The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway this weekend for its annual fall stop at the North Carolina track.
However, for the first time, competitors won’t be competing solely on Charlotte’s fast, 1.5-mile oval. Instead, they’ll be competing on its 2.28-mile, 17-turn “roval” layout which combines parts of the oval with a new infield road course portion of the track.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to the new layout and the first cutoff race of the 2018 Cup Series playoffs with a huge sense of relief. His win Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway automatically advanced Busch and his team to the playoffs’ Round of 12 that starts at Dover (Del.) International Speedway next week. Busch is one of four championship-contending drivers with the luxury of racing this weekend with nothing to lose. The others are Brad Keselowski, winner of this month’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway playoff opener, Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick, who will lock in his position in the Round of 12 by simply starting the race Sunday.
To demonstrate the stark contrast between racing on Charlotte’s lightning fast 1.5-mile oval with average speeds around 190 mph, and the 2.28-mile roval layout with average speeds of around 105 mph, Busch jokingly described what he believes will be the most successful approach to winning Sunday’s race – “Just drive Miss Daisy.”
What does Busch mean by that? “If I’m ever up on the wheel and balls to the wall, I’m going to end up crashed, especially at the roval knowing how treacherous that place is – I’m going to get myself in trouble,” he said.
With the pressure off for the time being, Busch can focus on his own pace around the slippery road-course portions through the Charlotte infield, an approach that should garner success despite the unknown nature of this first time event. Busch is hoping he can equal the feat he accomplished the last time he raced at Charlotte in May, albeit on the 1.5-mile oval, when he brought home his first career points-paying win in Charlotte by winning the Coca-Cola 600, one of the crown jewels on NASCAR’s top series.
While this weekend’s Charlotte layout is a first for the series, Busch has established himself as one of the top road-course racers on the Cup Series circuit. If the 2015 Cup Series champion was to grab another checkered flag in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400, he could join some elite company as a road-racing ace in NASCAR’s top series.
Busch is tied with David Pearson and Mark Martin with four Cup Series road-course wins apiece. That’s some pretty good company, already. But with a fifth road-course win, he could tie Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Dan Gurney on the road-course win list. There is a bit of distance to the top two spots on the all-time road-course wins list, however, as second-place Jeff Gordon has seven wins and leader Tony Stewart has nine. Busch scored top-five finishes at the first two road-course races this season at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International with finishes of fifth and third, respectively.
So as Busch heads into the unknown of the Charlotte roval with the pressure off this weekend, he’ll look to channel his inner “Driving Miss Daisy” in an effort to cap the opening playoff round with his second consecutive win.