By Michael Guzman, Contributing Writer
“We accomplished everything we needed to accomplish today,” Kyle Busch said following Sunday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup finale at Talladega SuperSpeedway. The driver of the no. 18 led just one lap and finished in 30th position, but he stayed out of trouble.
Sunday proved to be a bit of redemption for Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing, as all three Toyota’s purposely ran in the back and avoided danger for 500 miles. Having positioned themselves securely into the next round thanks to strong runs at Kansas and Charlotte; Matt Kenseth finished 28th, and Carl Edwards came home 29th, finishing ahead of Busch while using an extremely conservative strategy to all advance into the next round of the playoffs.
With Talladega and Kansas alternating dates next season, Busch believes the product will improve for fans due to an increased incentive at the restrictor-plate track.
“Looking at it, there’s no reward to go racing and get wrecked,” Busch admitted. “You try to be smart and try to do what can do. I mean, as long as you’re guaranteed racing and everyone that’s in the Chase along with yourself is all crashed out, then your points will stay the same. But you can’t guarantee that so you’ve got to be smart and you’ve got to try to survive and do what you can.”
The team attempted a similar strategy in 2014 with Kyle Busch, but the championship contender was involved in a massive wreck on lap 104. Today, the team was expecting a similar scenario, but the big wreck never arrived.
Three of the four Gibbs cars exploited the strategy to perfection, leaving teammate Denny Hamlin on his own toward the front of the pack. All three drivers were planning on pushing toward the lead after the presumptive wreck, but the accident never arrived and it soon became too late to switch strategies and push Hamlin into the next round.
All that being said, the Virginia native took a thrilling third place finish; besting Austin Dillon for the final spot in the next round thanks to a tiebreaker in the points and a .006 second margin on the track. It was a tough position to be in, but one that Hamlin was able to understand.
“When you have three guys that realistically just don’t need to wreck to get in, and you have one that you need to almost win to get in, you can’t sacrifice the three guaranteed spots that you got to try and get one more in,” Hamlin explained. “It was on me to go out there and do it.”
Going forward, Hamlin heads to one of his best tracks next week at Martinsville with all three teammates remaining in the Chase. Despite the satellite team of Martin Truex Jr. bowing out, four of the eight remaining cars in the championship hunt now feature Joe Gibbs Racing drivers.
“We didn’t get paid very well today,” Busch admitted. “But we’ll get paid very well in about four weeks when we’re hoisting a trophy.”