HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – With a bright yellow racecar covered with images of red, blue, green and brown M&M’s chocolate candies, and with a firesuit and helmet to match, it’s certainly not a stretch to call Kyle Busch one of the most colorful drivers in NASCAR.
But as the curtain falls on the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season this weekend, Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), hopes it all simply comes down to a matter of black and white – checkers, that is.
With his and the No. 18 team’s sights already set on a more-determined-than-ever run for the championship in 2013, Busch would love nothing more than to circle the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway after Sunday’s season-ending Ford 400 by celebrating another victory with checkered flag in-hand.
As the Sprint Cup Series plans to introduce a new car for 2013, Busch and his M&M’s team have shown over the last nine races that they don’t plan on putting the 2012 season behind them until it’s officially over. To that point, despite not being a Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship competitor, Busch and his M&M’s team have been quite impressive in the nine Chase races thus far as he has accrued 317 points – fourth-most among all series drivers. In the last nine races, Busch has scored six top-five finishes and seven top-10s, and he’ll hope to add to the hot streak during Sunday’s final race of 2012.
To earn the right to carry the checkered flag come Sunday night, Busch looks to improve by leaps and bounds over his career-best Homestead finish of eighth in 2009. It was his only top-10 at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval, bettering by far his other six finishes of 41st, 28th, 20th, 19th, 32nd, and 23rd.
So, before the curtain falls on the 2012 Sprint Cup season at Homestead, Busch will reach for a Homestead win in order to top off his strong finish to 2012 with an exclamation point, then carry it over to a new season full of promise in 2013.
What are your expectations for Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway? “That track hasn’t been great to me. I’ve run well there in the Truck Series. I won the Nationwide race there in 2010 and 2011, as well. Homestead is a fun racetrack. It’s real challenging because of the way the race changes from the beginning to the end, and the way things change from the beginning to the end of your runs. You run the bottom, then you go to the top. You’re always moving around. You’re always thinking. It’s a cool racetrack. The sun is going to play havoc on our eyes getting down into turn one during the race.”
Like you said, Homestead has not been a great track for you, statistically, with your best finish being eighth in 2009. Is Homestead a place you might be starting to figure out in the Sprint Cup car? “We ran a lot better there in 2009 than where we finished and we were running top-10 in 2011 before we got wrecked, so, we’ve had a few races where our runs have been much better than the results have shown. In 2009, Denny (Hamlin) and I battled on that last restart and I just couldn’t quite stay ahead of him. Track position is big there and, once he got out in clear air, he was gone. I was trying hard to get back ahead of him and ended up scraping the fence. I’ve never run that well there before, but Dave (Rogers, crew chief) really gave me the best car I’ve ever had there. I’m hoping we can have another strong car and finish off the season strong, and it can give us some momentum for the offseason and for next year.”
What would it mean to get another win before season’s end as far as gaining momentum for 2013?“I wish we could have won Phoenix. But Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and all of the M&M’s guys have done an awesome job the last nine weeks. We’ve had great pit stops and our cars have had a lot of speed in them, too. Homestead hasn’t been a great place for me, but I feel like running all three races at Homestead is an advantage for me this weekend. In the other two races, you get your courage up running around the top, where it’s usually the fastest, so by Sunday you are just more comfortable running up there. Our cars have been really good there lately, so I think we have another shot of running well again and we can finally get that win. The way our season has gone, it would mean a lot. I think we already have a lot of momentum going into next season, but another win wouldn’t hurt.”
You have your fewest Sprint Cup starts at Homestead. How do you expect to do this weekend? “It seems in a lot of ways like I’ve never been able to finish a race at Homestead. I always seem to run into bad luck there, and 2009 was my best finish, and we were alright there the year before but ran out of gas and still finished 19th. We were like 20th the year before that. But, there have been several tracks that I’ve not run well at before this year and ended up winning the race, like we did at Atlanta, or running well in the road-course races. The more starts I can get there, I think the results will turn around, eventually.”