One year ago this weekend, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff prospects for Kyle Busch looked less than ideal for the eventual 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), had just come off a last-place finish after an accident forced him out of the previous race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Busch left Michigan in June without a win and in a deep hole with regard to his quest to crack the top-30 in the driver standings, as he sat 173 points behind the 30th-place driver.
After sitting out the first 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the season because of injury, Busch and the M&M’S team had 15 races to meet two requirements in order to make the 2015 Chase. He needed to have at least one victory, and also needed to make it into the top-30 in driver points.
Not about to give up, Busch, crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire team rolled up their sleeves and went to work on the next stop on the circuit, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, site of Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350k.
Using the off weekend following Michigan as a point to refocus, the team turned around its season at Sonoma as Busch snuck past six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on a late-race restart to bring home an unlikely win, given that he was still recovering from his injuries and the shifting that is required on the road course at Sonoma. It started a remarkable streak of four wins in five weeks, including three in a row at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After starting this season winning three races in his 11 outings, Busch has hit a bit of a bad-luck streak over the last four races with various issues hampering his ability to compete for wins. However, much like one year ago, Busch comes out of Michigan with a DNF (did not finish) but looking to use Sonoma as a springboard to get back to his winning ways.
Last year’s victory on the 1.99-mile Sonoma circuit was just the latest of numerous road course wins for Busch, who has turned into a threat to win at each of the two road courses on the Sprint Cup schedule. Before 2008, Busch was never mentioned as a threat to win at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. But that all changed shortly after his arrival at JGR at the start of 2008, as Busch dominated the road-course scene that year, leading 130 of the 202 road-course laps run and capturing victories at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Busch quickly established himself in 2008 as a routine road-course contender and has been in the hunt on road courses ever since. Prior to last year’s win at Sonoma, Busch led 29 laps en route bringing home his second win at Watkins Glen in August 2013.
So, as the Sprint Cup Series heads to its annual stop in Northern California’s Wine Country, Busch will look to defend his Toyota/SaveMart 350k title. And just like one year ago, he’ll hope Sonoma is a starting point for another strong summer and the momentum leading into NASCAR’s playoffs this fall.