Kyle Busch‘s Sprint Cup quest for the Chase got a major boost Sunday with his Sonoma victory. The series’ 11th different winner this season, Busch’s injury exemption now gives the No. 18 team a realistic chance to make the playoffs. With ten races left, Busch must now find a way to claw inside the top 30 in points, closing the gap despite running 11 fewer races than his competition.
Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No, which is why it was intriguing to hear Busch’s take on the situation this weekend.
“I figured the win was going to be the hardest thing to get, but now that that’s here and it’s out of the way, we can now work toward being able to get ourselves top 30 [in points] and then just get some good solid finishes,” he said. “When we’re running third, fourth or fifth, we don’t have to take that chance of going for a win and having an opportunity of crashing or something like that.”
In essence, Busch is willing to leave potential wins on the table, settling for fewer points in order to stay more consistent. He might be gunshy after two major wrecks at Dover and Michigan disrupted momentum and put his No. 18 team in a deeper hole. 40 points a week, he thinks will be far better than going for more and winding up with four.
I appreciate Busch’s sentiment, I really do. But that’s also not the way he races, a guy trained on going 110% now focused on “staying comfortable” instead. It’s disrupting a comfort zone that’s made him a consistent race winner in the past, a strategy that also doesn’t guarantee good luck. Even if you’re “laying back,” leaving a football field between all other cars your tire can blow entering turn 3 in the closing laps. If your engine is going to splinter to pieces… guess what? It’s going to splinter to pieces.
We also need to look at the drivers Busch is trying to catch. David Gilliland, Cole Whitt and Justin Allgaier aren’t exactly running 35th every week. Let’s play this out over the next 10 races based on each driver’s finishes from last year.
29) Gilliland – 263
30) Whitt – 261
31) Allgaier – 260
37) Kyle Busch – 125
Points scored in Races 17-26 last year:
Kyle Busch: 222
Projected point totals after Richmond if they repeat 2014 performances:
29) Allgaier – 439
30) Gilliland- 438
31) Whitt – 400
Kyle Busch – 347
As you can see, based on 2014 performance during these final 10 races Busch doesn’t come close to breaking through. If Gilliland’s 438 is indeed the “magic number,” Busch will actually have to average slightly better than a 13th-place finish to reach the top 30. You know how many drivers have better than a 13th-place average this season? Six: Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. Notice there are no Toyotas in that group, nor are there any teammates from Joe Gibbs Racing.
That type of effort tells you every point is going to matter. Give up 10 points these next 10 weeks, settling for fifth instead of going for fourth and that very well could make the difference between making and missing this Chase. That’s the shame of it for Kyle, believing he can play it safe in this new format when in actuality he still needs to go for broke. There should be no other option… right?
“You’ve certainly got to play it out all the way through,” he said. “That’s one of the things that maybe I haven’t been so good at over the years, but you know, you’ve got to have that focus for not just one week but for a long time, and 10 weeks is a long time, so we’ve just got to do our job, both Adam and I. We can’t screw up.”
To do that, Busch needs every point, every position, potentially even another win. He shouldn’t settle for less.