card Game” of a different sort four races into its own playoffs and during the month of October. Heading into Sunday’s 1000bulbs.com 500, there arguably isn’t a track on the circuit like Talladega, upon which racing is as much of an unknown as its mammoth 2.66-mile oval.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has found fortune both good and bad during NASCAR’s version of the Wild Card Game. With lessons learned from his now 14-season career, the 2015 Cup Series champion knows anything can happen at Talladega. Starting last year, Talladega moved from a playoff elimination race, which was its place on the schedule the previous three seasons, to the second race in the Round of 12.

Last weekend’s Round of 12 opener last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway saw Busch battle handling woes at the Monster Mile and run as far back at 17th before making a miraculous recovery late in the race and salvaging an unlikely eighth-place finish. While Busch and the No. 18 team are accustomed to running much better, every point counts in the current playoff format and the top-10 finish enabled Busch to expand his cushion over the ninth-place cutoff spot in the playoff standings to 63 points with two races remaining in the Round of 12.

But Busch and his M&M’S team aren’t fooled at all by the word cushion, which isn’t comforting to hear at a place like Talladega. So far, only Chase Elliott, by virtue of his win at Dover last weekend, is guaranteed a spot in the Round of 8. Despite Busch’s tough day at Dover, his success during the regular season, as well as in the Round of 16, earned him a total of 55 playoff points that will certainly help his cause going into the wild card race at Talladega.

But as Talladega looms, Busch knows one lap, or even one corner could change a driver’s fortunes quickly.

He has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. In his 26 starts at the track, he has 12 top-15 finishes and four outings that ended in an accident. So, the Las Vegas native knows the winner of Sunday’s 500-mile race will need to have a strong car and some good fortune at NASCAR’s longest track.

As NASCAR prepares for its version of “Wild Card Weekend” at Talladega, Busch hopes to stay in front of the chaos with his M&M’S Camry, then head to Kansas the following week with, at the very least, a strong shot of advancing in the tightly contested NASCAR playoffs.

 

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 
How will you and the team approach this weekend at Talladega?

 

“I think you approach it the same way no matter where you are in the points. I’ve been in front and been a 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. We’ll do the best we can this weekend with our M&M’S Camry and see where the points fall for us afterward, then focus on what we need to do at Kansas.”

 

Which is your best remaining track?

 

“I don’t really look at one, necessarily. I kind of look at all of them. I look at all of them as being really good tracks for us that we can contend at. If I look at the most worrisome track for me, it’s Talladega this weekend. The rest of them, I feel like we’re pretty good. They are all places we are capable of running well at, even though we’ve seen Martinsville have some crazy finishes recently, but it’s a place I like and run well at. If we can have a decent finish this weekend, I feel like Kansas next weekend has been really good for us, recently.”

 

Is a win at a premium in the playoffs?

 

“I think wins are always important and I think the biggest thing now is that each round kind of has its own wild-card race if you look at it. You’ve got the Charlotte roval in the first round, Talladega this weekend in the second round, and then Martinsville kind of turned into a crazy race in the third round. It’s all just going to be about trying to maintain and have a good day. If you can get top-five finishes, great, that’s going to propel us through with the amount of points we have and the point cushion we have, but wins are the ultimate. If you can get those, then you’re automatically in and that’s what we all strive for.”

 

Do you try and duplicate what worked at Talladega before?

 

“Yeah, I think so. I mean, there are obviously times when you feel like you want to push hard and go get a win or go get a better finish than where you’re currently running. But, you know you’ve just got to do what you can in order to let these races kind of fall into place, and sometimes it’s just worth taking the finish that’s coming to you and moving on and going to the next one. It doesn’t always help to push too hard, either, at times. There’s a balance there, for sure. It can also help to just sit back, relax and finish where you can, so we’ll see how it plays out for us.”

 

What is the key to pulling off a victory at Talladega?

 

“The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble. At Talladega, you pretty much stay around the bottom since there is a lot of grip there, and you can pretty much run wide open every single lap. Everyone can run up on top of each other. When you get single-file at the bottom, sometimes it’s hard to get a lane on the outside with enough good cars to get something going. It can be frustrating at times because of that. It also seems to still put on a good race each time we go there. If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy.”

M&M’S Racing

Race 31 of 36 –1000Bulbs.com 500– Talladega

Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Toyota Camry

 

Teammates:  Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota Camry; Daniel Suarez – No. 19 Toyota Camry; Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota Camry.

