Weekend Preview: Kyle Busch continues course toward Chase at Kentucky

SPARTA, KY - JUNE 28 2014:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, left, and wife Samantha Busch take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo by Will Schneekloth/Getty Images)

SPARTA, KY – JUNE 28 2014: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, left, and wife Samantha Busch take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Will Schneekloth/Getty Images)

When Kyle Busch sits back at the end of the year and reminisces over his season, there’s a chance he might look at the dates July 5-6 as the days he saved it.

With a win in tow from Sonoma – arguably the hardest task in his quest to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – Busch scraped the wall on Lap 17 at Daytona and had to pit for repairs, falling two laps behind into 38th. A finish that low could have doomed him, but Busch battled back in the wee hours Monday morning to an 17th-place showing.

“I’m just really proud of how hard all the guys worked to get us back to where we were,” said Busch, who roughly needs to average a 13th-place finish in the remaining nine races of the regular season to reach the top 30. “Our night could have been much worse than it was as far as the points are concerned.”

Busch will continue his march toward the top 30 – and the subsequent Chase berth – in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

A Kentucky visit will surely help Busch’s Chase chances, as he boasts more top-five finishes at the 1.5-mile track than any other driver (three). He won the inaugural race there in 2011.

“I love Kentucky,” Busch said. “It was special there in 2011, when we were able to win the first Cup race there. I look forward to going back there every year. It’s a pretty challenging racetrack. It’s a place that lends itself to different kinds of setups because it’s so rough.”

Adding to the challenge at Kentucky this weekend is a new track-specific aerodynamic rules package implemented by NASCAR designed to lower downforce and increase passing. It is the first of five track-specific rules packages drivers will run under this season. The other rules package updates will occur at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 26), Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 16), Darlington Raceway (Sept. 6) and Richmond International Raceway (Sept. 12).

“I think all of this shows that we remain committed to putting the best racing on in the world,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “And each of these, including Kentucky this weekend, I think shows everybody that we’ve got several components that make up a rules package each week, and they can certainly be adjusted, and we will do that if we can do something that we believe will improve the racing for the fans at each track.”

Busch proved he could quickly adjust to Kentucky by winning at the 1.5-mile track in the first NSCS race held there, so he should be up to the challenge of adapting to the new aerodynamic package.

He described the feeling of knowing he’ll always be the inaugural Kentucky winner as “cool.”

“There aren’t many opportunities these days to go to a new venue, so for us, being able to win the first race there was extra special.”

Elliott excited for Kentucky after restrictor-plate reversal of fortune

Before last Saturday, Chase Elliott had never finished higher than 15th at a restrictor-plate track.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott

Restrictor-plate tracks were the kryptonite to the 19-year-old heir apparent to Jeff Gordon, who performed like Superman everywhere else.

In his 47 career starts before Daytona last weekend, Elliott had only finished outside the top 10 a mere 10 times. Four of those results came at restrictor-plate tracks.

On Saturday at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Elliott finished third.

“Daytona and Talladega haven’t been too good for us this year or last,” Elliott said. “Happy to have a decent finish and to bring the NAPA Chevrolet home in one piece. I didn’t do anything special when those wrecks took place, I just happened to be in a fortunate spot and avoided them. Definitely haven’t been on that end much, especially at Daytona, so it was nice to get a top-five, because we certainly needed it.”

On Friday night, Elliott will attempt to build on his strong showing with his first win of the season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

He finished 12th in his Kentucky debut last June and followed up the performance with a fourth-place showing at the 1.5-mile track in September.

Elliott will try to add to his XFINITY Series-leading 12 top 10s and further close the 34-point gap in the standings between him and frontrunner Chris Buescher. The JR Motorsports driver leapfrogged Ty Dillon in the standings following Daytona to grab ahold of the second spot.

Elliott maintains he needs to start visiting Victory Lane to successfully defend his XFINITY Series crown.

