By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase drivers were split heading into Talladega Superspeedway after wild weeks at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Some needed to run up front and had no other choice but to win, while others just had to protect their position. One such driver that simply needed to protect his Chase position heading into the Hellmann’s 500 was Kyle Busch.
Busch entered the Kansas race weekend fifth in the Chase standings, 17-points ahead the Chase cutoff for the Round of Eight.
In the first practice, Busch was 17th fastest. In the final practice, Busch was ninth fastest of the 25 drivers that placed a time.
Qualifying was much more interesting for the driver of the No. 18 Snickers Halloween Toyota Camry. As the cars were lined up on pit road for the first segment of qualifying, Busch’s car, along with the cars of teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth were taken out of line to go back through inspection. Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) team was just able to squeak back through to beat the five-minute clock. He ultimately qualified 14th on the starting grid.
As the field rode around the 2.66-mile track during the parade laps, Busch, along with Kenseth and Carl Edwards elected to give up their starting positions and drifted to the rear of the field. When the green flag waved, Busch was in the 38th position.
The trio of JGR drivers remained in the back of the field, just behind the main pack. Only during a round of green flag pit stops did Busch and his teammates move up through the field. Busch was credited with leading lap 40 as he left pit road.
Busch and company quickly fell back to the positions they had been running in for the next 40 laps.
As several cars lost the draft, had an engine failure, or were caught in an accident Busch slowly climbed up through the field, but never moved too far forward based on the strategy he and two of his three teammates had employed.
By the time the checkered flag waved, Busch was riding in the 30th position. The strategy was not uncommon, and it paid off as Busch left Talladega with a six point gap over the Chase cut-off.
Busch was not thrilled with his finishing position, but was happy to move on to the Round of Eight.
“Looking at it, there’s no reward to go racing and get wrecked. 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.”
On Monday morning, Busch took to Twitter with regards to the strategy he and his teammates used.
Don't hate the player… Hate the game.
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) October 24, 2016
Busch has the second best average finish among active drivers in the last five races at Martinsville Speedway. Jeff Gordon has the best driver average at Talladega in the last five races with an average finish of 6.00. Both Busch and Gordon have only competed in four of the last five races at Martinsville.
Busch has a career average finish of 14.50 at Martinsville in 22-career starts at ‘the paperclip’. He has one win, 10-career top fives at Martinsville and 11-career Top 10s. Busch has led a total of 839 laps at Martinsville, where he also has just one DNF in his career.
In the last five races at Martinsville, Busch has an average finish of 7.75 with an average driver rating of 107.2. During this five-race span, Busch has one win, two top fives and two Top 10s.
Based on these statistics, Busch will be in good shape heading into the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 as he tries to secure his position to the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.