Analysis: How can Kyle Busch make the Chase for the Sprint Cup?
Just win, baby.
That phrase, popularized by longtime Oakland Raiders boss Al Davis, is pretty much where Kyle Busch finds himself these days, at least in the context of a NASCAR championship.
Busch returns to the cockpit of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (FOX Sports 1, 7 p.m. ET). This after missing the first 11 races of the Sprint Cup season due to leg and foot injuries suffered in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway in February.
To race for a title in the 10-race, season-ending Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Busch must win one of the next 15 races, receive a medical waiver from NASCAR and either finish in the top 30 in points, or receive another NASCAR waiver for that requirement as well.
The medical waiver is a non-issue; both Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin missed races last year and were granted exemptions, although Stewart ultimately did not qualify for the Chase.
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France has said the sanctioning body will work with Busch on Chase eligibility, which could make the top-30 rule moot, too.
Right now, Tony Stewart is 30th in points, with 179 after 11 races. Over 26 races, that projects to about 423 points.
For Busch to get 423 points — and ultimately, the 30th-place driver likely will have slightly more or less than 423 — he’d have to average 28.2 points in the next 15 races.
So far this season, the top 11 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings have averaged at least 28.2 points per race. So Busch’s challenge is doable, even if he doesn’t get a points waiver from NASCAR.
The big challenge, though, will be to win a race. Because Busch almost certainly won’t make the Chase without a race victory.
The good news is that the upcoming schedule is favorable to Busch’s chances of winning. There are 15 races at 13 tracks left — Pocono and Michigan have two each — in the 2015 Sprint Cup regular season.
For his Cup career, Busch has 29 race victories. Of those 29, 19 have come at tracks he’ll race on over the next 15 events:
● Bristol Motor Speedway, 5 career Cup victories;
● Richmond International Raceway, 4;
● Watkins Glen International, and Dover International Speedway, 2 each;
● Darlington Raceway, Daytona International Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Sonoma Raceway, 1 each.
If Busch can win a race, the discussion of points likely will be a non-issue.
Now, he and his JGR crew need to go make it happen, which certainly will be one of the sport’s most compelling storylines in the days and weeks ahead.