BROOKLYN, Mich. - The 174th Sprint Cup Series race of Kyle Busch's career will be one of the most important ones, as well, for the sometimes irascible but always tenaciously competitive Las Vegas native.
When Busch brings his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota out on the two-mile oval at Michigan International Speedway for Sunday's CARFAX 400, there's more than a big trophy and an even bigger check at stake.
There are just four races left before NASCAR makes the cut for its lucrative Chase for the Championship, and only the top 12 drivers in points will compete over the final 10 events for a much bigger trophy and a stimulus-sized check. And Busch is uncharacteristically on the outside, glaring in.
After 22 races, he is 13th in points and 58 points out of the final Chase position, which now belongs to 12th-place Matt Kenseth. Mark Martin is 11th and Greg Biffle 10th in the points standings, and Busch will likely have to unseat someone from that trio of veteran drivers to force his way into the top 12.
"It all comes down to performance and how you finish on Sunday and the points you get," Busch said.
"So when you look at who's in the Chase and who's going to fall out, man, it's hard to look at someone who's going to fall out. Biffle and Kenseth - I mean, Kenseth has been in it every year, so you can't count on him even though he's fighting for a spot. And you know Biffle, he runs strong in these next tracks that we go to. One of his best ones is Michigan."
Busch, who will be riding atop a new chassis at MIS, said he'll have to make incremental progress in each of the next four weeks in order to make his way into the Chase field. His always-high confidence level spikes at MIS, where Busch started 11th and led for 34 laps in last year's August Cup race before finishing second.
"I tend to run well there, for whatever reason, and the biggest deal is trying to finish, and finish up front," Busch said. "It's wide-open racing, and you can run from top to bottom. The biggest thing is just trying to get grip there. Some guys are able to get it, other guys can't."
Over his last five Sprint Cup races at MIS, Busch finished no worse than 13th, and he has led a total of 88 laps in his nine career Sprint Cup starts here. The 24-year-old knows how to run out front.
He had a record 21 wins in NASCAR's three national series last year and has led a stunning 3,189 laps this season while running in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series.
"The most important thing is just trying to make your car comfortable and make it last throughout a whole tire run and, of course, make it fast too," he said.
"And the wide racetrack is good. That's what makes Michigan so exciting and so fun."
Busch sees Sunday's CARFAX 400 as his next, best opportunity to position himself in the Chase, where the pursuit of his ultimate goal could commence.
"If you can trade a winning season for a championship season, anybody would always say you want a championship season," Busch said. "The thing for me would just to be a champion. You've solidified yourself, you've made it in the sport, and you are a champion."
Busch has a demanding weekend ahead. He will also race at MIS tomorrow in NASCAR's Nationwide Series, a circuit where he leads the championship points race by 212 points over second-place Carl Edwards. Busch has six wins and eight runner-up finishes this season in the Nationwide Series.
Tonight, Busch will race at Toledo Speedway in the Late Model 100-lap feature. Racing at Toledo Speedway on Benore Road begins at 7:30.
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The 174th Sprint Cup Series race of Kyle Busch's career will be one of the most important ones, as well, for the sometimes irascible but always tenaciously competitive Las Vegas native.