Kentucky repeat would be sweet music to Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on July 9, 2011 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on July 9, 2011 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

There’s been no shortage of blue Sundays in recent weeks for Kyle Busch. After three straight weeks of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team enduring uncharacteristic motor gremlins, Busch was poised for a rebound last weekend at Sonoma . . . until a late-race spin ruined his chances.

Burdened by a four-race skid, Busch hopes to shake the blues in the Bluegrass State when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Kentucky Speedway for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The event kicks off the Race to the Chase, the final 10-race stretch of the regular season and the last chance for drivers to seal their eligibility for the Sprint Cup title.

Busch dominated last year’s inaugural event at the 1.5-mile track, leading 125 of 267 laps in winning from the pole position. He also has one Kentucky win in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Despite his past glories in all three series, Busch knows he has just one shot at Kentucky’s lone race on the Sprint Cup schedule to better his Chase hopes.

“I think it makes it more challenging,” Busch said. “You’ve definitely got to go through your notes and find the things that made you good there and watch the film — no different than a football player studying film to see what he can do to be better. For me, you do some of those same things.”

The urgency for Busch to perform has grown with his recent slide. After scoring his only Sprint Cup victory of the season so far at Richmond in April, Busch went on a tear in May — second place at Talladega, fourth at Darlington, third at Charlotte — that moved him to eighth in the series standings.

Since then, his once-solid grasp on a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason hunt has been clouded in engine smoke. Three consecutive mechanical failures, topped by his Sonoma spin, have bumped Busch to 12th in the points and left him clinging to a wild-card berth. Busch is 31 points behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski — the top 10 drivers plus the two wild-cards (drivers in positions 11th to 20th with the most wins) will be eligible for the 10-race championship fight.

To put his bid for a Chase spot on ice, Busch will have to buck a recent trend of parity. This season’s 16 Sprint Cup races have 12 different winners, and the last three events have gone to first-time winners in 2012.

Matt Kenseth, who made public Tuesday his plans to leave Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season, still leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, sitting 11 points ahead of teammate Greg Biffle. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the winner two weeks ago at Michigan, is third, just 14 points off the top spot.


Austin Dillon, a hefty Sunoco Rookie of the Year lead in hand, now shifts his eye toward history.

No driver has ever won the ROY and the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in the same year. Not Greg Biffle. Not Carl Edwards. Not even Kyle Busch, he of the series-record 51 victories to go along with his 2009 championship.

That thus-far impossible feat might end come Nov. 17, 2012, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as Dillon looks to one-up Busch’s record for Sunoco Rookie of the Year success. In 2004, Busch finished second in the championship standings while winning the ROY title, the top points finish ever by a ROY candidate. Dillon, a solid bet to pair a NASCAR Nationwide Sunoco Rookie of the Year award with his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series honor, is 11 points behind points leader Elliott Sadler – an ever-decreasing deficit.

It was only five races ago when Dillon stared at a hefty 43-point deficit to then-leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

His march toward the points lead continues with Friday’s Feed the Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). It will be his first start at Kentucky in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but third overall in NASCAR national series competition. All three starts came in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with a top finish of second last October.

“I love Kentucky Speedway,” said Dillon, who is the only driver to complete all 2,518 laps run in NASCAR Nationwide competition this season. “It’s always been a really good track for me and is one of my favorite places to visit. In my last two Camping World Truck Series races there, I was running in second-place and in position to contend for the win. We finished second last time, and the time before that, the hood flipped up and I had to make an unscheduled pit stop under green-flag conditions. That race really made me feel like I needed redemption at Kentucky Speedway.”


Nelson Piquet Jr. returns to his day job in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this week. Now he hopes the moonlighting stint he took last weekend is worthy of an encore.

Piquet and the rest of the truck series regulars return after a three-week layoff for Thursday night’s UNOH 225 (8 p.m. ET, SPEED) at Kentucky Speedway. The former Formula One driver had a memorable break from the truck tour, prevailing in Nationwide competition at Road America to become the first Brazilian to win a NASCAR national series event.

Piquet has shown steady improvement in his second full season in trucks, ranking sixth in the series standings and capturing his first pole position earlier this year at Rockingham. While his road-course win last weekend was a confidence builder, Piquet is ready to take the next step on an oval track.

“We won the Elkhart Lake race, but I’m still looking for that win in the truck series,” Piquet said. “And obviously this year, fighting for the championship, I think winning a race is going to make a big difference already. But the goal this year will be fighting for the championship. I think if we win this championship, that obviously is going to mean a lot to me and to a lot of people.”

A Kentucky win by Piquet would continue a trend of new faces in Victory Lane. The truck tour has seven different winners in its first seven races, a series record.

Justin Lofton holds a slim lead in the series standings, but two drivers looking to make the truck series 8-for-8 in unique winners this year are in close company behind him. Timothy Peters sits five points behind Lofton, and top rookie Ty Dillon is 12 points back in third.

If Peters is extra-optimistic, it’s because offseason changes at Red Horse Racing have focused on raising performance on intermediate-size tracks such as Kentucky.

“I think we have exceeded our 1.5-mile program this year compared to last year,” Peters said. “Every time we race at one of the tracks, we keep getting better. I’m really looking forward to these tracks. As a company, we have won at every track at other sizes except a 1.5-mile, and I think this year we are going to do it.”

NASCAR this weekend.


The Race: Quaker State 400
The Place: Kentucky Speedway
The Date: Saturday, June 30
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: TNT, 6:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)


Next Race: Feed the Children 300
The Place: Kentucky Speedway
The Date: Friday, June 29
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)


The Race: UNOH 225
The Place: Kentucky Speedway
The Date: Thursday, June 28
The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)
TV: SPEED, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 225 miles (150 laps)


Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.