34 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races done and dusted. Two races left to go. One, 312 miles and 312 laps in length, set to run on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, and the other, 400 miles and 267 laps in total, one week later at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Kyle Busch has previously performed well at both, and will use the experience and wisdom he has gleaned from these two radically different ovals to try and nail down his second Cup title.
Q: As the penultimate race of the season, and with you already being qualified for the title showdown at Miami-Homestead, how will you approach the Phoenix race on Sunday? Anything you guys can learn or try and pick up for Homestead-Miami?
KYLE BUSCH: No, there is really nothing to learn or pick up for Homestead. It’s all about building your momentum and making sure you are on your game and you’re being the best that you can be, so when you get to Homestead you’re a championship-caliber driver and team. Phoenix isn’t necessarily a throwaway, as you still have to go out there and focus on what it’s all about. It’s still another race on the schedule. You still have a lot of pre-work and things like that that you’re doing to make sure that you’re ready for Homestead.
Q: So you now know who three of the four Championship 4 drivers are. What do you think about Kevin Harvick earning his way via his win at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday?
KB: Yeah, I mean that’s one of the top dogs, you know? He’s been one of the best guys the last three years, he won the championship in ’14, and we raced against him for the championship in ’15. They were really good last year and just kind of missed out a little bit. I’m hoping that the same thing that happened in ’15 can happen again. Three of the four are the same. Myself, Martin Truex Junior and Kevin Harvick are the same guys from that season. We’ll see who the fourth one will be on Sunday, and then hopefully we can beat them all at Homestead.
Q: Any guess you think might get that fourth spot?
KB: If I had to guess, I would probably just say that it’s probably going to be Brad [Keselowski] with the points’ cushion and everything that he has. Without anything catastrophic happening, I think he’s the guy.
Q: Luck plays a big part in this whole NASCAR playoffs deal, doesn’t it? Both you and Keselowski basically had your race at Texas sabotaged on the opening lap.
KB: Yeah, no question. It definitely is. You have to have a little bit of luck on your side. If there is any bad luck to get rid of, you might as well get rid of it in these next two weeks and not have it hamper your chances, or even have it in your thoughts [about] whether or not it’s going to happen again when you get to Homestead. Past that, the fact of the matter is that you’ve got to be a great driver, you’ve got to have to have a great team, you’ve got to have great equipment and you have to have a little bit of luck on your side. There’s no question about that.
Q: Martin Truex has been omnipotent on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ 1.5-milers all season long. Furthermore, his 107-lap run at Texas pushed his lead lap total up to an astonishing 2175 thus far in 2017. The No. 78 team’s performance this year has been amazing. What do you make of his 2017 season?
KB: It’s been impressive, there’s no question about that. Him and his team have been the guys to beat each and every weekend that we go to a mile-and-a-half track. There is no question that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with when we get to Homestead. They tested there a couple of weeks ago and we had Denny Hamlin from our squad test there, so we feel like we’ve got a pretty good group of notes going on that we can look at and get ready for. I look towards those guys as being our strongest competition, if you will. I think the No.4 is also going to be good, because the Ford won that race in 2014 and he finished second to me in 2015, and they’re pretty good there.
Q: To many, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup is Truex’s to lose…
KB: Yeah, I would agree with that assessment. It’s definitely theirs to lose. There the ones that have put themselves in this situation, you know? They’ve been so strong all year long here, and now if they are hearing footsteps, it’s the wrong time of the year to be hearing that. They definitely have the strong suit just because of the stranglehold they have had at the mile-and-a-half tracks this season. They’ve shown that pretty much everywhere they go
Q: You’ve run well at Homestead in the past, and won a championship there. What can you guys do to ensure you excel there?
KB: I like Homestead. It’s a unique track. It’s very challenging. It was repaved about 12 years ago, so it has got some age on it and it’s definitely worn out. You can race from the bottom, the middle, all the way the top. The top is kind of the preferred groove, if you will, and if you can get it right, it’s the fastest way around that racetrack. Kyle Larson has kind of showed us that the last few years. He’s really, really good there. I think it’s a good place for us. We’ve been fast there over the course of the last few years. Last year [below] we were probably going to finish second or third in the race, and wound up third in the end and our teammate Carl Edwards was the fastest car there. Again, there are a lot of good omens riding on that race for us, with as good as our cars and our history have been there. Hopefully, it is good for us this time.
Q: Compared to the Cup championship you won two years ago, how do you feel about going into this year? Are things any different?
KB: No, not at all. I kind of feel like with theNo. 78 being as strong as they have been this whole year and with the way that the No.4 has really kind of picked up business since the playoffs have started, that we’re almost the third favorite. I look at that as an advantage for us. Back in 2015 we kind of went into that Homestead race with nothing to lose, and were playing with house money, and nobody really thought we deserved to be there racing for a championship, so we just decided to take what was given to us and take it all home and that’s what we did. If we can do the same thing again his time around, then we’ll do it.
Q: It’s a broad stroke question, but I wanted to ask you about some of the older drivers who have, or very well could be, fading away into retirement. Dale Earnhardt Junior, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards look to be gone, while other big-name drivers such as Danica Patrick and your brother Kurt Busch are yet to put pen to paper on deals for 2018. What’s your take on these times that we’re in?
KB: I think it’s just the tides are turning a little bit, you know? I think that a lot of these guys have been around for a long, long time. I don’t think Matt wants to be done or wants to retire, but essentially, he’s one of the elder statesmen and there isn’t a lot of sponsorship behind him, I guess I’d say. It’s unfortunate. I hate it for Matt. I love Matt as a teammate. He’s been a fantastic guy to lean on and work off of and be a partner with at Joe Gibbs Racing. With Jeff Gordon retiring and Chase Elliott coming in, Matt kind of retiring and Erik Jones taking over… we’ve seen this happen before. You had guys like Rusty Wallace and Dale Jerrett and other guys that moved on too, and made room for younger, brighter stars.
Q: What do you think about the new wave of young NASCAR Cup stars such as Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez?
KB: I think it’s good. I think it’s fun to see them do well. I think it’s exciting for the fans to have somebody new to pull for, and I’m hoping the fans will stick around and want to see some of these younger drivers be successful and have something to pull for in the future, and not just leave when their favorite driver leaves – like a Jeff Gordon or a Dale Jr. It’s been neat to see them kind of come up and make their own names and to see their success grow.