JOLIET, Ill. — Kyle Busch put his 2016 wins to good use Friday. He used them to win a pole.
The top seed in the Chase for the third time in his career, Busch for the first time enters the postseason as the defending champion. He believes the confidence earned by winning the Sprint Cup can help as he tries to earn back-to-back championships.
“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,” Busch said. “[It] 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.”
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The key to Busch winning the 2015 title was his allowing the Chase to come to him. He didn’t run up front all that much as he led more than 20 laps in the Chase-opening race and then not again until leading 41 on the way to the win in the championship event at Homestead, Florida.
He did what he had to do to advance and then capitalized on the opportunity.
That will be his goal again starting Sunday in the Chase-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway.
He will start from the pole as qualifying was canceled because rain washed out the initial practice scheduled for early Friday afternoon. All of the 16 Chase drivers will line up 1 to 16, with Busch and Brad Keselowski — the two drivers with four wins this year — on the front row.
“Anything can happen,” Busch said. “We could have a bad car to start off the race and we could fade real quick and we’ll have to fight our way back. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.”
The pole will give him the coveted first pit stall at pit out position, which could be key at Chicagoland, often a track position affair. Busch just hopes he can put it to good use — it could be a wild start with drivers who would have qualified better starting further back because they lined up by points.
“With all the Chase guys starting up front all together, that certainly is going to be an interesting situation that all of us are going to be right on top of each other to fire off,” Busch said. “You’re going to see some guys that are deeper in the field that will have some speed.
“It will be interesting to see what happens there and what the Chase guys do and how many of them don’t have the speed they need.”
Busch is keeping himself busy on the track this weekend. He is competing in all three national series events. The truck race Friday night — which he won — was his last in that series of the year. In addition to the Xfinity Series race Saturday, he has races coming up at Dover, Kansas and Phoenix left on that series’ schedule.
Is that good?
“Yes and no,” Busch said. “It could go both ways.”
Busch will have to just take things as they come if he wants to find himself with a shot at Homestead. Last year, after missing 11 races because of injury, he felt he was playing with house money in the Chase.
He’ll try to carry that feeling again.
“You’ve got a different or a better mindset of being able to race for a championship after once accomplishing one because you knew what it took to accomplish that and last year it was not all that stressful,” Busch said.
“We just kind of let it play out and be as it was and we we’re going to be happy with the results no matter what, so you’ve kind of got to do the same thing this time around and let fate be with you.”