Following up his top-five finish last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Kyle Busch would post another top-five at Texas Motor Speedway, finishing fourth.
“It was a really good day for us,” he commented. “Obviously, just being able to run our own race and to perform the way we did, I felt like it was pretty good. I wish we had a little bit faster car on the short runs for sure. I think that was kind of where we lost most of our time here today. Once things got single filed out, spread out, our car was a little better on the long runs. At least we did have some speed in our car on one side of the run where we could make up some ground and maintain our position on the racetrack.
“Can’t say enough on Adam Stevens, everyone on the team did a great job. Our Toyota Camry was awesome. TRD did a great job with the engines. Look forward to Phoenix next week, maintaining our position. If we can go out there and win, sure, we’d love to win.”
Busch ran up front throughout the race, consistently just outside of the top-three with a solid No. 18 M&MS Toyota Camry. He was then able to fire off good on the final restart to maintain the ground en route to finishing fourth.
Currently heading into Phoenix, only one driver has clinched their spot – Jeff Gordon, by virtue of his win at Martinsville. If Brad Keselowski would’ve won, he would’ve clinched – but instead it was a non-Chaser Jimmie Johnson that won the event. Busch admits that going into those final laps, he may have been cheering for Johnson a little.
“There’s no denying that certainly us as the 18 car cheering for the 48 helps our situation. It makes those guys that are in dire need of a win to have to work hard for it. Sometimes you can’t put yourself in that situation,” he commented. It may or may not have been his own doing last week at Martinsville. It’s unfortunate for Brad. I’ve been in that situation before, maybe never to that magnitude of losing a race quite like that. I’ve lost plenty of them that way for sure, and probably even a couple of them to Superman. It’s frustrating I’m sure for Brad. For what we got going, to focus on the 18 car, it was a good thing for us today.”
For Busch, he will enter the last race of the third round of the Chase for the Championship with an 11-point cushion over the cut-off line, which means a finish of sixth or better will clinch his spot for the final round of the Chase at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch says that the current situation will play into their strategy a little bit.
“If we’re running fifth to 10th, that’s what we need to do, that’s what we need to do. If we’re running 15th, there’s a guy behind us that if he passes us he’s going to knock himself in and us out, you’re going to have a heck of a lot harder race on your hands,” he commented. “We just don’t need to run like that. We need to go out there and perform, do what we’ve done that round, and that’s to finish top five each race. If we can top five it next week, that’s going to help our situation and roll us right on to Homestead.”
Additionally, having the cushion gives Busch some comfort as he believes it will be Kevin Harvick winning that event since Harvick has won five of the last six events there.
“I do not think it’s a winnable race until Kevin Harvick gets beat,” he commented. “He’s shown that he’s certainly got the stranglehold on the Phoenix racetrack. Ever since the repave, the Joe Gibbs cars, we haven’t been the same as we were quite before it. It’s kind of hurt us a little bit. For Harvick, whatever he’s figured out there, with RCR he won a couple times, now with Stewart-Haas, he’s got the stranglehold on that track.
“We look at the points situation and guarantee Harvick winning that race. Then you have to figure out who you’re racing after that to know what you have to do in order to point your way through. If we can go out there and win the race, then we will. As far as we’re concerned, that’s how we look at it.”
Busch does head there with some optimism, though, as teammate Matt Kenseth tested at Phoenix a couple of weeks ago.
“I’m looking forward to what he’s worked out for us, getting there and making some laps and hopefully having a good racecar,” he said.
Notably, Busch has posted a pair of top-10s in his last three starts at Phoenix.
For now, though, simply having a shot to be in the final four is huge for Busch as he missed the first 11 races of the season due to injury, but was able to be Chase-eligible due to having a “medical waiver,” winning four out of five races, and being in the top-30 in points when the series completed the last race of the regular season at Richmond International Raceway. Busch says that it’s “certainly a dream come true,” and never expected to be in the position that he sits currently after injuring both his legs in an XFINITY crash at Daytona International Speedway to start the season.
“We were able to perform and get ourselves Chase eligible,” he added. “To NASCAR’s rules, we did everything we needed to do. We’re in the position we’re in because of that, because of this different Chase format. We barely made it in. Kind of last guy in. We were the last guy through the first round. We were the last guy through the second round. Doesn’t matter if we’re the last guy through the third round. As long as you’re a guy through, you’re fine, you got that opportunity to go race Homestead and race for a championship.
“I’m thankful for everything that has happened, although some of it was pretty bad. It certainly has put us in a good spot right now. Couldn’t be more pleased with Joe Gibbs Racing, my team, everyone, Joe, all my supporters there at the company, and, of course, Adam Stevens there, too. The year he had to start off with, with no driver, I’m sure was hard on him. He’s really pulled through, kept the team together. Everyone has been really pulling in the right direction to make sure we’ve had a strong fight this year and we’ll continue to do so next weekend and Homestead.”
With everything going like it is, Busch is now hoping that he can write his fairytale in the next couple of weeks.
“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The script’s written. I think there’s two scripts written, it’s just which one’s going to come true. Jeff Gordon certainly has one. I feel like we have one, as well, too, with this 18 car,” he said. “Hopefully it’s our Cinderella story that can end the season on the 18.”