Kyle Busch eyeing next step to legendary status with second championship

— -- HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- By Kyle Busch's standards, it has been a pretty quiet year.

Sure, he got fined for blowing off media commitments after a disappointing Xfinity Series finish at Fontana, and he also incurred the wrath of NASCAR for destroying the rear fenders of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with an over-the-top burnout after winning the spring Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway.

But for the most part, Busch has been a model of decorum throughout 2016. He didn't (publicly) pitch a fuss when his JGR teammate Carl Edwards moved him to steal a Cup win at Richmond, and he was contrite after accidentally knocking teammate Matt Kenseth out of the NASCAR Chase playoffs last weekend at Phoenix.

The most controversy he has generated has come from his continued desire to compete in NASCAR's lower ranks, where he won 10 times in 16 Xfinity Series starts while also taking two of the three Camping World Truck Series races he ran.

Even though Busch hasn't often make waves in the Cup series, he put together a rock-solid regular season with four race wins and a dozen top-5s. Now he's right back where he was a year ago: among the four drivers competing for the Sprint Cup championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last November, Busch defeated Kevin Harvick in a straight fight at Homestead to win his first Cup series championship, and he believes he is poised to repeat that result on Sunday evening even though he hasn't recently tested at the title-deciding venue.

"I went there last year without testing and we did pretty well, so it's all about the preparation and the things that our team does behind the scenes, as well as just executing on race day," Busch said.

"It's nice to be able to look back on what you did, and being able to do it before, you can kind of try to follow the same format of what happened," he added. "But the three other guys are different and the race cars are different this year, and the track's going to be one more year worn out than it was last year. Out of all the variables, it doesn't seem like there are that many constants."

Adam Stevens, crew chief for the No. 18 Toyota, is confident about the team's chances.

"I'm excited to go back down there," Stevens said. "I feel like we really had a great weekend down there last year. There's no reason why we can't go do that again."

Busch's formula for making it to the championship final is similar to the one he used last year. He hasn't won a race since taking his second consecutive Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis in late July, but he has snatched six top-5 finishes in the Chase. His average Chase finish is 7.3 despite intentionally running at the back to wind up 30th at Talladega.

By finishing in the top 10 in eight of the nine Chase races, capped by that hectic run to second place at Phoenix, Busch has positioned himself to score rare back-to-back Cup series crowns.

Aside from Johnson's run of five consecutive titles from 2006 to 2010, the only other drivers in the past 30 years to claim back-to-back Cup trophies are Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip.

"We haven't showed our strength here in a few weeks, but we've showed consistency," Busch said after the race at Phoenix. "We always talk about in this sport how top-10s lead to top-5s and top-5s lead to wins. Eventually we're going to keep finishing in the top five and we just had three top-5s in a row."

After racing Gordon for the championship in 2015, Busch downplayed the notion that beating six-time titlist Jimmie Johnson for this year's honor would be any more meaningful.

Edwards and Joey Logano are the other two championship finalists.

"I don't think Jimmie being in the final four makes it any more significant than Carl or Joey," Busch said. "I think they're all really good. Jimmie has been a six-time champion, but he hasn't done it in this format.

"You might also look at how guys have run in the past at Homestead, and it seems like Carl is probably one of the best on that," Busch continued. "Joey has finished real well there the last few years also. This group is certainly way high up there as far as being challenging to race, and that's why I feel like it could honestly be any guy's race."

Busch is also content with Homestead as the venue for the championship finale. The 1.5-mile oval is a similar length to other intermediate ovals, but with a markedly different symmetrical layout.

"I think Homestead is one of the better tracks for us to have the last race at," he said. "You'd much rather go there to a place where it's kind of wide, where tires fall off and where you can race people from the bottom of the track all the way to the top of the track versus going to a place like Phoenix or Loudon, where it's really hard to pass and hard to get the guy in front of you, with not too many racing grooves."

With Gordon retired (again) and Tony Stewart calling it quits as a driver after Sunday's race, Johnson could be NASCAR's only multiple Cup champion in the field next year.

Unless Busch repeats as champion, that is. At 31, in the prime of his career, he knows it's important for the sport to have legacy stars for future generations to measure up to. And he knows that winning consecutive Cup titles would guarantee that kind of long-term status.

"You look at these younger-generation drivers that come in and you've got to stack yourself up against somebody," Busch said. "I got to stack myself up against Jeff Gordon, against guys late in their career like Dale Jarrett, and I've raced against guys like Tony Stewart and Jimmie -- a lot of guys who have been champion.

"Although I never raced against the likes of Richard Petty or David Pearson or guys that were champions before my time, you certainly get to understand how good they were in their day and how important they are to the sport even though you never got a chance to race them yourself."