If Kyle Busch or any of his Toyota teammates are going to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship, it will require perfection.
“I feel like we’ve kind of made a little bit of strides, but as we’ve made a little bit, I think they’ve made a little bit too,” Busch said of the competition ahead of this weekend’s playoff opener at Darlington. “The Hendrick guys, obviously they’re strong, and we’ve had our years of dominance where you guys (media) have probably asked all of those drivers, where is it that Toyota is beating you? Why are they better? I get it, but it’s just a thing where we’ve got to work hard with what we’ve got.
“Unfortunately, we feel as though we have to be perfect in order to be able to compete with them. They don’t have to be perfect, and they’re still going to be fast. But we wouldn’t be close if we weren’t perfect. So that lends itself to a much tighter box that we’ve got to race in, and it’s just due to the fact of the freeze. There’s nothing going on; there’s no development going on. Everything is really, really limited right now with the stuff that you can do. Everything is all kind of built out with what you’ve got because of the new car coming.”
The first round with Darlington, Richmond, and Bristol shouldn’t be stressful for Busch, who believes it’s that way for any teams who consistently run well. The first three races should instead serve as a warm-up and a way to get your mind right.
Busch’s look at the Round of 12 is a bit different. With the Charlotte Roval and Talladega as two of the three races, “you just have to figure out” how to stay out of trouble. But then the Round of 8, if he can make it that far, Busch looks forward to because those tracks (Texas, Kansas, Martinsville) line up nicely for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team.
“If we can get into that round, obviously, I feel like we have a good chance of making it to the final four,” said Busch.
Entering the postseason with two race wins and 2022 points, Busch is fourth on the playoff grid. It’s a much better situation for Busch than a year ago when he was still winless going into the playoffs and 14th on the grid with a scant three playoff points. Busch was eliminated in the Round of 12.
This time around, his confidence is “way higher” getting started at Darlington (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, NBCSN) even if he might have to work a little harder over the next 10 weeks and with no room for error to earn a third championship.
“Last year was just a struggle all around,” said Busch of the difference in his confidence. “We didn’t have any playoff points; we didn’t finish in the top 10 to get anything, so we were really, really far behind. This year, we’ve got a couple wins, we’ve got a couple stage points, we finished fourth in points, so we got a little bit of a point cushion. Not a lot, but some.
“(It’s) definitely better than last year, so that’s where I look at the first round and the second round — even though the second-round tracks are difficult for us — we look at those races as still opportunities like the regular season to get those stage points, get those race wins, try to get more playoff points for that Round of 8. So, the stress level is definitely starting out less for us on the 18 side for this first round.”