NASCAR & Auto Racing

Kyle Busch still seeking first Sprint Cup win at Kansas

Kyle Busch celebrates winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth last month.
Kyle Busch celebrates winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth last month. Associated Press

A spot in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup already assured, reigning series champion Kyle Busch has an agenda far different than his competitors.

Call it Rowdy’s Checklist Tour.

Busch, after crossing Martinsville, Va., from his career checklist last month, has won at all but three of the 23 tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule. And those three tracks loom straight ahead in his windshield.

If Busch were to win three upcoming races — Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway; the Coca Cola 600 on May 29 at Charlotte Motor Speedway; and the June 5 race at Pocono Raceway — he’ll become the first Sprint Cup driver in the modern era to win at every active track. And he’ll get two chances at each of those tracks this year to reach racing immortality.

“No, I wouldn’t say it’s immortality or anything,” said Busch, who checked Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami from the list last season. “It’s certainly neat to be able to show your diversity and being able to go out there and win at any single style of racetrack that there is. I think that just shows talent and obviously, too, you’ve got great people behind you.

“There’s not very many left on the list, but we’ve certainly put some emphasis on that over the past few years and being able to try to do that last year was a big year for us, knocking off a couple of those, as well. I’m pumped when I’m able to do that.

“I don’t know that many guys have ever been able to accomplish being able to win at every single active track that they’ve made starts at, and I look forward to trying to complete that feat.”

Only four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon had the distinction of winning on every active track until Kentucky Speedway was added to the schedule in 2011. He failed to win there in five tries.

“I wouldn’t have minded if Kentucky waited for a few years,” quipped Gordon, now an analyst for Fox Sports’ racing coverage. “When I came into the series, the way the points were structured, you needed to be good on every type of racetrack if you were going to accumulate the most points over a whole season. “

Some drivers, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., are best on restrictor-plate, superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega; some, such as six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and 2014 champion Kevin Harvick, dominate intermediate tracks like Kansas and Phoenix; others, such as Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, prevail on the short tracks of Bristol and Martinsville; and a few, such as AJ Allmendinger, thrive on the two road courses in the series.

Busch, 31, has been able to win on all of them, and in other series, too. He’s won on every Camping World Truck Series track where he’s raced except for his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he has run once, in 2001.

Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, he crossed Atlanta and Las Vegas off the list, and Busch lacks only the road course at Watkins Glen on his Xfinity resume.

“Drivers like Kyle, who have won at so many different tracks … know those types of stats,” Gordon said. “They know the tracks they’re good at and know the ones they’re not. They challenge themselves, they challenge the team with a real goal in mind.

“Kyle has a tremendous amount of talent and confidence in himself, but he doesn’t allow a track that hasn’t been good for him, say like Kansas, to deter him. If anything, he takes it on as a new challenge.”

Kansas Speedway has been a cursed track for Busch, at least in the Cup series. He can point to DNFs in 2012 and 2013 that knocked him out of title contention, and his average finish of 20.4 is his third-worst of any Sprint Cup track.

Curiously, Busch has won a track-record four times at Kansas in other national series — the 2007, 2014 and 2015 Xfinity races and 2014 truck event.

Busch finished fifth in last October’s Sprint Cup race at Kansas and third in the 2014 fall race (he missed last spring’s race while recovering from a broken leg suffered at Daytona), and he believes the No. 18 team has started to figure out Kansas, which underwent a repaving in 2012.

“We tested there before the October race, and I think we learned a lot that we were able to use during the race weekend,” Busch said. “The last few races there, the track really has started to change, and the groove is starting to spread out and it makes me more comfortable when a track gets worn in.

“I feel like we keep getting closer and closer each time we go back. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys have been bringing really good race cars to the track every weekend and when you have great cars and run up front, good things are going to happen. I feel like, at least heading into the weekend, we have our best chance yet to win there. We have a good shot to cross Kansas off the list for sure.”

Busch already has won two Cup races this season — consecutive weeks at Martinsville and Texas — and is coming off a second-place finish at Talladega.

“For a long time, racing against him, not being a teammate, I didn’t understand how good Kyle is,” said Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards, who bumped Busch from the lead on the final turn and won at Richmond two weeks ago.

“Seeing him firsthand, seeing him come back from that injury (a broken leg and a broken ankle at Daytona) … which for anyone would have been devastating. From then, all the way to the championship, he exhibited a lot of toughness. Nobody will argue Kyle Busch is one of the greatest drivers in the sport.”

In fact, in the 35 Sprint Cup races Busch has started since returning in May 2015 from the injuries at Daytona, he has won seven times, and his next win will also mark some other milestones.

Busch, with 36 career wins, is tied with teammate Matt Kenseth for 20th on the all-time Sprint Cup win list. His 32 wins for Joe Gibbs Racing is one shy of Tony Stewart’s record 33 for the organization.

“Yeah, there are plenty of things that are out there to achieve,” Busch said. “Obviously being able to win at every single venue … Getting a Daytona 500, an All-Star race, a Charlotte Coke 600 victory and then from there just being able to continue to add on to the legacy and winning at more venues.

“There’s no reason why to not try, and hopefully the championships will pile in there as well, too.”

Unlike other elite Sprint Cup drivers, Busch relishes racing in the other series, and Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Erik Jones won the truck series last season.

Busch has accumulated 161 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions — Sprint Cup (36), Xfinity (a series-record 80) and trucks (45) — after sweeping both the Xfinity and Sprint Cup races at Texas and truck and Cup races at Martinsville last month.

Only Richard Petty, with 200 Sprint Cup wins, has been to victory lane more times than Busch in NASCAR competition. And it’s not inconceivable that Busch can approach 100 Cup wins and surpass Petty as the all-time leader in total NASCAR victories before he’s finished.

“We’ve got a long ways ahead of us,” Busch said. “Let’s get to 50 (Cup wins) first … Certainly, I’d like to think that we can score 100 wins, but man, we’d better get to work. It’s going to be five or eight a year that we better get going on. …

“Hell, I’d love to have 200, but we know that’s probably not going to happen. So, with the competition level the way it is today, man, it’s hard to win a Cup Series race. It’s hard to win a Cup Series championship. But we’ve done those things now 36 times and we’ll continue to go down our ways and see if we can’t get more.”

Go Bowling 400

  • When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kan.
  • Radio: 1480-AM
  • TV: FS1