Defending champion optimistic as Chase begins

Kyle Busch meets with the media Thursday in Chicago. (Getty Images)
Kyle Busch meets with the media Thursday in Chicago. (Getty Images)
Kyle Busch meets with the media Thursday in Chicago. (Getty Images)

CHICAGO, Ill. – After missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season because of an injury, Kyle Busch was considered a long shot to make the Chase, much less win it.

But Busch proved the doubters wrong by advancing through the first three rounds of the Chase—twice by the skin of his teeth—and then winning the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to secure his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Though Busch has notched just three top-10 finishes since winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, he likes his position as he begins defense of his title this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. After all, with four victories this season, he’s the No. 1 seed in the Chase field.

“We’ve got a lot of expectations on us in being last year’s champion,” Busch said on Thursday at the Ready.Set.Chase Launch Event. “We have a lot of expectations on us, but I feel as though being able to win the championship last year, it sort of solidified my career a little bit more, but also gave us the opportunity to know that we’re a championship team and we can do this.

“We’ve just got to make sure that things kind of go our way and you’ve got to have a little bit of luck on your side in order to get there to the end and be championship eligible at Homestead.”

With 13 victories in the 26 regular-season races, Busch and fellow Toyota drivers Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. have established themselves as consensus Chase favorites. Which drivers survive until the Championship 4 Round at Homestead will depend on the vagaries of the elimination format, Busch says.

Busch, Hamlin, Edwards and Kenseth have won a combined 11 events under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner. Truex has added two more for affiliated Furniture Row Racing.

“We’ve won a lot of races, but yet we’re all going to be going there and competing against each other, and I think it’s just going to be probably the process of natural elimination that happens that one or however many of us will be eliminated throughout the process just due to unforeseen circumstances,” Busch told the NASCAR Wire Service.

“How many of us will be there at the end? Obviously, (JGR team owner) Joe (Gibbs) would hope that it’s all four of us, and whether or not that happens is yet to be seen.”