Two-time defending Brickyard 400 champion Kyle Busch probably wasn’t expecting to return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week still looking for his first victory since he kissed the famous bricks there last July.
With the exception of his 2008 rookie campaign, Busch has annually hoisted a trophy before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule’s Indy summer race.
Even in 2015 – when Busch missed the first 11 races of the season with an injury – he had won three times before arriving in Indianapolis. And then, he won again.
Last year, he became the second driver in NASCAR history to win Indy twice in a row – and he punctuated the effort by winning from the pole position (one of four drivers to win from the pole along with Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman).
Yet this Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), this race, there is so much is on the line for Busch in the No. 18 Skittles Toyota. He enters ranked third in the standings – one of three drivers among the top-seven without a victory. If he ever needed to be a race favorite … well, this is a good time to be so.
“Yeah, it’s going to be interesting, you know?” Busch conceded. “I look forward to Indianapolis every year now. We’ve certainly picked up on something the last couple of years that has made us really good there and we’ve been fast over the years, but it’s just the last two years have been really good for us.
“Certainly I hope that we can take the same powerful equipment and car and everything and have a good shot at being able to win that race.”
The possibility of a historic three straight wins at Indianapolis will be something for Busch to ponder in retirement. Right now, he simply needs a win.
“We would certainly like to get it three in a row,” he acknowledged. “That would be nice. That would be special. That would be something unprecedented no one’s ever done, so I look forward to that and seeing what this new aero package at Indy has in store for us.”
While Busch obviously would have preferred to deliver his Joe Gibbs Racing team its first win months ago, he’s at least encouraged the championship organization now has one. Teammate Denny Hamlin scored the team’s first victory of the season on Sunday at New Hampshire – 19 races into the season.
The late timing is especially staggering considering how close Busch, in particular, has been to winning in 2017. He’s led almost a thousand laps (953). Only three-time race winner and current points leader Martin Truex Jr. has led more (1,252 laps) entering this weekend. Four times he’s led over 100 laps in a single race only to fall short of victory – including 274 laps out front at Martinsville this spring. He led 112 at Kentucky two weeks ago and finished fifth. He led 95 at New Hampshire on Sunday and finished 12th.
Busch must at least feel optimistic this week. Johnson is the only driver in the field with more laps out front at Indy than Busch (302-210). The great 2.5-mile speedway may intimidate many competitors, but for the two-time defending winner, it’s all opportunity.
“I think I figured a little bit of something out, but I also think that me figuring something out has helped us be able to develop our car better too, you know?” Busch said. “Like setup-wise, I know what I need within the car now that makes you faster at Indy than at what I had been running in the past.
“And,” Busch offered, “Each week, we go to the race track hoping that we have prepared the best possible car we can, that it is the number one car, that it is going to be half a second faster than the field, but in all reality when you get out there and you get to the race track, you know, you’re temptations kind of get slapped in the face a little bit, you know?
“So we’ve just got to mind our own business and do what we’re doing and hopefully we can continue to evolve and get better.”