Kyle Busch is ready for what he calls his best round in the playoffs — a critical round when it comes to earning a spot in the championship race next month.
Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix — all tracks the Joe Gibbs Racing ace has previously won at, and he enters the First Data 500 (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) not only as the defending race winner but on a hot streak of six straight top-five finishes.
The No. 18 Toyota is also atop the playoff standings. With the points reset before each round, Busch and his 40 playoff points lead the way while giving him a nice buffer on the cutoff line.
It’s an excellent position to be in, but Busch isn’t going to play defense as he seeks to make his way into Championship 4 for the fourth time in five seasons.
“I’m not so sure that you can just advance on points, even in our situation where we’re at,” Busch said. “The way that all eight of these guys have been running lately, there’s an opportunity for let’s say the bottom three guys, whoever they are — if they win and (Kevin) Harvick has a better three races than we do, he’s in on points versus us.
“That situation can happen. I’m not so sure that situation will happen — I hope it won’t, but I would like to think that you still have to go out there and still have to kind of push the issue to win a race. That obviously just cements yourself (into the finale).”
Harvick is second in the playoff standings with a 39-point advantage. After Busch won Martinsville last year, Harvick then went out and won Texas to earn a title shot. Harvick is the 2014 champion, and Busch won his first title in 2015.
Martin Truex Jr. is third on the playoff grid, also with a sizable advantage at 23 points. Then it’s Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola. Bowyer won the Martinsville spring race. Kurt Busch is also a past Martinsville winner.
“You win Martinsville, you get a couple of weeks off almost being able to focus and think on exactly what you’ve got to do for Homestead the final week,” said Busch. “Even if you don’t win those, I think it was ’15, we were the last guy through on points to get through to the championship round, and we ended up winning [the championship] in ’15.
“However you get there, it’s just a matter of getting there and making sure that you’re eligible.”
Busch was third fastest in both the first and final practice at Martinsville on Saturday.