While the NASCAR Cup Series playoff grid shows that Kyle Busch is 21 points below the top-eight cutline with one race remaining in the Round of 12, there are many scenarios in which the defending series champion can advance to the Round of 8 following Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), knows that the only sure way to advance is to win Sunday’s race on the 2.28-mile, 17-turn “roval” will be to win the race.
However, there are other paths to the Round of 8 Sunday, as the tricky roval layout has shown the past two seasons the results there can be as unpredictable as at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where the Cup Series happened to race last weekend. Busch was involved in two separate accidents in the first half of Sunday’s race on the 2.66-mile Talladega oval, but a third accident coming to the start-finish line on the final lap of regulation resulted in too much damage for the M&M’s driver to be able to finish, thus putting him in a tough situation in the playoff standings at Charlotte this weekend.
It will be the third race for the Cup Series competitors on the roval layout, which combines parts of the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval with its relatively new infield road-course section. The slippery infield portions feature heavy breaking zones that can turn a driver’s fortunes quickly and, again, making racing just as unpredictable as Talladega. Despite running up front in both previous roval races, accidents have taken Busch out of contention at each.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing numerous schedule changes this season, the permanent road-course events at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y) International were replaced. NASCAR added one road-course race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in August. While that layout is widely known as it hosts the annual Rolex 24 sportscar race, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens were able to take advantage of having that roval-type circuit added to the schedule so they could experiment with a different setup. Busch ran up front for much of the Daytona road-course event until a brake issue forced him out of the race early, but the positives of the different approach have Busch and Stevens confident they are on the right track for a strong M&M’S Camry this weekend at Charlotte.
Busch is hoping he can equal the feat he accomplished in the May 2018 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, albeit on the 1.5-mile oval, when he brought home his first career points-paying win at the track in one of the crown jewels of NASCAR’s top series.
While this weekend’s Charlotte roval is still a bit of a unknown, Busch has established himself as one of the top road-course racers in the Cup Series. If the two-time and defending Cup Series champion was to grab another checkered flag in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400, he could join some elite company as a road-racing ace in NASCAR’s top series.
Busch is tied for fourth with David Pearson and Mark Martin with four Cup Series road-course wins apiece. That’s some pretty good company, already. But with a fifth road-course win, he could tie Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Dan Gurney for third on the road-course wins list. There is a bit of distance to the top two spots on the all-time list, however, as second-place Jeff Gordon has seven road-course wins and leader Tony Stewart has nine.
So as Busch heads to the third-ever race on the Charlotte roval this weekend, he hopes that a different approach may yield the only thing that can guarantee advancement to the Round of 8, despite many other scenarios that could play out in his favor. It’s as simple as win and you’re in on Sunday in order to keep alive his hopes of back-to-back Cup Series championships.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You’ve had some good runs at the roval but not the results you typically look for during the first two races there. What’s the approach this weekend?
“We did have some optimism where we ran better with a different setup package at the Daytona road course back in August. We think some of those setup notes and some of the things we learned there hopefully translate to some better results at the roval in Charlotte with our M&M’S Camry. Obviously, we had the issue (at Daytona) late in the race, but we had a strong car and would have been in contention if we wouldn’t have had our problem. So all we can do is try to get track position and keep it as much as we can, get as many stage points as possible, and see what we need to do at the end of the race.”
What is the most difficult part of the track to figure out at the roval?
“I think the hardest part is just trying to understand the different dynamics between the slow sections in the infield portion of the track versus the high-speed and high-banked portion of the oval track. You are slipping on every corner, there’s not a corner where you are necessarily feeling really good about it. It’s going to be a technical challenge all the way around yet again this year.”
How do you look at this weekend as far as being a crapshoot?
“It’s just a different challenge. It’s alright. There’s a whole lot of differences there than a typical road course. There have been spots on the track where I could make up time and a lot of other spots where I would lose time, and now those spots where I could gain time are gone. We’ve worked on getting better there and hope we can show that this weekend.”
Are you seeing more aggression in the playoffs this season after what we saw during the regular season?
“Yeah, I guess I would imagine some of that, sure. Everybody goes for broke and tries to move people out of the way and get what they can get on restarts. It’s always kind of chaotic in that regard. It’s because as soon as the restarts are done and you kind of get three, four, five, six laps gone after a restart, then that’s kind of where you ride. It’s really tough to pass for the next 40 (laps) until cars start to fall off and tires start to wear out a little bit. It’s certainly a different game than what it’s been in years past. In years past, you could kind of take it easy on restarts a little bit and let everything kind of formulate and single-file out some and then you could pick your way up through there. You can’t really do that now.”
Round 32 of 38 – Bank of America Roval 400 – Charlotte
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.
Primary Team Members:
Driver: Kyle Busch
Hometown: Las Vegas
Interim Crew Chief: Adam Stevens
Hometown: Portsmouth, Ohio
Car Chief: Nate Bellows
Hometown: Fairfax, Vermont
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
Notes of Interest:
The Bank of America Roval 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 566th career NASCAR Cup Series start and his third Cup Series start at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway “roval” road course.
Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 212 top-five finishes, 313 top-10s and 17,845 laps led in 565 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, resulting in his second Cup Series championship. Busch’s most recent pole, the 32nd of his career, came in November at Phoenix Raceway.
This is just the third Cup Series race on Charlotte roval. Busch had strong runs in the previous two but did not complete either due to accidents. However, Busch has a strong record at each of the other two annual road-course stops on the Cup Series schedule –Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Combined, Busch has four wins at the two permanent road-course layouts along with 11 top-five finishes and 19-top 10s. Sunday’s race at Charlotte will be the second road-course event this season, the first occurring in August when NASCAR added the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway road course to the schedule after the races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen had to be replaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
56 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Homestead in November, the 56th points-paying win of his career, Busch passed NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace on the all-time win list in NASCAR’s top series and currently sits alone in 10th. Next up on the list for Busch is ninth-place Kevin Harvick with 58 wins, and then eighth-place Dale Earnhardt, who had 76 wins during his Hall of Fame career. 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 52 wins for JGR to Stewart’s 33 following his most recent win at Homestead last November.
212 and Counting: Busch enters Charlotte with 212 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (56), Xfinity (97) and Truck (58) – following his Truck Series win at Texas Motor Speedway in July.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!