Kyle Busch Eyes Homestead And The Championship

Kyle Busch & Erik Jones

The current elimination format of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is down to the final weekend of its fifth season, and one thing has been clear during the format’s first four seasons of finales – it truly is winner take all.

The good news for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is he’s not only visited victory lane eight times this season to tie his career high, he performed that same feat in 2015 when he won the 400-mile season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to bring home his first Cup Series championship.

While the rules state that Sunday’s highest-finisher among the four championship-eligible drivers at Homestead will win this year’s title, it’s been proven thus far it’s about more than simply being the highest finisher, it’s a must-win situation. Martin Truex Jr., was the latest to win the finale at Homestead last season to clinch his first career championship. In 2015, winning was also a necessity for Busch to bring home his first title as another Championship 4 driver, Kevin Harvick, was right behind him in the runner-up spot. Last season, the winner-take-all scenario rang true as, right behind the victorious Truex was fellow Championship 4 contender Busch in the runner-up spot.

The road to Homestead for Busch and the M&M’S team has highlighted a career year for Busch. While this is the fourth consecutive season Busch has made it to the Championship 4, his path in 2018 proved to be much different than the previous three seasons. In 2015, Busch’s path was paved with six top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the 10 playoff races, his lone win coming in the championship race at Homestead. During last season’s 10-race playoffs, Busch made it through to Homestead with victories at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Busch has two wins, four top-fives and six top-10s in this year’s nine playoff races, and he knows he’ll likely need to find one more victory in order to become the 2018 Cup Series champion and bring home his second title. There have been 15 NASCAR Cup Series drivers who have won two or more championships since the sport was founded in 1959. Busch is hoping to become the 16th this season to go with his first title in 2015.

Busch also knows the task of winning at Homestead is a big one as he’ll compete against former champions Harvick and Truex, along with former teammate Joey Logano. It’s perhaps the strongest Championship 4 field in history, one that will vie for the title in the one-race shootout for the Cup Series championship trophy Sunday afternoon in South Florida.

While Busch’s statistics at Homestead, where he has an average finish of 18.5, may not be his best, they certainly aren’t indicative of how he can run at the 1.5-mile oval. Busch dominated the 267-lap season finale in 2012, leading six times for a race-high 191 laps. But 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 the checkered flag, the M&M’S team come up short on fuel and a seemingly certain win was foiled in the closing laps. He backed up his strong run from 2012 with an eighth-place finish in 2013 and had a strong run going in 2014 before a driveline issue put him in the garage for several laps, foiling another chance at the win. Busch’s most impressive race at Homestead came in 2015, when he had the top championship-eligible car for much of the 400-mile race, leading six times for a total of 41 laps and bringing home the win and the championship.

So, as Busch heads to South Florida with everything on the line Sunday, the M&M’S driver has the mindset that it’s a must-win situation in order to guarantee a second Cup Series championship.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 
 

How much weight do you put on momentum and the battle coming up at Homestead?

 

“You just have to have things kind of fall into place and kind of go your way. Not everything has to, but just a little bit. We’ve had an awesome year and, the way we’ve been able to perform and how we’ve been able to do things in this playoff, it  hasn’t quite been pretty all the time but we did what we needed to do in key moments. Last week was a tough week for us, but we’ve got this week, now, and if momentum is anything, obviously we’re ready to go. We’ll rock and roll into Homestead and it feels pretty good.”

 

Are there any clear favorites among the Championship 4?

 

“I don’t think so. I don’t know how you could pick a favorite, necessarily. Harvick has won there, we’ve won there, the 78 (Truex) as won there. You know, Harvick has beat us all. I beat Harvick the year I won. Truex beat both of us last year. I think it’s just a matter of being able to go out there and race your race and do what you can with what you’ve got and have an opportunity to be able to be leading the race, essentially, on that last lap. That’s what it approximately boils down to. Anything can happen in between and we’ve seen it the last few years – kind of how crazy things can get with the Logano and Carl (Edwards) restart, with last year me having to run down Truex and not quite having enough to be able to pass him. Some other years, it’s been kind of maybe anticlimactic, but I would predict this is the best four, the closest four, that have been in our sport in a long time.”

 

How big is it to have a chance to win another championship?

 

“It’s huge. It’s our opportunity to succeed and you know God’s given us every opportunity to go do that. Joe and J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs, everybody on this Joe Gibbs Racing team, they’re phenomenal. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys had great racecars for me all season long, but we were able to turn those good cars into wins throughout the year and we were hoping for one more this weekend. That’s what it’s likely going to take to win the championship.”

 

How does it feel to be able to go and race for a championship at Homestead for a fourth year in a row?

 

“It’s obviously a great opportunity to be able to go race for a championship, and that’s what this format is. It doesn’t mean a whole lot to make it to the Championship 4 if you don’t win it. You know, it’s all reset to zero. There are four of us who go for winner-take-all at Homestead. It means a lot to have that opportunity, not only for myself, but for M&M’S, Toyota, Interstate Batteries and everyone at JGR who helps us to be as good as we’ve been. It’s what your whole season comes down to. I’m looking forward to Homestead and we’ll see if we can bring home another championship.”

 

From your recent experience, how has Homestead changed over the last several years?

 

“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 the last couple of years, but we would like to be able to go back to Homestead and do what we did there in 2015.”

M&M’S Racing

Race 36 of 36 – Ford EcoBoost 400  Homestead-Miami Speedway

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 Ford EcoBoost 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 498th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 14th NASCAR Cup Series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
  • Busch has career totals of 51 wins, 30 poles, 182 top-five finishes, 268 top-10s and 15,829 laps led in 497 career Cup Series racesHis most recent Cup Series win came last weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix. Busch’s most recent pole, the 31st of his career, came three weekends ago at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
  • Busch has one win, three top-five finishes and six top-10s, and has led a total of 322 laps in 13 career Cup Series starts at Homestead. Busch’s average Homestead finish is 18.5.
  • Championship 4 Bound: With his win last weekend at Phoenix, Busch clinched a berth into the Championship 4 at Homestead for the fourth year in a row. The 2015 Cup Series champion will look to bring home his second championship in the season finale Sunday in South Florida against fellow Championship 4 competitors Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano.
  • 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.
  • 51 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Phoenix, the 51st points-paying win of his career, Busch has now surpassed NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson to now sit all alone in 11th on the all-time win list. Next up for Busch on the 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 in August 2017, 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 (N.C.) Motor Speedway 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.
  • 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 47 wins for JGR to Stewart’s 33 following his most recent win at Richmond, along with besting Stewart’s Cup Series career win total.
  • 194 and Counting: Busch enters Homestead with 193 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (51), Xfinity (92) and Truck (51) – following his Cup Series win last weekend at ISM Raceway.

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

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