16 October 2014
NASCAR Sprint Cup Talladega: Kyle Busch prioritising Chase spot
Kyle Busch is aiming to ensure that he transfers to the next round of the Chase this weekend, but knows all too well that anything can happen at Talladega.
Looking at the point standings coming into this weekend's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, you might think that Kyle Busch is a safe bet to survive the next cull of four Chase contenders and make it safely through to the Eliminator 8 round of this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship play-offs.
Busch is currently the driver with the most points after Joey Logano, who is already confirmed as through to the third phase of the Chase thanks to his race win at Kansas. Kevin Harvick will also take up one of the eight places thanks to his victory at Charlotte. But of the remaining drivers, Busch has a 28 point margin over the man currently in ninth place - not a bad safety cushion by any means from just two races.
Even so, Busch can't afford to sit back and relax because anything can happen at Talladega. If the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is caught up in an early 'Big One' then he could yet plummet in the standings, and if those at the back end up making strong finishes or worse still winning the race and locking up another of the precious transfer spots then Busch could still end up out of the title battle for yet another year.
"We just need to come home with a decent finish on Sunday and avoid trouble to advance," he said. "It's tough, and you've got to be able to pull through in all of these races and you've got to have a little bit of luck go your way. You've got to have the execution of everything go your way.
"It starts with coming off the hauler and getting good practice sessions going, qualifying well, trying to always stay up front, and then putting yourself in position for a chance to make it through this weekend with a decent finish," he continued.
While not essential for his Chase hopes, a win would always be nice of course - and Busch is a previous winner at Talladega, albeit only once back in 2008. Not that a past victory here bestows any edge on any subsequent visits. "It doesn't matter at all. It's such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what's going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from."
Busch did also finish in the top three in both of 2012's visits here, but the sprint 2013 race saw him end up in 37th - just the sort of result he absolutely has to avoid this weekend. A 12th place finish like he managed in May this year would be completely fine, though.
"The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble," he explained. "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," he admitted. "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."
Even if he gets through to the next round of the Chase, Busch knows that he needs to pick up his pace and start winning races if he's to have any chance of securing the 2014 Cup title. So far he's only been to victory lane once this season, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California back in March, a win that ensured he would be in the starting line-up for the Chase. But things do seem to finally be clicking for the #18 team, with an unbroken string of five top-ten finishes so far in the Chase and a pole position (his fourth of the year) last time out at Charlotte Motor Speedway all suggesting that the team is coming into form at just the right point of the season.
"It's all about peaking at the right time and hopefully we haven't peaked, yet, and we still have a way to climb," he said. "There's opportunity there. Again, it's just trying to get ourselves smarter each and every week about making the right decisions and unloading with the right setups in these cars.
"It's about having the guys back at the shop building us some really good downforce," he continued. "And it's about thanking TRD (Toyota Racing Development) for working on the engine program through this year and getting ourselves in a better spot here the last month or so and feeling good about heading down the straightaways. All the pieces are coming together and they're all coming together at the right time and you can do great things. Hopefully, there's still a continuation of that here in the next five weeks.
"We certainly have been fighting really hard at Joe Gibbs Racing to get ourselves up to running with the level of competition that we've been seeing from our competitors," Busch pointed out. "The Penske guys and a couple of the Hendrick cars – it hasn't been the whole company. The #24 [Jeff Gordon] and the #4 [Kevin Harvick] and the #2 [Brad Keselowski] and the #22 [Joey Logano] have really been the cars to beat this year. Looking at those four, you automatically punch those four all the way through to the end and those are the guys who are going to be racing for the championship.
"There were some bad races for a few guys in Kansas and Charlotte. That's the nature of the eliminations. So, for us now, it's just about trying to come out of here with a solid finish at Talladega and get us to the next round."
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