With his win this past Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Kyle Busch is locked into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While the pressure to win races is off for the next two weeks for Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), it doesn’t mean he won’t be trying to keep the pressure on his fellow NASCAR playoff competitors, starting with Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Why is that the case? To borrow a football analogy, the M&M’S Caramel team doesn’t plan to just run the ball and drain the clock just because Busch is locked into the Championship 4 at Homestead. With two races remaining in the Round of 8, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens will still be throwing the ball down the field, in a football sense, and trying to not make it easy for the rest of the remaining playoff field to automatically punch their tickets to Homestead like Busch did this past weekend.
This year’s scenario is much different for Busch than it was the last two seasons, even though he also remained championship eligible at the Homestead season finale.
In 2015, once he got to the Championship 4 at Homestead, he brought home a huge victory to secure his first title in NASCAR’s top series after scoring six top-five finishes through the first nine playoff races. Same goes for 2016, when he also matched the six top-five finishes in the first nine playoff races.
In 2017, Busch has taken a completely different path, as he scored finishes of 29th, 27th and 10th in the Round of 12 but still making it through to the Round of 8 thanks to the all-important playoff points he carried over from the regular season.
After his second career Texas win in the spring of 2016 and a fifth-place finish last fall, Busch has had to also follow a different blueprint at the 1.5-mile oval when it was repaved and slightly reconfigured prior to the start of the 2017 season. He struggled to a 15th-place finish this past April, but Busch comes to town knowing he owns seven top-five finishes in his last nine starts there, and has 11 top-fives in his 23 career Texas starts.
Along with his two Cup Series wins at Texas, Busch been a frequent visitor to victory lane in most everything else he’s raced there. He reeled off an incredible string of five consecutive Xfinity Series wins at Texas from April 2008 to 2010. Add his two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins in November 2009 and 2010 and Busch has quite the collection of signature cowboy hats given to Texas race winners.
So while Busch and his M&M’S Caramel team look to add yet another signature cowboy hat and six-shooters as race winners in the Lone Star State to their steadily growing trophy collection, Busch and his team will keep throwing the ball down the field in order to stay aggressive and keep the pressure on the seven other playoff competitors. If all goes according to plan, they very well may be the ones hoisting the Cup Series championship trophy down in South Florida in two weeks.