While Kyle Busch doesn’t have a ton of experience in the world of dirt racing, he’ll be borrowing an often-used dirt-racing term as he’ll look to “ride the cushion” this weekend at the mammoth 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in hopes of getting one step closer to advancing to the Round of 8 of this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Last weekend’s Round of 12 opener at Dover (Del.) International Speedway saw Busch battle back from an early race pit-road speeding penalty on the Monster Mile and run as far back at 18th before making a strong recovery late in the race and bringing home a solid sixth-place finish. The No. 18 M&M’s Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) team is accustomed to running much better, but 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 to 48 points in the playoff standings with two races remaining in the Round of 12.
While it’s nice to have the abundance of playoff points he earned during the regular season, Busch isn’t at all fooled by the word cushion, which isn’t comforting to hear at a place like Talladega. So far, only Kyle Larson, by virtue of his win at Dover last weekend, is guaranteed a spot in the Round of 8. Despite not winning at Dover, Busch’s success during the regular season, as well as in the Round of 16, earned him a total of 45 playoff points that will certainly help his cause going into the wild-card race at Talladega.
Busch has found fortune both good and bad at Talladega. With lessons learned during his 15 seasons on the tour, the 2015 Cup Series champion knows anything can happen at Talladega, where 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 13 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 the longest track on the schedule.
As he and his NASCAR counterparts head once again to Talladega, Busch will wish for more some good fortune to complement his playoff points cushion in the second race of the Round of 12. He’ll work to stay in front of the chaos with his M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry, then head to Kansas the following week with, at the very least, a strong shot of advancing in the tightly contested NASCAR playoffs.