The current elimination format of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is down to the final weekend of its sixth season, and one thing has been clear during the format’s first five seasons of finales – to the victor go the spoils.
While the rules state that simply the highest-finisher among the four championship-eligible drivers Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway will win this year’s title, it’s been proven thus far it’s about more than being the highest finisher, it’s a must-win situation. Joey Logano was the latest to win the finale at Homestead last season to clinch his first career championship. The winner-take-all scenario rang true as right behind the victorious Logano was fellow Championship 4 contender Martin Truex Jr. in the runner-up spot.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) is a five-time race winner in 2019 and once again among this weekend’s Championship 4, accomplished the same feat in 2015 when he won the 400-mile season finale at Homestead to bring home his first Cup Series championship.
Busch knows the task of winning at Homestead is a big one as he’ll compete primarily against JGR equipment with teammates Truex and Denny Hamlin also vying for the title Sunday. Kevin Harvick, the 2014 series champion, will be the lone driver from outside the JGR fold who will vie for the title in the one-race shootout for the Cup Series championship trophy Sunday afternoon in South Florida. Through this season’s first 35 races, Truex has finished best among the four title contenders 12 times, Busch 10 times, Hamlin seven times and Harvick six times.
With three top-five finishes through this year’s nine playoff races, Busch knows he’ll likely need to find one more victory in order to become the 2019 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. Not only is Busch hoping to become the 16th on Sunday, so is Truex and Harvick.
While Busch’s average finish of 17.4 at Homestead may not be his best, he has become strong and consistent on the 1.5-mile oval the past four seasons, bringing home three top-fives and four top-10s. His most impressive race at Homestead, of course, was his 2015 championship-winning effort, when he led six times for a total of 41 laps in the 400-mile race.
So, as Busch heads to South Florida with everything on the line Sunday, the M&M’S driver and his team will most certainly be in must-win mode as it’s proven to be the only way to guarantee their second Cup Series championship and their membership in the multi-series championship club.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
This is the first time a team has three drivers in the Championship 4. How are you going to handle this week? Will you treat each other, share info, differently than you normally do?
“We’ve done that in the past with Carl (Edwards) and myself. I wouldn’t imagine it would be any different now. It’s just a matter of all of us doing what we do throughout the week for preparation and everything, getting down there. Last year Martin (Truex Jr.) and myself were in. I guess he wasn’t really a teammate, but in reality they kind of still were. We worked together all the way to Sunday. They were really, really fast and better than us. Same with Carl. He was fast that year. Then in ’17, when (Truex) won, we were really fast, just didn’t have track position. I think Denny (Hamlin) said it best in the piece that we did for FOX last week, which was, once you start to kind of hold back anything, then that just can kind of snowball and be bad for everybody. I agree with him on that.”
How do you go to Miami and do what this team hasn’t been able to do in the last 21 races?
“Yeah, thanks for the reminder. Fight as hard as we can, do the best job we can, exactly what we did Sunday (at Phoenix) – we just weren’t good enough (to win). This week, we’ll just have to make sure that we are. Somehow, some way, if it works out, it was meant to be with our M&M’S Camry. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Hopefully the sun will come up for another day.”
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, Coy Gibbs, everybody on this Joe Gibbs Racing team, they’re phenomenal and I know we’ll all be trying our best remembering J.D. (Gibbs) and his legacy. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys had great racecars for me all season long and especially the last several weeks. We just haven’t gotten into victory lane. That’s what it’s likely going to take to win the championship on Sunday, so we’ll see if we can get it done.”
How does it feel to be able to go and race for a championship at Homestead for a fifth 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 comes, you can 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.”
Race 36 of 36 – Ford EcoBoost 400 – Homestead
Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Toyota Camry
Teammates: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota Camry; Martin Truex Jr. – 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: Tyler Allen
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
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
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: William Hartman
Hometown: Laingsburg, Michigan
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 534th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 15th NASCAR Cup Series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch has career totals of 55 wins, 31 poles, 199 top-five finishes, 295 top-10s and 17,243 laps led in 533 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in June at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came in October 2018 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Busch has one win, four top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led a total of 343 laps in 14 Cup Series starts at Homestead. Busch’s average Homestead finish is 17.4.
55 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Pocono this past June, the 55th points-paying win of his career, Busch sits tied for ninth all-time in Cup Series wins with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. With his 40th Cup Series victory at Bristol 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-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 51 wins for JGR to Stewart’s 33 following his most recent win at Bristol, along with besting Stewart’s Cup Series career win total.
207: Busch enters the weekend at Homestead with 207 wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (55), Xfinity (96) and Truck (56) – following his most recent Xfinity Series win at Indianapolis in September.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!