PLANO, Texas: With his win last weekend at Martinsville Speedway in the Round of 8 opener, Kyle Busch is locked into the Championship 4 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, making him one of the top contenders for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
The 2015 champion is the first driver to make the Championship 4 in three straight years since NASCAR moved to an elimination-style, 16-driver playoff format in 2014.
“It don’t mean anything to get to Homestead,” Busch said. “You got to win it. Just by making it to the [Championship 4] three years, I don’t think that means much.”
“We’re focused on ourselves and we can focus on Homestead right now,” Busch said during a break in Toyota Motorsports Day at the company’s North American headquarters. “We know there is still Texas and there’s still Phoenix. We still have to develop our notebook for next year. If we don’t have a Martinsville win, you’ve got to be good at Texas. Things change in a 12-month period of time, obviously.”
The win at Martinsville came on the heels of a trying Round of 12 for the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, where Busch recorded finishes of 29th, 27th, and 10th. Entering the final race of that round, Busch was on the outside looking in for advancement, but his 10th-place result combined with some tough breaks for other playoff drivers set him up to remain in championship contention. That likely would have been a lot more difficult task in the days before the current format — introduced before the start of the 2017 season — which awards playoff points for stage wins and race wins.
“If you have a bad week or two like I had, we would have been done,” Busch said. “This keeps us alive and allows us to go forward. I think this format, too, is one of the best formats and most fair formats because it gives you the opportunity to take points from the beginning of the year and maybe being as successful as you were with all your stage points and everything else, that could help eliminate some of the stress of those bad days.”
The last two years Busch earned his way into the Championship 4 via points, which could be a nerve-wracking experience where a driver can potentially go from in to out of the next round based on circumstance. Busch acknowledged that he felt his team was playing with “house money” in 2015 after the driver missed the first 11 races of the season with a broken leg and foot. However, he described last year’s Round of 8 finale as a much different animal based on the varying scenarios that would have put his team into the next round or not.
“You’re thinking about that and you get mentally drained in those situations,” Busch said. “So this year’s definitely going to be different.”