If one were to look at Kyle Busch’s last seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, the difference for the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) couldn’t be any more stark.
The 1.5-mile oval built in 2001, which originally featured a constant 15 degrees of banking in the turns, underwent a massive renovation project leading into its October 2012 Sprint Cup event. The changes included repaving of the existing track surface, reconfiguration of the oval, and the addition of a new infield road course. The oval’s geometric shape also was changed to feature variable banking of 17 to 20 degrees in the turns.
To say that Busch didn’t take well to the new surface would be quite the understatement. From October 2012 to 2013, Busch had three consecutive DNFs (Did Not Finish) there, with accidents ending his day each time for final results of 31st, 38th and 34th.
Feeling snake bit on the new Kansas surface, Busch and his M&M’S team took a different approach starting with the April 2014 race there by starting from scratch with a brand-new car. They attacked the track in the Heartland of America with the hopes that a fresh outlook would produce vastly different results. While a pit-road speeding penalty cost them precious track position and an even better finish in the race, the result and effort was much different than the three previous trips. Instead, they were competitive enough to turn the corner in terms of results.
Starting with the October 2014 Sprint Cup race at Kansas, Busch brought home his first ever top-five finish at the track. Anyone who has ever followed Busch’s career knows this year’s defending Sprint Cup Series champion never cared much for moral victories. However, the momentum carried over from the October 2014 top-five to his next Kansas race in October 2015, when he finished a solid third. It was a finish that helped vault him through to the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs and eventually to the championship stage.
This past May, Busch took an even bigger step at Kansas, where he posted not only his third top-five in a row but, after leading 69 total laps, he brought home his first Sprint Cup win at the 1.5-mile oval that has finally started to wear in and become more agreeable to Busch’s driving style.
Along with his recent Sprint Cup success there, Busch has also tasted success at Kansas in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition – as is the case at most racetracks on the Xfinity schedule – with victories in 2007 and the fall races in 2014 and 2015. Busch also brought home a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Kansas in April 2014, all of which no doubt add to his growing confidence on the fast, 1.5-mile oval.
Sunday afternoon in Kansas, Busch and the M&M’S team will look to tackle the second race of the 2016 Chase’s Round of 12 as the Las Vegas native sits 25 points ahead of ninth-place in his bid to advance to the Round of 8. Busch and his team made a championship-like comeback from damage suffered on a later race restart to finish sixth last weekend during the first race of the Round of 12 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
So, as the Sprint Cup Series heads the Heartland of America for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Hollywood Casino 400, a fourth top-five finish in a row at Kansas could be just what Busch needs to put himself in prime position to advance to the Round of 8 as he looks to defend his Sprint Cup title.
What a difference seven races at Kansas have made for Busch and his M&M’S team.