Atlanta: Kyle Busch preview

KYLE BUSCH Objects in Windshield Closer Than They Appear HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 2, 2010) -- On the surface, Kyle Busch's finishes in the first three races of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season don't exactly jump out at you. While...

KYLE BUSCH
Objects in Windshield Closer Than They Appear

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 2, 2010) -- On the surface, Kyle Busch's finishes in the first three races of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season don't exactly jump out at you.

While Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), and new crew chief Dave Rogers have posted finishes of 14th, 14th, and 15th at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, respectively, those numbers don't nearly tell the whole story of their start to 2010.

But, if you've been following Busch and the M&M's team, they've been a factor in all three races thus far, leading at least a lap in each race and appearing to have a car capable of a top-five finish before either bad luck or a mistake cost them a finish not at all indicative of their overall efforts.

They'll look to not only keep running up near the front of the field, but parlay a strong run into their first top-five finish of the season as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500.

At Daytona, Busch led laps and ran near the front all race long, but got caught in the slower inside line during the final three restarts, which hampered any chance he had of winning his first Daytona 500.

Busch had another strong performance at Fontana, only to be thwarted by more bad fortune when, while diving onto pit road for the final time on lap 224 of the 250-lap race, Brad Keselowski spun his Dodge along the frontstretch to bring out what would be the final caution of the day on lap 225. The No. 18 team had no other choice but to perform the pit stop and hope to get back out before Jeff Burton, the race leader, could make it to the exit of pit road behind the pace car to put Busch a lap down. Despite a lightning-fast stop by the No. 18 crew that got Busch off pit road just a few car lengths behind eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR ruled that Johnson made it off pit road before Burton passed the line while Busch did not.

Last weekend at Las Vegas, the talented 24-year-old put together another solid effort, running in or near the top-five all race before being ticketed by NASCAR for entering the pits too fast on the final stop of the day on Lap 216, thwarting another solid run.

Even with the misfortune in his first three outings of the season, Busch and the M&M's team are in 12th place in the standings, just 131 points behind series leader Kevin Harvick.

This weekend, Busch will hope to continue the magical history for the No. 18 car at Atlanta's 1.54-mile oval, where former JGR driver Bobby Labonte brought home six victories in a seven-year span from 1996-2003, and where Busch added the No. 18's eighth win in March 2008.

So, while the results haven't been what they've been looking for thus far, the objects out ahead of Busch, Rogers and the entire M&M's team -- namely Harvick at the top of the Sprint cup standings -- are much closer than they appear.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:

Has it been frustrating to have a solid car in each race, thus far, but not have the finishes indicative of where you ran all day?

"I always want to run up front and want to win, so it's been frustrating. But at the same time, the guys have given me good cars, thus far, but things haven't fallen our way with luck, and then the speeding penalty last week. It is about being consistent and finishing races and being able to finish those races in the top-five or top-10. You don't want to finish 25th or worse, but actually taking an 11th through 16th finish if that's all you can do that day. You want to have those. Ultimately, it takes some of those in the year to make you capable of getting into the Chase, where you can contend for the championship. For us, it's about building the consistency, understanding what it took to win the (2009 Nationwide) championship, and being able to apply that to the Cup level."

You brought the No. 18 car back to victory lane for the first time in more than four years when you won in March 2008 at Atlanta. What was memorable about that day to you?

"It was really awesome to see all the 18 guys back in victory lane at Atlanta and enjoying the win. I remember the years of watching Bobby Labonte dominate at Atlanta and plenty of other places. To see the smile on everyone's face was great. And, of course, to get Toyota the win -- well, it just all meant so much."

You've had some success at Atlanta with four wins over a span of five races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, along with your Sprint Cup win there in 2008. Does that mean you're really looking forward to going back to Atlanta?

"Yes and no. We ran well there when we won in 2008, but last year we struggled trying to get our car handling right there and never really hit on it. I know Dave (Rogers, crew chief) has been working hard on our setup so we can be competitive there. Atlanta definitely doesn't have much grip, but I still seem to like it. There are so many lines. You can run anywhere on the track, and I love that. Coming off turn two, if you're running the low line and start to slide up, you have a tendency to get sideways. But, otherwise, it's a really fun track. It's really a driver's track because, when you get about 40 laps on your tires, you really start to slide around and that can be a handful."

How do you settle for a top-five finish while maintaining your aggression?

"It's very hard to do. In Homestead (Fla.), I was racing for the win with Denny (Hamlin) and trying to get up to him a little more, but couldn't quite get there. I ended up getting into the fence a little bit and fell back to eighth. At least it was eighth instead of falling back to 25th or something. It's hard because you want to win races. You want to win every single one you get in. I'm working hard to find that balance where I can go for wins when I can, but take the best finish possible if winning just isn't possible. We want to be in a position to make the Chase and go for a championship and I'm working hard to be smart in those types of situations."

-source: jgr

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski , Kyle Busch