By David Morgan, Associate Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. – It’s race day in Alabama.
For the 11 drivers still looking to punch their ticket into the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Sunday’s Yellawood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway will be a major hurdle to clear and will go a long way in determining who makes the cut at the end of the Round of 12 and who will be on the outside looking in.
Here is what some of those championship contenders had to say ahead of the green flag for the 188-lap race that lies ahead this afternoon.
Kyle Busch Details KBM Sale, Looks Ahead to Talladega Playoff Race
It’s been a busy week for Kyle Busch, who has been dealing with things on both the ownership and driving side in the days since the checkered flag flew at Texas last Sunday.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Busch would be selling his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team – Kyle Busch Motorsports – to Spire Motorsports, with the new ownership group taking over in 2024 and beyond.
Busch started the team back in 2010 and it has since become a mainstay of the Truck Series, accumulating a record 100 wins and becoming a stepping stone for many of today’s Cup Series drivers on the ladder to the top of the sport.
However, with the ever-evolving time constraints of raising a family and the need to focus on his Cup Series obligations with Richard Childress Racing, the opportunity that came from the Spire group to buy the team was just too good to pass up and he elected to make the deal.
“It’s just been a real dream come true for me and for KBM and for our family,” Busch said. “I just feel like I haven’t been able to give it as much of my devoted attention as it needs. And being around as much with Brexton racing and family stuff and me racing and trying to focus on that and being with the Cup team and things.
“There were some conversations that kind of happened with the crew chiefs and whatnot that just kind of made me start thinking about it. And then [Spire Motorsports co-owner Jeff Dickerson] showed up at the door and we had a conversation and, yeah, the turn of events happened really, really fast. Excited about the future of it.”
Busch added that he won’t be walking away from the team completely as he is still planning on running his five allotted Truck Series races with the team and will be serving in a consultant capacity with them going forward.
“It’ll be still worthwhile for me to see that team succeed with all the people and everything that we’ve had there for over the years. I’m excited about those that’ll stay and, you know, getting a key fob that turns off at 6:00 PM,” Busch said with a laugh.
As for his Cup Series obligations, Busch finds himself in the danger zone heading into Talladega after a crash at Texas dropped him 17-points below the cut-off line with a chaotic superspeedway race and road course at the Charlotte ROVAL still to get through to be able to make it to the next round.
Busch does have an ace up his sleeve having won at Talladega back in the spring, but even that is no guarantee for repeat success on Sunday. Regardless of how the race plays out, he noted stress among the driving corps will be maxed out.
“I think you come in here stress meter pegged regardless of whether you’re 30 to the good or 30 to behind,” Busch said. “We obviously know in our situation we’re further behind, so you have to race.
“I think it’s been more sought out to just race these races and run ’em normal and not hang out in the back and try to wait for something to happen. Because with these cars and the way the race plays out, it’s so hard to make moves and make passes and get yourself track position whenever you want it. So, you’ve gotta hold it when you got it. And, if you don’t have it, then you gotta figure out how to fuel save so you can short pit guys and jump ’em on pit road, you know what I mean?
“There’s so many variables, you just gotta race it out and don’t worry about it. Whatever happens, happens.”
Chris Buescher Confident RFK Racing Will Continue Superspeedway Strength
If there’s been one constant on superspeedways this season, it’s been that RFK Racing has been one of the dominant teams on these tracks throughout the year, with the win more often than not having to go through the team’s two drivers, co-owner Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher.
Coming off a performance at Daytona to end the regular season in which it was once again Buescher and Keselowski at the front of the field, with the boss pushing Buescher to his third win of the season, the question remains, is it going to be more of the same with RFK controlling the day and the win having to go through them?
Buescher was bullish on the team’s superspeedway strength continuing, but didn’t go quite as far as calling them the two cars to beat, given the unpredictability of racing on these types of tracks.
“I know we’ll be competitive,” Buescher said. “I know we’ll be capable of getting up there and leading laps and controlling lanes. I don’t have a doubt about that. I know we will have the drivability in our race cars to do that. None of that concerns me. I know our group’s done fantastic.
“Now saying that they have to go through you…it’s always a little tough when you go superspeedway racing, right? It’s got a certain factor to it that says you gotta be a little bit lucky. You gotta be a little bit brilliant through strategies. You know, it really takes a lot to get through these things.
“I’ll admit that I didn’t speak real intelligently on ’em for a number of years and talked about it being a lot of luck and getting through. And then you start noticing it’s the same five or six that are running competitively, that really do enjoy them, that have worked hard at ’em. And you start realizing that, well, yeah, you gotta have a certain amount of luck, but it also takes a specific skillset.
“So, yeah, we’re gonna be contenders and I believe that. Now can you confidently sit there and say you’re just the one or two cars to beat? It’s pretty tough. We’re all pretty tight. We’re all pretty tight, but we’re gonna be very good.”
Survive and Advance
Among the Cup Series Playoff contenders, there was one word that kept coming up when discussing Sunday’s race at Talladega.
The chaotic nature of superspeedway racing has many of them on edge, knowing that one wrong move could send their day and their hopes of advancing onto the next round right down the drain.
Bubba Wallace, who sits just two points shy of the cut-off line, is always a threat on superspeedways, but knows all too well how what appears to be a great day can go off the rails in a hurry. Back in the spring at Talladega, he was fighting for the win only to get spun in the waning laps, so survival is top of mind this time around.
“It’s Talladega, you are not safe. Anything can happen. I think for us, if we do what we did at Daytona, and the first Talladega race – and finish where we were running, we will be okay. We just have to survive,” Wallace said.
“We put a lot of scenarios in play – talking with our Toyota teammates on what we do and how we execute with it all. I was like we need to survive. There is usually on three Toyotas that finish the race, and there is only six of us. I was like – let’s get to the final 10 laps and then we can start to worry about this stuff. You don’t treat it any differently, you go out and do what you are capable of doing and try to execute the best you can. That is all you can do.”
Don’t Think, Just Do
If there’s one driver among the active driving corps that is synonymous with Talladega, it’s Brad Keselowski. With six wins at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, the driver of the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford knows a thing or two about racing at this track.
Though it’s been a couple of years since he won last at Talladega, Keselowski explained that one of the keys to success is not to overthink the race and just let it play itself out naturally. Just get yourself in position to be there at the end and let whatever is going to happen, happen.
It’s worked out well so far and he’ll be hoping that it will lead him to lucky No. 7 on Sunday.
“I think Talladega and Daytona these tracks are really easy to overthink,” Keselowski said. “It’s not that you don’t want to put the effort in or the workload and all that, but sometimes you have to just allow yourself to accept the fact that there are only certain pieces you can control that being one of them.
“What’s gonna happen on the last lap? Do you want to be leading? Do you want to be second? There are so many circumstances around that that you can’t control, whether it’s a yellow coming out as I was just saying or either the line line behind you formulating the right way or the wrong way.
“To some degree you just want to get in position to strike and just be thankful for that and hopeful that you don’t do anything to screw it up and let circumstances dictate from there. Ultimately, the goal for me is I don’t ever think about, ‘Hey, I want to be in the lead or I want to be second on the last lap.’ I don’t really think about it that way.
“I think about it more so of I just want to be fortunate enough to be in the top two or three so that if things go my way, they’ll go my way.”