While the NASCAR Cup Series playoff grid shows that Kyle Busch is 21 points below the top-eight cutline with one race remaining in the Round of 12, there are many scenarios in which the defending series champion can advance to the Round of 8 following Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), knows that the only sure way to advance is to win Sunday’s race on the 2.28-mile, 17-turn “roval” will be to win the race.
However, there are other paths to the Round of 8 Sunday, as the tricky roval layout has shown the past two seasons the results there can be as unpredictable as at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where the Cup Series happened to race last weekend. Busch was involved in two separate accidents in the first half of Sunday’s race on the 2.66-mile Talladega oval, but a third accident coming to the start-finish line on the final lap of regulation resulted in too much damage for the M&M’s driver to be able to finish, thus putting him in a tough situation in the playoff standings at Charlotte this weekend.
It will be the third race for the Cup Series competitors on the roval layout, which combines parts of the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval with its relatively new infield road-course section. The slippery infield portions feature heavy breaking zones that can turn a driver’s fortunes quickly and, again, making racing just as unpredictable as Talladega. Despite running up front in both previous roval races, accidents have taken Busch out of contention at each.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing numerous schedule changes this season, the permanent road-course events at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y) International were replaced. NASCAR added one road-course race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in August. While that layout is widely known as it hosts the annual Rolex 24 sportscar race, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens were able to take advantage of having that roval-type circuit added to the schedule so they could experiment with a different setup. Busch ran up front for much of the Daytona road-course event until a brake issue forced him out of the race early, but the positives of the different approach have Busch and Stevens confident they are on the right track for a strong M&M’S Camry this weekend at Charlotte.
Busch is hoping he can equal the feat he accomplished in the May 2018 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, albeit on the 1.5-mile oval, when he brought home his first career points-paying win at the track in one of the crown jewels of NASCAR’s top series.
While this weekend’s Charlotte roval is still a bit of a unknown, Busch has established himself as one of the top road-course racers in the Cup Series. If the two-time and defending 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 for fourth 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 for third on the road-course wins list. There is a bit of distance to the top two spots on the all-time list, however, as second-place Jeff Gordon has seven road-course wins and leader Tony Stewart has nine.
So as Busch heads to the third-ever race on the Charlotte roval this weekend, he hopes that a different approach may yield the only thing that can guarantee advancement to the Round of 8, despite many other scenarios that could play out in his favor. It’s as simple as win and you’re in on Sunday in order to keep alive his hopes of back-to-back Cup Series championships.