During his team’s magical run to the 1983 NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship, the late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano first made famous the now-familiar phrase, “Survive and Advance.”
Since then, each and every March during the NCAA tournament, the phrase continues to be used by coaches and television analysts alike in describing the necessity of surviving each game in order to live on to play another day. The ultimate goal is to accrue six consecutive wins to earn the grand prize – the national championship trophy.
In the third year in its current format, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship begins this weekend. The format includes a series of elimination rounds throughout the 10-race playoff. So, there’s no doubt Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), and his fellow 15 Chase competitors will have to survive and advance as the 2016 Chase kicks off with Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
The championship format breaks the 10-race Chase into a four-round grid. The first round is a round of 16 and features races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and Dover (Del.) International Speedway. After Dover, four drivers are eliminated and 12 drivers remain for the second round. The three races of the round of 12 will be run at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. After Talladega, just eight drivers will remain for the third round. Races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and Phoenix International Raceway will comprise the round of eight. After Phoenix, just four drivers will remain for the following week’s championship race and season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. At Homestead, the goal is simple – the highest finisher among the final four drivers will be the 2016 Sprint Cup champion.
Much like the NCAA tournament’s 68-team field that features first- and second-round games, then Sweet 16 and Final Four weekends, NASCAR’s Chase Grid will challenge teams to survive and advance to each round to stay in contention at Homestead, or NASCAR’s version of the NCAA’s Final Four. Race winners from each round – if they are Chase drivers – automatically advance to the next round, with the remaining advancing teams determined by total points accumulated in that round.
Along with setting his sights on advancing throughout the Chase, Busch is looking to rekindle the magic he showed at Chicagoland in 2008, when he captured a dramatic Sprint Cup win at the track just southwest of Chicago.
When a late-race caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, Busch lined up behind now six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. On the final restart, the Las Vegas native made a bold and surprising move to the outside in turns one and two, passing Johnson and holding him off to bring home the win.
Sunday’s Chase opener at Chicagoland also marks the return of the popular, red Skittles paint scheme to the No. 18 Toyota. In the last race with Skittles colors at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, Busch brought home his second consecutive win in the Brickyard 400. Busch wants to “Taste the Rainbow” again at Chicagoland, which serves as the final race for Skittles in 2016. Busch, who counts Green Apple Skittles as his personal favorite, also competed in the red Skittles scheme at Phoenix International Raceway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this past spring.
As Busch looks ahead to the kickoff of this year’s Chase at Chicagoland, he and the Skittles team may consider channeling their inner Jim Valvano. If he can simply “survive and advance,” Busch hopes to “Taste the Rainbow” in victory lane as his Sprint Cup title defense begins this weekend.