With Major League Baseball’s postseason in full swing, two division runners-up from each league played in a pair of winner-take-all Wild Card games for the chance to continue their postseason. The American League’s New York Yankees and the National League’s Colorado Rockies were able to move on in the playoffs by winning their respective games last week.
As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend, NASCAR’s top series holds its annual “Wild Card Game” of a different sort four races into its own playoffs and during the month of October. Heading into Sunday’s 1000bulbs.com 500, there arguably isn’t a track on the circuit like Talladega, upon which racing is as much of an unknown as its mammoth 2.66-mile oval.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has found fortune both good and bad during NASCAR’s version of the Wild Card Game. With lessons learned from his now 14-season career, the 2015 Cup Series champion knows anything can happen at Talladega. Starting last year, Talladega moved from a playoff elimination race, which was its place on the schedule the previous three seasons, to the second race in the Round of 12.
Last weekend’s Round of 12 opener last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway saw Busch battle handling woes at the Monster Mile and run as far back at 17th before making a miraculous recovery late in the race and salvaging an unlikely eighth-place finish. While Busch and the No. 18 team are accustomed to running much better, every point counts in the current playoff format and the top-10 finish enabled Busch to expand his cushion over the ninth-place cutoff spot in the playoff standings to 63 points with two races remaining in the Round of 12.
But Busch and his M&M’S team aren’t fooled at all by the word cushion, which isn’t comforting to hear at a place like Talladega. So far, only Chase Elliott, by virtue of his win at Dover last weekend, is guaranteed a spot in the Round of 8. Despite Busch’s tough day at Dover, his success during the regular season, as well as in the Round of 16, earned him a total of 55 playoff points that will certainly help his cause going into the wild card race at Talladega.
But as Talladega looms, Busch knows one lap, or even one corner, could change a driver’s fortunes quickly.
He has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. In his 26 starts at the track, he has 12 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.
As NASCAR prepares for its version of “Wild Card Weekend” at Talladega, Busch hopes to stay in front of the chaos with his M&M’S Camry, then head to Kansas the following week with, at the very least, a strong shot of advancing in the tightly contested NASCAR playoffs.