Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – FORT WORTH, TX – Not involved in any high conflict during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs so far, veteran Kyle Busch seemed comfortable and at ease heading into Sunday’s AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The regular season champion and current championship leader – who holds a sizable 46-point lead on the field – was willing to offer his take on last week’s victory battle at Martinsville Speedway between Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. But he was more eager to talk about his own game plan for a second Cup championship.
The “bump-and-run” used by Logano to get around Truex for the victory last weekend – and a berth in the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway – has dominated NASCAR social media channels, radio talk shows and television commentary. As for Busch, the 33-year old maintains he’d prefer not to be so aggressive, but acknowledged it is on a case-by-case basis and largely depends on who the other driver is.
“Overall, it’s just there’s certain guys and individuals that you can race that wouldn’t do those sorts of things,’’ Busch said, of the bump-and-run to win technique.
“Names that come to mind would be Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. that you can race with and battle with and do it cleanly and there’s guys that you have names that you know are going to just flat out run into you on lap 128 when they get to your rear bumper and move you out of the way in a 500-lap race. ‘Okay, whatever dude.’
“It’s all about who it is. It’s their norm and if it’s their norm then you have to treat them back because it’s their norm, but when you do it back because you’re doing it to somebody that you know will do it then you’re now associated as being that kind of guy. How do you balance that? I don’t know.
“For instance, if it was me and Joey (Logano) and Joey flat out ran over me when he got to me at Martinsville then when I go back on him the next time, am I just doing it because it’s Joey or am I doing it because it’s me. I would say I’m doing it because of who it is not that’s the way I want to do it.”
Busch has been known to go door-to-door throughout his 50-win Cup career. But the father of three-year old Brexton, who spent Halloween handing out sponsor M&Ms candy to trick-or-treaters, concedes he may have mellowed. His path to the 2018 championship hasn’t included any major detours into full-on aggressive driving. Yet.
And the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota doesn’t necessarily consider the 1.5-mile Texas high banks a prime backdrop for that style of racing either.
“I think there’s opportunity to be aggressive here if you want to be aggressive, but there’s a lot of risk for reward at this place, especially on restarts with as slick as we’ve seen it be, as narrow as we’ve seen it be the last few years since the repave,’’ Busch explained.
“Depending on how the rubber application gets going here this weekend and how wide of a groove you kind of see between the Truck race and the Xfinity race leading into the Cup race, that kind of determines what all you should expect or how hard you feel like you can go on restarts. “
As for last week’s situation with Logano and Truex, specifically?
“Obviously I didn’t go back and rewatch it, but just remembering what I remember about it, the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) worked hard for quite a few laps to make a move at Martinsville and at a short track as clean as he possibly could and just cleared a guy too soon and got run over through three and four,’’ Busch said.
“With sometimes who you’re racing around, I guess you have to know what’s going to happen and expect that and try to plan for it I guess. When you try to do too much planning, last time I checked, that’s not racing.”
More pressing for Busch, is another playoff win so he doesn’t have to points-race his way into the four-driver shot at a title. Texas has certainly proven to be a positive venue for him. Of the drivers competing this weekend, only Jimmie Johnson (seven) has more wins than Busch’s three. He’s had seven top-five finishes in the last 10 races on the Fort Worth high banks and won here just this April.
“I’d like to think our odds are pretty good,’’ Busch said. “Obviously anything can happen. We won Martinsville last year and came here and had two flat tires in the race and we didn’t fair very well. You still have to have some luck on your side and have everything kind of go your way. It’s tough to rebound sometimes after a difficult start to a day or even if you have trouble later in the day it’s really difficult to rebound and get a good finish like you need.
“We’d love to be able to win and automatically lock ourselves through, but if that’s not the case then you just have to be smart and mindful of a good points day and try not to hurt yourself and minimize mistakes if some are made.”