During the past 13 years, Kyle Busch has taken the green flag at 389 NASCAR Sprint Cup, 310 Xfinity Series and 129 Camping World Truck Series races. That’s a staggering 828 races in all. And he’s won 153 of them.
Richard Petty’s career total 200 NASCAR wins is already in sight. But unlike The King, there’s one accolade the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota wheelman hasn’t been able to add to his bulging résumé, and that’s a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.
Busch can change that this Sunday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when he, along with the other three Chase survivors, line up for the final showdown. It’s not overstating it to say that this is the most important, most meaningful race in Busch’s career.
Having fought his way back from a nasty crash in the XFinity season-opener at Daytona last February, which left him with leg injuries that placed him on the JGR injured reserve list until Charlotte in mid-May, Busch returned swinging, stringing together a remarkable series of results which earned him a spot in the Chase the hard way.
Now there’s one more brawl for Kyle if he’s to win what he feels is his, and the scenario couldn’t be simpler: The first to the finish line among the Championship 4 – Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr – will be the 2015 champion. No complex permutations, just a straightforward fight to the checkers. Just how he likes it.
RACER.com caught up with Busch on the eve of the showdown.
Q: Factoring in Cup, Xfinity and the Camping World Trucks, you’ve won a total of 153 races during your career. Moreover, you’ve started 389 Cup races in the last 12 years. I’m going to make a wild assumption here and say Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami will be the biggest race you’ve ever lined up for. Agreed?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, absolutely. This will be the biggest race of my career so far, for sure. There have been other Chase races or other races that have been just as important in order to get ourselves locked into the Chase or moved on through a particular round that has had some significance, but none such as this.
Q: Of all the races that you’ve done, as well as all of the races you have won, how do you feel about this one? Do you have any sort of unique take on this race?
KB: I wouldn’t say that I feel any different about this race than I have any others. It’s just that with this race there’s a heck of a lot more on the line, for sure. You know we’re going to go out there and give it everything we’ve got, just like we would in any other race. We’re going to try and perform to the best of our ability and win the thing. That’s what we want to do.
Q: How important is it for you – and for your legacy in NASCAR – to win the Sprint Cup Championship?
KB: I don’t think it’s all that important, but it’s just something that I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid, you know? I’ve always wanted to be a Sprint Cup Series champion back from when I was probably eight, nine or ten years old, and just dreamed of being a race car driver. I’ve always dreamt of this moment to win a championship and I think it’s extra-special this year given the chance that I have to race against Jeff Gordon in his final race for his final championship. And hopefully I get that opportunity to beat him.
Q: Is Jeff someone you looked up to when you were younger?
KB: Yeah, no doubt. I looked up to Jeff Gordon a lot. He’s actually probably one of the top three reasons to why I’m a racecar driver today. I still have a ton of amount of respect for the guy and what he’s done for our sport and to gotten to this level of what it is today. He certainly was huge in doing that.
Q: Speaking of Jeff as well as the other two guys, Martin Truex and Kevin Harvick, how do you see the competition on that Miami-Homestead track on Sunday? How are you looking at all that?
KB: I’m looking at it as pretty stiff competition. I remember, I think it was three years ago, I led about the whole race at Homestead and I had Truex on my bumper the whole time and we were racing for the win and then the pit strategy didn’t quite work out for either of us, but it actually did for Jeff Gordon that day and it gave Jeff Gordon his first Homestead win.
And then last year Jeff Gordon led the most laps and probably should have won the race, but they had a pit strategy go wrong at the end so it was the same situation and Kevin Harvick ended up scoring his first Homestead victory. I think all of us have a great shot at being able to go out here and win this thing.
Q: A driver always makes a tremendous difference in any NASCAR race, but in your opinion, does the driver make any kind of particular or significant difference on the Homestead track?
KB: Yes. No doubt. I do believe that the driver makes a huge difference because it’s a track where you have to be able to run all over the racetrack. So you have to know in your car and in your equipment how to run the bottom; how you need to run the middle; how you have to run the wall. You’ve got to have plenty of confidence to be able to enter these corners at such high speed and to be able to race right up inches away from the wall lap after lap.
Q: Statistically, Miami-Homestead hasn’t been the kindest track to you throughout you career. Your average finish there has been 23.1 and you haven’t led laps there since 2012. Do you like the track? Do you not like the track? What’s your take on the place?
KB: I like Homestead, yeah. I actually enjoy going to this racetrack. Years ago, I claimed I didn’t like it as much as I do now because a few years ago I figured out how to race here and figured out what it took in order to be competitive and to be fast. I feel like I’ve learned those things and I’m ready to take the challenges that are going to be put forth in front of me this weekend and make the most of it.
Q: How about a strategy for this race? I know you wouldn’t want to divulge it here, but is there a strategy to winning this thing?
KB: The easiest strategy is just to have the fastest car and most of the time the fastest car wins the race, you know? The only other instance would be to just have a fast race car and good pit strategy and to have guys on pit road that do good pit stops for you. And of course the driver also can’t make a mistake in running inches off the wall and put the car in the wall. You’ve got to keep that right side clean.
Q: In various applications in the NASCAR media space this week, the word “redemption” has been used in connection with your season-long comeback to get into the Chase. Where I’m going with this is that you’ve actually had it harder than virtually everyone else this year in that you missed the first 11 Sprint Cup races of the season due to the Daytona injury. Thoughts?
KB: I think this weekend is going to be easy compared to what I had to go through at the beginning part of this season. I had to learn how to stand and learn how to walk again. That was probably one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done in my entire life, so to be able to go out here this weekend and race for a championship and then to just go out there and compete, I think that’s going to be easy, you know? I think that’s just going to be about coming down and doing all the right things and getting the job done.
Q: Seven years ago – March 9, 2008, to be precise about it – you went out and won the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was Toyota’s very first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. How cool would it be for you to go out and win them their first Cup title?
KB: Yeah, no doubt. It would certainly mean a lot for me to be able to give Toyota their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. They’ve won Truck championships and they’ve won Xfinity championships, but this would be the first Sprint Cup. For me to give them their first win when I joined Joe Gibbs Racing was a huge honor and I don’t think it would be any better than for me to be able to give them their first championship.
Q: The big game-feel, the Game 7-feel of the race this Sunday, do you enjoy it?
KB: Yeah, yeah, no doubt. I mean there’s a lot of talking about it right now, but you can only do so much talking before you’ve got to start showing. It’s time to show them.