During the next two weeks, Kyle Busch will wear the most fearsome helmet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which makes a stop Sunday at Kansas Speedway for a playoffs elimination race.
Busch, the 2015 Cup champion, teamed with graphic artist Jason Beam to create the unique glow-in-the-dark, Halloween-themed headgear, featuring a cemetery wrap with a portrait of Frankenstein on the back.
“Moon up front, witch across the moon,” Busch said, describing the helmet on Friday during a press conference. “Sort of the castle theme up on the hill, graveyard underneath. Really cool things we implemented into this helmet.”
Busch also will wear the helmet next week at Martinsville Speedway (Va.) before it’s raffled off in support of the Kyle Busch Foundation, which is selling 2,000 tickets for $18 apiece.
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It wasn’t that long ago Kansas Speedway was among the scariest stops on the Cup circuit for Busch, who managed only two top-10 finishes — none better than seventh — during his first 13 Cup series races at the 1.5-mile tri-oval in Kansas City, Kan.
When Kansas Speedway was repaved during the summer of 2012, Busch’s luck took a particularly nasty nosedive.
He wrecked at each of his next three races on the track, with an average finish of 34th.
Back then, it’s the last place he would want to come for an elimination race.
Busch currently sits ninth in the Monster Energy Cup Series standings. Only the top eight advance to the penultimate three-race round, which begins next week.
That means Busch needs to make up a seven-point stagger behind eighth-place Jimmie Johnson, the reigning Cup champion, or a nine-point stagger against seventh-place Ryan Blaney.
The top six drivers — including Hollywood Casino pole-winner Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski, who’ve advanced to the next round by virtue of wins the last two weeks — all are at least 20 points ahead of Busch.
“I look at it as out-finishing the 48 (Johnson) and the 21 (Blaney) by three or four spots each stage, each round, in order to make up enough points to pass them both,” Busch said. “Whether that’s doable or not, we’ll see. We’ll certainly try. We’ll fight hard, hopefully run up front all day long. We’ve done that this year. We did that here in the spring. We just need to back it up and do it again, when it’s crunch time.”
Busch also has to be mindful of Matt Kenseth, who is only one point behind him in 10th place and will be every bit as eager to fight his way into the top eight of the playoffs standings.
The new stage-racing format certainly gives Busch (and Kenseth) a greater opportunity to accrue points than during previous seasons, but it also could allow Blaney and Johnson — a three-time Cup winner at Kansas — to increase the gap as the race goes along.
And now, Busch is happy to be at a track where he’s finally gained confidence in his ability to gut out top-five finishes.
“The fact of the matter is, we come here now off of a few strong runs, having the opportunity to continue that,” Busch said. “We’ve won a race here the last couple, we finished fourth here I think in the spring or something like that. We’ve been able to kind of turn our Kansas fortunes around.”
What once was a personal house of horrors has become one of Busch’s strongest tracks.
Qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, Busch will start in the top eight for the sixth consecutive race at Kansas Speedway, a streak that dates back to October 2014.
He’s finished in the top five in each race during that span — including his first Cup win at Kansas Speedway during the spring 2016 race, a third-place finish in October 2014 and three fifth-place finishes.
“We’d love to be able to keep that going,” said Busch, who has won four Xfinity Series races and two Camping World Truck Series races at Kansas. “Who knows? So far this weekend, the car has really good speed. It’s really fast — doesn’t quite feel great, but we’ll work on that more tomorrow.”
Weather permitting, two practice sessions are scheduled Saturday prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Kansas Lottery 300 at 2 p.m.
Busch, who is the three-time reigning Xfinity winner at Kansas Speedway and won the Truck race last spring, won’t get behind the wheel for the undercard this year.
Instead, he’ll focus on his Cup fate, which will be decided during the Hollywood Casino 400 at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“This is our first Homestead of this year,” Busch said. “We’ve got to come through this race. It’s not a must-win, but it is a must-perform. We’ve got to do everything right in order to go out there and be the top guy all day out of the four legitimate candidates that are fighting for the two spots available. We’ve just got to concentrate on that and make sure we can get it done.”