Kyle Busch is one race away from doing something he’s never done before in his career – heading into the final race at Miami with a chance to earn his first career Sprint Cup championship.
Busch is in good shape coming into Phoenix International Raceway. He’s second of the eight remaining Chase drivers, two points behind series leader Jeff Gordon, whose win at Martinsville gave him an automatic berth into the championship-deciding race in Miami.
But Busch also knows that position is far from secure. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin was second in the points going into the final race of Round 2 at Talladega only to be eliminated from title contention.
That’s why Busch is taking a positive yet guarded approach to Sunday’s race at Phoenix. He’ll advance to the championship round by finishing third or better if he does not lead any laps. He’ll advance by finishing fourth or better if he leads one lap. He’ll advance by finishing fifth or better if he leads the most laps.
“Being in this position, it’s obviously good, but I’ve been in a really good position before and had stuff happen and been knocked out,” Busch said in a team release. “We don’t need to have any of that. We just need to go out in Phoenix and have a good, solid day.
“That place hasn’t been the best for our company over the last few years, but I’m looking forward to getting out there and hope we’ve got a really good piece in order to carry myself and everybody on this JGR team to Chase contention going to Homestead.”
While a win at Phoenix would automatically put him in the final round at Miami, Busch also is cognizant of what he needs to do Sunday.
“If we’re running fifth to 10th, that’s what we need to do,” Busch said. “If we’re running 15th, there’s a guy behind us who, if he passes us, he’s going to knock himself in and us out, so you’re going to have a heck of a lot harder race on your hands.
“We just don’t need to run like that. We need to go out there and perform, do what we’ve done this round, and that’s to finish top five. If we can top five it this week, that’s going to help our situation and roll us right on to Homestead.”
But that doesn’t mean Busch doesn’t think he’s capable of more at Phoenix. In 20 career starts at the 1-mile flat track, he has one win, three top-fives, 12 top-10s and two poles.
Joe Gibbs Racing began this year’s Chase with all four of its drivers in the field. Two remain: Busch and Carl Edwards. Hamlin and Matt Kenseth were eliminated after Talladega in Round 2.
That Busch has made it this far and has a bonafide chance of racing for the championship – despite missing the first 11 races after he was injured in a crash at Daytona in February – surprises him somewhat.
“It’s certainly a dream come true,” he said. “I never would have expected we’d be in this position, let alone when the accident first happened.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’m done.’ Literally, the thing that flashed through my mind is, ‘Man, I’m going to have to go lay decals again.’ That’s what I did before I raced.
“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – the script’s written. I think there are two scripts written, it’s just which one’s going to come true. Jeff Gordon certainly has one. I feel like we have one as well with this 18 car. Hopefully, it’s our Cinderella story that can end the season on this No. 18 team.”