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Busch’s Mission Is To Sweep The Roads Clean

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 9 2015
Kyle Busch has already won at one road course during his incredible post-injury drive toward the Chase. Today at Watkins Glen, he can win another. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Kyle Busch has already won at one road course during his incredible post-injury drive toward the Chase. Today at Watkins Glen, he will attempt to win at another. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Kyle Busch ran out of gas last Sunday at Pocono Raceway but “Rowdy” certainly hasn’t run out of steam.

In his injury-belated bid to qualify for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, sprint-logo-08Busch will attempt to complete a sweep of the schedule’s two road-course events via a victory in Sunday’s 30th annual Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. Such an outcome would give Busch five victories in the last seven races, a “King” Richard Petty-in-his-prime style ass-kicking that began at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway’s 2.52-mile/12-turn layout on June28.

“It was certainly unexpected, I guess, in Sonoma. But I feel like I’ve been a pretty good road-racer over the years so it wasn’t surprising,” said Busch, who will start Sunday’s 90-lap/220.5-mile event from the eighth position. “Just look forward to these races. I always do every year. It’s kind of fun, it’s kind of a ‘weekend off’ from the oval stuff. Love the opportunity to get out there and turn right, turn left and have some shifting going on and everything else.

“You try to make the most of it and have some fun with it and come out of here with some decent finishes. Over the years we’ve run real well here at Watkins Glen. I think a little moreso than Sonoma. But winning at Sonoma and having a really good car out there, I’m really optimistic about being here this weekend and hopefully carrying that road course momentum through to Watkins Glen.”

The victory in California’s wine country fulfilled one-half of the requirements mandated by NASCAR when it granted Busch a medical waiver to qualify for the 10-race/16-driver Chase. Busch, who missed the first 11 Cup races of 2015 because of injuries sustained in the XFINITY Series opener in February, also must move into the top-30 in points to make the postseason roster.

Busch appeared en route to his fourth consecutive victory when he ran out of fuel while leading the final lap of last Sunday’s Windows 10 400 at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway. Matt Kenseth, Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, passed three drivers who ran out of gas – Joey Logano with three laps left; Martin Truex Jr. with two laps to go and Busch on the final go-around – to win his first race at Pocono in 32 attempts.

Despite sputtering to a 21st-place finish, Busch gained 10 points on 30th-place

Kyle Busch has become a solid road racer. At Watkins Glen on Sunday, he will attempt to win his second road race of the season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

Kyle Busch has become a solid road racer. At Watkins Glen on Sunday, he will attempt to win his second road race of the season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

and now is only 13 points behind David Gilliland in that position. Busch has five races remaining to barge into the top-30, beginning with Sunday’s event in the Finger Lakes Region/wine country of New York State (2 p.m. EDT on NBC Sports Network). Busch has scored victories in 2008 and 2013 on WGI’s famed 2.45-mile/11-turn layout. In fact, in 2008 he became the last NSCS driver to sweep the Cup road courses.

Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot when his disabled car struck a concrete wall left unprotected by a SAFER Barrier at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Busch said during a media session here that he is much more on top of his game physically than he was in Sonoma.

“This is another month or month-and-a-half farther down the road in recovery and healing and everything else,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota Camry. “I’m doing really, really good and I feel really, really good week-in and week-out getting out of the car. Everything is going real well for me. I can’t wait for the offseason to get the plates removed in my foot and then I feel like I’ll be right back to what I was before.”

Meanwhile, Busch said he and crew chief Adam Stevens spent Tuesday morning dissecting the strategy that fell short of the checkered flag barely 48 hours previously. And then they turned on the nearest Hi-Def TV.

“Watching a couple of the NASCAR shows this week, heard some of the commentators kind of beating up on me about not saving fuel and listening to my crew chief,” Busch said. “My crew chief told me I did nothing wrong. He told me that we were not short on fuel, that we were two-thirds of a lap to the good and he was not asking me to save fuel. But once I couldn’t really catch the No. 22 (Joey Logano of Penske Racing) to just save in case there was a yellow – save the car, save the tires, save the brakes, save all the stuff, the mechanics of the race car. So in case we did have a shootout at the end that I would be ready for it.

“It wasn’t until the No. 22 bunch started getting on Joey about saving fuel with about seven (laps) to go that then I heard my first, ‘OK, save fuel.’ By then, you’re not going to save what you need in seven laps, you’re not going to have the opportunity to do that. I could have if I would have gotten, what I told Adam, ‘the harp.’ At the Brickyard we were short on fuel and Adam told me, ‘Hey, save fuel.’ I asked him then again, ‘Are you sure?’ He goes, ‘Yeah bud, there’s absolutely going to be no checkered flag for us if you don’t save fuel.’ The tone was quite higher than that.

“We obviously have real good communication with one another and we weren’t short and for some reason we ended up being short that last run and we know the reason why now, but we didn’t know at that particular point.”

One of NASCAR’s fiercest competitors, Busch was asked if he has been racing harder knowing he needs to climb into the top-30 to become Chase-eligible.

“Good point – I don’t know,” Busch said. “I just think that we’re really on a roll right now. I think everything is just really clicking for the No. 18 M&M’s team. We won one and we weren’t necessarily satisfied with that so we went to Kentucky, a place that’s really good for me and we won again. We went to a place like Loudon (N.H.) where I finished second in three of the last four races there and we won there this time. Then we backed it up at Indy where I finished second I think two of the last three years.

“I’ve had some really good runs at these places, we just haven’t been able to close the deal and finally closing the deal it just all came together. Since I’ve gotten back in the race car at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) in May it just definitely seemed like that next level has kind of taken off for us at Joe Gibbs Racing. I don’t know why, but I felt like getting back in obviously I needed to make up my points deficit and everything and I needed to run real well and run strong. We’ve really been able to do that and we’ve capitalized on some good days.

“We had some bad days, but we’ve definitely capitalized on some of those good days in winning four races. It’s just a matter now of hoping to continue this wave, this ride, all the way through the next 15 weeks. Certainly, I’ve had plenty of years in my career where we’ve made it to Chase and everything has sort of hit a brick wall. Hopefully we don’t have that and JGR continues to power through and really look strong through the postseason.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 9 2015
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