Kyle Busch brings top seed, confidence into NASCAR playoffs Round of 8

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Kyle Busch has been here before — securely into the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with his sights set on more.

Busch enters Sunday's First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) as the top seed in this third round that will trim the championship contenders from eight to four. He has a 40-point cushion over fifth place, and he's approaching a trio of tracks where he has excelled in the last 12 months.

One year ago, he won the playoff race at Martinsville to clinch a berth in the final four for the third consecutive year. In March 2018, he finished second behind winner Kevin Harvick at ISM Raceway near Phoenix after leading a race-high 128 laps. Two races later, he returned to Martinsville, finishing as runner-up to Clint Bowyer. In the following race at Texas Motor Speedway in early April, he scored the first of his seven wins this season.

To say this three-race pod is a good one for Busch would be an understatement, but the 2015 Cup Series champion said you can't depend on your previous results or your position in the standings at this stage.

"What we’re doing today isn’t necessarily what we were doing a few months ago when we were here," Busch said Saturday. "The sport changes; we’ve seen how well the Stewart-Haas guys have gotten (with all four drivers in the Round of 8). It’s just always about trying to continue to improve and continue to get better."

But Busch knows how to navigate this round as well as anybody. Though he used his win at Martinsville last fall to guarantee his final four spot, he has also successfully pointed his way into the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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In his 2015 title-winning season, he used finishes of fifth, fourth and fourth to collect enough points to advance. In 2016, he replicated the effort with two fifth-place finishes and a runner-up to reach the final four.

So while Busch knows each season and each race is a new challenge, he can find confidence in having been there and done that.

"I believe every year is a new year, but you certainly can’t forget what you’ve done and what’s gotten you to that point of being in the Championship 4," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. "I do feel like the experience that we’ve had and the times that we’ve been there, we can lean on some of that and some of those bullet points that have given us that success to be able to get to the final four and rely on that information over again."

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