It’s been 18 races since Kyle Busch last held a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy, but the four-race winner this season arrives at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway as the series championship leader again – four points up on six-race winner, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. and nine-points ahead of Sunday’s Kansas winner, another JGR teammate, five-race winner Denny Hamlin.
That’s why Busch is so happy with his playoff points that he accumulated during the regular season. Without them, he may not be alive still for a second career championship.
See, the playoffs have been rough for Busch. He has just three top 10 finishes in six tries.
“Obviously it’s a good thing we ran the way we did through the regular season and got some bonus points, the bonus points that we had to help us through,” said Busch at Martinsville Speedway. “As far as results of the playoffs, I don’t have a sheet in front of me, but I can run you down problems in every single race. There hasn’t been a clean race that we’ve had in the playoffs that have given us the opportunity to run up front all day and be in control of our own destiny towards the end of the race.
“We’re always coming from behind. Every time you’re coming from behind, you can only make up so much and last week (in Kansas) we showed that again. We drove through the field three times and could only get to second. We were limited by second there at the end, even with four tires versus the guy out front with two.”
For most people in the garage and in the grandstands, Busch heads into this final three-race stretch to determine the Championship 4 drivers, a competitor “on the verge” of winning. Certainly, his past performance at these three upcoming tracks would confirm that.
Busch is the only driver among the eight with multiple Cup Series wins at all three venues – Martinsville (two), Texas (three) and ISM Raceway in Phoenix (three). For good measure and further consideration, Busch has won an additional nine times at Texas and 11 times at Phoenix in the Xfinity Series giving him double-digit trophies from those tracks.
At this week’s Martinsville half-miler, Busch has wins in Spring 2016 and in the 2017 Playoff race. He was runner-up three more times, including both spring races in 2017 and 2018. Most telling, perhaps, is that of his 17 top-10 finishes – 16 of them are top fives. When he’s on, he’s on.
He’s finished fifth or better in the last eight Martinsville races – including two victories and two second-place finishes. He led a race-best 274 laps and finished runner-up to Brad Keselowski in 2017. In the last seven races, Busch has led 937 laps – 65.8 percent of his 1,424 lap-total at Martinsville. Seven times he’s led at least 100 laps in a race. His average finish (12.0) is second only to five-time Martinsville winner Hamlin among the Playoff-eligible drivers.
“I really look forward to this round,’’ Busch said. “I feel like it’s our best round. We run well at all three of those places and we’ve won a few at Texas, we won Martinsville twice and Phoenix has been getting better for us too, winning the last two races there.
“We just need to continue to execute and do a good job and make sure that we mind our Ps and Qs.’’