By taking a quick look at the win column so far in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, one thing is clear –the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota of Kyle Busch and the No. 4 car of Kevin Harvick have owned the first part of the season.
Both Busch and Harvick own three-race win streaks – Harvick winning three in a row at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway near Phoenix, and Busch taking home three consecutive victories at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Richmond (Va.) Raceway. With Harvick adding his fourth win last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, the two drivers have accounted for an astounding seven wins in the first 11 races.
So as Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City for Saturday night’s NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series KC Masterpiece 400, he’ll have an excellent shot at bringing home his fourth win of the season. However, there was a time not long ago when Busch’s outlook heading into Kansas wasn’t nearly as optimistic.
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 Cup Series 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 snakebit on the new Kansas surface, Busch and his M&M’S Caramel team took a different approach starting with the April 2014 race by starting from scratch with a brand new car. They attacked Kansas 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.
In the October 2014 Cup Series race, Busch brought home his first-ever top-five finish at Kansas. Anyone who has ever followed Busch’s career knows the 2015 Cup Series champion never cared much for moral victories. However, the momentum carried over from his first top-five at Kansas in October 2014 has remained to this day. Finally, with the surface starting to wear, Kansas has become a place much more agreeable to Busch’s driving style as he has five top-five finishes and six top-10s in his last six starts there, including his first Kansas win coming two years ago in this very race.
So, as the Cup Series heads to Kansas for Saturday’s race under the lights, Busch hopes to score his second career Cup Series win in the Heartland of America and, furthermore, he’ll look to capture his fourth win of the season and solidify his spot on top of the point standing and the early season playoff outlook.