“The best way to gain points is to win races,” he said. “I think we need to do that to get it done this year. We were able to do that last year and I think we can do that this season. We just have to get after it and really do our jobs the second half of the season. If there’s any part that counts, this is it, so we need to go get it done, try to capitalize and hopefully get some good strong finishes to try to put ourselves in contention to win races.”

Talented trio: Kyle Busch Motorsports’ gifted youngsters ready to capture Kentucky win

When the Kyle Busch Motorsports haulers rolls up to Kentucky Speedway on Thursday, it will arrive with trucks that will be driven by a trio of talented young drivers.

Erik Jones. (Getty Images)

Erik Jones. (Getty Images)

Erik Jones, 19, Christopher Bell, 20, and Daniel Suarez, 23, will try to capture the second consecutive KBM win in the Bluegrass State in Thursday’s UNOH 225 (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). Team owner Kyle Busch took the checkered flag in last season’s event, leading a race-high 91 laps on his way to Victory Lane.

Jones enters the race coming off his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win of the season at Iowa. He has never competed in a NASCAR event at Kentucky, but finished sixth at an ARCA race there in 2013.

“Should be fun, Kentucky is a cool place with a lot of character,” Jones said. “It’s getting rougher and I haven’t been there in a few years so it should be pretty good and rough now.”

Jones’ crew chief Randy Fugle added, “We finally put it all together and collected our first win. Now, we need to go out and get five or six more.”

Fresh off his NCWTS debut at Iowa where he finished fifth, Bell will make his first start at an intermediate track. The dirt standout is transitioning to stock cars and has already won four races in KBM’s Super Late Model.

“Obviously the top-five run at Iowa was awesome, so anything less is going to be a letdown, but we need to go there with realistic expectations of me never running at a track that size,” Bell said. “First I need to finish the race, but also continue to be competitive as I gain more experience in these Tundras.”

Suarez seems closer and closer to getting his first NASCAR national series win every time he straps into the No. 51 truck. He finished second in his last two NCWTS races, at Texas and Dover.

“Kentucky Speedway is a fun, interesting track that is really fast,” Suarez said. “I’m excited about it, especially since I’m also competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race there. Running both events will help me figure the track out quicker and will hopefully lead to two positive results.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts
Track: Kentucky Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, July 11, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Tune-In: NBC Sports Network, 7 p.m. (ET), PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)

What to Watch For: Brad Keselowski attempts defend his 2014 Kentucky Speedway win and add to his track-record two victories. … Danica Patrick makes her 100th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start … Inaugural Kentucky race-winner Kyle Busch continues quest for a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth. … Nine races remain with six spots in NASCAR’s playoffs still up for grabs.

NASCAR XFINITY Series
Race: NASCAR XFINITY July Kentucky Race
Track: Kentucky Speedway
Date and time: Friday, July 10, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Tune-In: NBC Sports Network, 7 p.m. (ET), PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch For: Chris Buescher can increase his 34-point lead over Chase Elliott in the XFINITY Series driver standings. … Chase Elliott tries to add to his series-leading 12 top 10s. Elliott also paces the series in driver rating (100.5). … Brendan Gaughan attempts to follow up his fall Kentucky victory with a win on Friday night. … Darrell Wallace Jr. holds a mere four-point lead over Daniel Suarez in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year race.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: UNOH 225
Place: Kentucky Speedway
Date and Time: Thursday, July 9, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Tune-in: FOX Sports 1, 7:30 p.m. (ET), MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 225 miles (150 laps)

What to Watch For: No driver entered in the field has ever won at Kentucky. … Matt Crafton can continue his dominance at intermediate tracks. The No. 88 Toyota driver finished in the top 10 in his last 12 races at 1.5-mile tracks. Included in his streak are four victories. … Erik Jones attempts to win his second consecutive race. … Dirt standout Christopher Bell will make his second career series start after finishing fifth in his debut at Iowa.

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