It was only the first race of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but reigning series champion Kyle Busch and his M&M’S team began their title defense with a solid effort in the Chase opener last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Busch drove his signature No. 18 Toyota Camry to an eighth-place finish at Chicagoland after leading 21 laps around the 1.5-mile oval. The effort placed the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) pilot third in the Chase standings with a healthy 19-point buffer over 13th-place Austin Dillon. The 16-driver Chase field gets whittled down to 12 drivers after the third Chase race Oct. 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Only those with a win or among the top-12 in points get to continue their championship pursuit.
The kind of front-running consistency Busch has displayed throughout his 12-year Sprint Cup career serves him well in the Chase, where strong runs can help him advance through the initial rounds of the playoff-type format. But winning is the ultimate way to advance, and as the series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon for the second race of the Chase on Sunday with the New England 300, Busch is well positioned to punch his ticket to the Round of 12.
Busch won at New Hampshire last July to collect his second Sprint Cup win at the 1.058-mile oval. His first victory came in just his second start there in his first full season at NASCAR’s top level in 2005. In 23 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire, Busch has eight top-fives and 12 top-10s. But more indicative of his prowess at the flat, paperclip-shaped track are his recent runs, where Busch and the M&M’s team have four top-twos dating back to July 2013 and have finished lower than eighth only once since 2012.
Even outside of Sprint Cup, Busch has proven to be rock solid in the Granite State. He has five NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at New Hampshire, along with three poles and eight top-fives in 11 career starts. And in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Busch has three wins, two poles and six top-10s in eight career starts.
While it’s “so far, so good” to start this year’s Chase, things could turn into “so far, wicked good” with another strong run at New Hampshire.