For Kyle Busch, the math is simple. The mission is anything but.
In order to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Busch has to end the 26-race Sprint Cup regular season 30th or better in points and win at least one race.
Heading into Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, Busch is 39th in points, 173 points behind 30th-place Justin Allgaier. If Allgaier keeps accumulating points at his current rate, he’ll have roughly 435 points when the regular-season ends. That, in turn, means that to catch Allgaier, Busch will have to average a 12th-place finish in the next 11 races.
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Considering that in the four races Busch has run since returning from a compound fracture of the lower right leg and a midfoot fracture of the left foot, his average finish is 24.75, it’s safe to say Busch has his work cut out for him.
It gets worse: Busch was 179 points out of 30th place after Race 11, the final one he missed because of his injuries from a crash in Daytona. So in his four races back, Busch has only cut six points off his gap to 30th place.
Clearly, Busch can’t afford even a single bad finish over the final 11 races of the Sprint Cup regular season.
Which brings us to Sonoma, where Busch last scored a victory in 2008. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is one of the sport’s better road-course aces, having won once here, twice at Watkins Glen and in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, once on the Mexico City road course.
Busch said he is looking forward to getting back on the twisty Sonoma road course this weekend.
"Sonoma is a neat place. It’s a cool area to go to up in Wine Country," said Busch. "I’ve always enjoyed road-course racing. Even when I was in Legends cars, I would enjoy going up there during the days that I raced there. Now that I’m on the Sprint Cup tour, it’s cool to go there every June. I’ve won there before, years ago, but I haven’t been back to victory lane there since, so I would love to get back to my winning ways there and figure out what we’ve been missing there."
Since winning at Sonoma in 2008, Busch has struggled whenever the Sprint Cup teams head to Northern California. While he was thrilled to win in ’08, Busch has not even a single top-10 finish in his last six Sonoma starts, when his average finish has been a woeful 24.83.
That won’t cut it if Busch has any hope of racing for a championship during NASCAR’s playoff round.
So the mission is go out and win, or at least finish as high up in the standings as humanly possible.
"It’s a place where, for me, it’s been fun to race," Busch said of Sonoma. "I’ve won there and I’ve also had some disappointing runs there and I’ve had some mistakes there — some wheel-hop issues and things. For me, it’s a place where you’re turning right and turning left. And being at a road course is kind of like an off weekend, so you try to enjoy it the best you can and hope we can stay on course and get a good finish with our M&M’s Crispy Camry."