As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend for the final race of the Round of 12 in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kyle Busch’s SNICKERS Halloween Toyota is appropriately dressed for the occasion with a special Halloween-themed livery.
Talladega will undoubtedly have the usual treats in store for some drivers, but there also can be some scary moments in store for many others during Sunday’s Alabama 500 – the biggest “unknown” of the Sprint Cup playoffs.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Halloween Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has found fortune both good and bad during the first two seasons of NASCAR’s elimination-round format of the Chase.
In the fall of 2014, Busch entered Talladega with a 25-point lead on the eighth and final transfer spot. He ended up being wrecked from behind during a chain-reaction accident, heavily damaging his car and ultimately relegating him to a 40th-place finish and elimination from that year’s Chase.
Last season, Busch headed to the Talladega elimination race ninth in the standings and six points out of the final cutoff spot. He did what he needed to do to advance that day by avoiding trouble and bringing home an 11th-place finish, which advanced him to what is now called the Round of 8. Busch was able to post solid finishes in the Round of 8 to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he brought home his first career Sprint Cup title by winning the season finale.
With lessons learned from the last two seasons and knowing anything can happen at Talladega, Busch again enters the weekend as one of 12 remaining Chase drivers who will look to earn the chance to continue their playoff run by advancing to the Round of 8 starting next weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. This year, Busch sits well above the cutline with a 27-point cushion back to ninth-place Austin Dillon. But he and his SNICKERS Halloween team aren’t fooled at all by the word cushion, which isn’t comforting at a place like Talladega. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are thus far the only drivers guaranteed a spot in the Round of 8 by virtue of their victories in the opening two races in the Round of 12. One lap, or even one corner, could make the difference between making the cut or not as there probably isn’t a track on the circuit that presents as much of an unknown as the mammoth 2.66-mile Talladega oval.
Busch has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. In his 22 starts at the track, he has 10 other top-15 finishes, and four outings that ended in an accident. So, the Las Vegas native knows the winner of Sunday’s 500-mile race will need to have a strong car and some good fortune at NASCAR’s longest track.
So as Busch and his fellow competitors head to Talladega this weekend, they’ll hope that a treat will be waiting for them Sunday afternoon in the form of a ticket to the Round of 8, keeping alive their dreams of repeating as Sprint Cup champions.