Once upon a time, Kyle Busch considered Kansas Speedway a “jinx” track.
He finished 37th in his debut race at the 1.5-mile speedway in 2004. A decade later, Busch scored his first top five at the track, and it wasn’t until 2016 that he found its Victory Lane for the first time.
Busch’s win that year marked the completion of a dramatic turnaround at a speedway he couldn’t solve early in his career. It was part of a streak of five straight top fives and eight straight top 10s, transforming Kansas from a track Busch dreaded to one he relished.
Lately, though, the track has been trending back toward the “jinx” category, leaving it a matter of conjecture as to which Kansas will greet Busch when he returns for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
After a gritty 11th-place finish in last Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Busch enters the second playoff race of 2023 seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series standings, 20 points above the current elimination line for the Round of 12.
“Overall, it was just nice to get an 11th-place finish … for what looked like was going to be a 20th,” said Busch, who had to start the Darlington race from the rear after slapping the wall in practice, necessitating repairs to his car. “Definitely not a day that we wanted but just survived with what we could there.
“Really proud of everyone at RCR and ECR (Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines) for fighting hard all day long. The pit crew had some really good stops today and got us some spots on pit road. We had issues, some self-inflicted and some with our strategy with just the luck of the draw with how the cautions fell. …
“At least we get to live to fight another day.”
A 20-point margin is tenuous, however, considering that Busch has finished 26th and 35th in his last two starts at the Midwest track, the latter of which was his first run with his new Richard Childress Racing team.
Then again, Busch picked up his first victory in the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – like Kansas, a downforce track.
And Busch’s situation is far less perilous than those of the drivers who occupy positions 11 through 15 in the playoff standings – Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace, Kevin Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., respectively.
Between Logano in 11th and Stenhouse in 15th, there’s a six-point spread, providing the opportunity for considerable movement at Kansas.
Having escaped Darlington with a 16th-place finish, Stenhouse feels the final two tracks in the first round (Kansas and Bristol) are more to his liking.
“If we do our job, I feel like we can transfer through rounds,” Stenhouse said. “We’re focused on the first round. We’ll see where we end up after Bristol Motor Speedway and figure it out from there on out.
“Darlington was probably the least of the best tracks for us. I’ve run good at Kansas before, and Bristol is my favorite track by far.”