 

At-Track PR Contact: Bill Janitz, True Speed Communication (704-875-3388 ext. 803 or Bill.Janitz@TrueSpeedCommunication.com).

Primary Team Members:

Driver: Kyle Busch

Hometown: Las Vegas

 

Crew Chief: Adam Stevens

Hometown: Portsmouth, Ohio

 

Car Chief: Nate Bellows

Hometown: Fairfax, Vermont

 

Race Engineer: Ben Beshore

Hometown: Hometown York, Pennsylvania

 

Engine Specialist: Mike Johnson

Hometown: Bozeman, Montana

 

Spotter: Tony Hirschman

Hometown: Northampton, Pennsylvania

Over-The-Wall Crew Members:

Gas Man: Matt Tyrrell

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 

Front Tire Changer: Cam Waugh

Hometown: Johnstown, Colorado

 

Jackman: T.J. Ford

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

 

Tire Carrier: Joe Crossen

Hometown: Salisbury, North Carolina

 

Rear Tire Changer: Jeff Cordero

Hometown: Salem, Connecticut

 

Pit Support: Bailey Walker

Hometown: Harrisburg, North Carolina

Road Crew Members:

Truck Drivers: Brendan Greene and Jamie Price

Hometowns: Midland, North Carolina, and Choteau, Montana, respectively

 

Tire Specialist: Jon Desrocher

Hometown: Plattsburgh, New York

 

Mechanic: Wesley Lape

Hometown: Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania

 

Race Engineer: Tyler Allen

Hometown: Seattle, Washington

 

Ride and Handling Engineer: Chris Chase

Hometown: Nichols, New York

 

Rear End Mechanic: Chris Jones

Hometown: Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

 

Interior Mechanic: Todd Foster

Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

Notes of Interest:
  • The 1000Bulbs.com 500 will mark Kyle Busch’s 493rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 27th NASCAR Cup Series start at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
  • Busch has career totals of 50 wins, 30 poles, 179 top-five finishes, 265 top-10s and 15,611 laps led in 492 career Cup Series racesHis most recent Cup Series win came three weekends ago at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came on the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May.
  • Busch has one win, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led a total of 233 laps in 26 career Cup Series starts at Talladega. Busch’s average Talladega finish is 20.5.
  • Three-Peat: Busch’s consecutive wins at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Richmond in April marked only the 25th time in NASCAR’s modern era (1972 to present) that a driver won three consecutive races. Nine of the 23 previous times a driver won three consecutive races in a season, that driver has gone on to win the championship. Before 2018, Busch was the most recent driver to win three in a row – in 2015, when he went on to score his first and, so far, only championship. Fellow Championship contender Kevin Harvick accomplished the feat earlier this season prior to Busch’s hot streak in late spring. Brad Keselowski joined the group with wins at the recent events Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This marks the first time in NASCAR history that three different drivers have won three consecutive races in the same season.
  • 15,000 Plus: With his impressive 377 of 400 laps led in the Coca-Cola 600 in May, Busch topped the 15,000-laps-led mark in NASCAR’s top series and became just the 10th driver in NASCAR history to do so.
  • 50 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Richmond, the 50th points-paying win of his career, Busch is now tied for 11th on the all-time wins list with NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. Next up for Busch on the all-time win list is Lee Petty, who had 54 wins during his Hall of Fame career. With his 40th Cup Series victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last August, Busch became the fourth-youngest driver to reach 40 Cup Series wins at 32 years, 109 days, behind only Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Herb Thomas.
  • All 23: With his win at Charlotte in May, Busch has now won a Cup Series race at all 23 tracks at which the series competes, becoming the first driver in the modern era to win at every track where he has made at least one start. Of the 23 different tracks where Busch has won, he has multiple wins at 12 of them. While Busch won for the first time in a points-paying event on the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte in May, this will be his first opportunity to notch a win at the facility’s roval layout.
  • All-Time JGR Wins Leader: With his Brickyard 400 win in July 2016, Busch passed Tony Stewart for most all-time Cup Series wins for JGR. Busch now has 46 wins for JGR to Stewart’s 33 following his most recent win at Richmond, along with besting Stewart’s Cup Series career win total.
  • 193 and Counting: Busch enters Talladega with 193 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (50), Xfinity (92) and Truck (51) – following his Cup Series win three weeks ago at Richmond.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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