An underrated factor in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races is the physical demands it imposes on its drivers. While some have tried to claim Sprint Cup drivers are not athletes, the reality is the physical strain each week is immense and a big factor in the success of each driver and team.
But for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), and the rest of his fellow drivers, there are just a few races each season in which the mental demands outweigh the physical part of the job. In particular, the four superspeedway restrictor-plate races each season are tough physically on the drivers, and they require them to play a 500-mile chess game in order to be in position to win. There are two tracks where this mental game comes into play – Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the latter being the site of Sunday’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.
Busch has conquered the mammoth Talladega oval just once in 15 career starts at the track, his lone win coming in April 2008. He has just four other top-15 finishes and five outings that ended with an accident.
The Las Vegas native returns to Talladega having narrowly missed out on a victory in May at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. On the final lap, Busch and eventual race-winner Brad Keselowski broke away from the pack. As Busch pushed Keselowski, he had hoped to dive to the inside as they hit the frontstretch toward the checkered flag. But, as the duo entered turn three, Busch became unhooked from Keselowski’s rear bumper and all Busch could do was ride it out to the checkered flag a short distance behind Keselowski.
With that race still fresh on his mind, Busch knows the winner of Sunday’s 500-mile race will not only need to have a strong car, but also must succeed in playing that mental chess game in order to be in a similar position during the final laps on NASCAR’s longest track. So, for at least this weekend, Busch and the M&M’s team know it’s a simple case of mind over matter in their effort to secure a second career Talladega victory.