If there was ever any hesitancy that Kyle Busch could pick up where he left off at the end of last year’s championship season, his first three races of 2016 have dispelled any doubt.
While Busch has not won a Sprint Cup race this season, he’s still been the most successful driver. He’s the only driver to have three consecutive top-five finishes (and seven straight top-five showings going back to last year).
And, he’s leading the point standings.
“The guys have been doing a great job,” Busch said in a team release. “As a company, we have a little bit to go to get better with this new (low downforce) package, but I think we have the right people and the right resources to get that done.
“Last weekend, we were off in practice and qualifying and we finally hit on something the last part of final practice that we could race with. So I’m proud of Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and all the guys for digging and getting us better.”
Busch focuses on this weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway, a track that has only given him one Sprint Cup win, but 13 top-10 finishes in 21 starts there.
But throw in his success in the Xfinity Series there and Busch is in a class of his own. In 19 Xfinity starts, he has eight wins, 12 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes, as well as eight poles.
“For some reason, I’ve always run well there,” the Las Vegas native said. “I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast or what.
“I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different corners at Phoenix.
“Phoenix is a bit of a different deal than the other two races on the West Coast (Las Vegas and Fontana), but we ran better there last fall (fourth place) and I’m hoping we have something to be competitive with on Sunday.”
Busch comes to PIR with a six-point lead over Jimmie Johnson and seven-point edge over third-ranked Kevin Harvick, the two most successful drivers at the 1-mile track in the last decade.
“It was a bit of a struggle there the last several years, but I also think we improved a ton there last fall compared to where we’ve been,” Busch said in a team release. “We still have work to do there, but I definitely think we were headed in the right direction there last fall.
“We had a good enough position that we were able to finish well and transfer through to Homestead. (JGR driver Matt) Kenseth tested for us out there before the race last fall and I definitely think he helped our program with the feedback he and Jason (Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief) gave us.”
A win would lock Busch into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, something teammate Denny Hamlin, Johnson and Brad Keselowski have already done in the first three races.