KYLE BUSCH In It for the Long Haul HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 3, 2010) -- As the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season approaches, a close eye will be kept, no doubt, on a few Sprint Cup stars who have contracts expiring with their respective ...
In It for the Long Haul
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 3, 2010) -- As the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season approaches, a close eye will be kept, no doubt, on a few Sprint Cup stars who have contracts expiring with their respective teams at the end of the season.
While constant questions about their future endeavors can be a potential distraction for those drivers, it won't be for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry, as officials from Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) announced in January that they had agreed to a multi-year contract with Busch, putting to rest any speculation about his long-term commitment to JGR.
With that situation put to rest, Busch and JGR can now focus on racing -- beginning with the 52nd Daytona 500 set for Feb. 14 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
At Daytona, Busch will focus on honing his relationship with new crew chief Dave Rogers as the pair hopes to pick up where it left off at the end of 2009. With Rogers on top of the pitbox for the final three races of the season, the duo showed instant chemistry and finished 12th or better in all three events. In fact, the Rogers-Busch combination nearly won the its first race together at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where Busch led 232 of 334 laps before he ran out of fuel with two laps remaining and finished a disappointing 11th.
In the first decade of the 21st century, Busch won more races in NASCAR's top three national series than any other driver. The Las Vegas native posted 62 overall wins from 2000-2009, besting Kevin Harvick, who was next with 51 wins during that same span. With 16 Sprint Cup Series wins, 30 Nationwide Series wins and 16 Camping World Truck Series wins, Busch made it to victory lane every 6.9 races in his 428 overall career starts.
With the dawn of a new decade, Busch still has plenty he wants to accomplish, including his first Sprint Cup championship. He'll hope to take the lessons learned from last year's Nationwide Series championship season -- his first NASCAR title of any kind -- as a blueprint for success on the Sprint Cup level. While his passion for winning every race possible is well documented, he also knows the consistency of 25 top-five finishes in 35 Nationwide Series races last season went a long way toward helping him earn his title.
Busch and Rogers know full well that, while they are focused on winning the Sprint Cup championship in 2010, it is of utmost importance to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup -- something Busch and the M&M's team narrowly missed in 2009. They came up just eight points shy of the cutoff following the final regular-season race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Busch ultimately finished 13th in the final standings, the highest possible place possible for a non-Chase driver.
For all the races Busch has won in the 2000s, there are still three big events Busch would like to add to his resume: The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Daytona 500.
He'll get another shot at Daytona 500 on Valentine's Day, and he's hoping to avoid the heartbreak that has plagued him the last two Februarys.
No driver has been more dominant in NASCAR's most prestigious race in the last two years than Busch, who has led a total of 174 laps in 2008 and 2009 but ultimately fell short of hoisting the coveted Harley J. Earl Trophy.
Last year, Busch dominated the first 123 laps of the season-opener, leading twice for a race-high 88 laps around the 2.5-mile oval before getting caught up in an accident started by two cars that were a lap down, ending Busch's once-promising day early. In 2008, Busch also led a race-high 86 laps before settling for a solid, yet disappointing, fourth-place result.
With his long-term future with JGR secure, Busch heads to Daytona with two goals this year -- taking the Harley J. Earl Trophy back to his home in Mooresville, N.C., and laying the groundwork for a championship run in 2010.
KYLE BUSCH: Driver, No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry at Daytona International Speedway
Are you excited about 2010 and your contract extension at Joe Gibbs Racing?
"We're looking forward to 2010. We've got a lot of expectations to live up to. As far as the new contract goes, it's really nothing different than what I had before. It's a multi-year deal and something that shows our commitment to Joe Gibbs Racing for the years down the road."
Were you convinced Joe Gibbs Racing was the best place for you?
"There wasn't much convincing needed. Really, we struggled a little bit through (2009) and, unfortunately, missed the Chase. I see the organization as strong. I see how Joey (Logano, teammate) really came along toward the end of the year and got a lot better. I see the way Denny (Hamlin, teammate) ran. I mean, shoot, he had a shot to win the championship and be a legitimate threat. Our stuff is there. It's just a matter of having the right people in the right place. Hopefully, Dave (Rogers, crew chief) is that guy, and he and I can really develop a great relationship like Denny and Mike Ford (Hamlin's crew chief) have and we can go forward and try to win races."
How important was it to sign the contract extension and avoid the distraction?
"That's exactly the point -- the distraction. You don't need the distractions. I don't need the distractions. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) doesn't need them. The team guys don't need it. They don't need to be wondering if Kyle Busch will be their driver the following season. That's all put to rest. It's done. We can worry about racing and worry about winning."
Did you learn anything from your Nationwide Series championship that can be applied to the Sprint Cup Series?
"I think the biggest thing I learned from the Nationwide Series -- being able to win the championship -- was the amount of second-place finishes and third-place finishes. It isn't all about wins. It is about being consistent and finishing races and being able to finish those races top-five or top-10. Not finishing 25th or worse, but actually taking an 11th through 16th finish. You want to have those. Ultimately, it takes some of those in the year to make you capable of getting into the Chase in order to contend for the championship. For us, it's about building the consistency, understanding what it took to win to that championship and being able to apply that to the Cup level."
How do you deal with the disappointment of having strong cars at the last two Daytona 500s and not being able to finish it off?
"What's cool about this sport is the next week-and-a-half. It moves along so fast that you don't have much time. Daytona Speedweeks were pretty similar the last two years, with the exception of winning the Duel last year. Fortunately, I didn't have much time to dwell on it and the season is so long that it's easy to just leave it in the past. It's nice to start the season with a clean slate and there's so much to look forward to. Last year was last year and you just hope things fall our way. We know Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the M&M's guys will bring strong cars to the track. It's just a matter of finding a little more luck than last year since it's not all under your control, at times, with restrictor-place racing."
How motivated are you heading into this season?
"There's a lot of motivation there to go forward and try to get in the Chase this year and try to win the championship not only for myself, but more importantly, everyone at JGR, M&M's, Snickers, Pedigree, Doublemint, and Interstate Batteries. That's everybody's goal and everybody's story. Everybody is telling you they want to win the championship. How many championships can you hand out? There's only one. You've got to earn it. There's no one more determined than I am."
DAVE ROGERS: Crew chief, No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry at Daytona International Speedway
What did you learn working with Kyle Busch last season in the final three races?
"We had some valuable lessons the last few races last season. We almost got a win at Texas, which would've been great, but the lessons were learned about fuel mileage strategy. We gambled and it didn't pay off. We came back to the shop and got to evaluate. 'Okay, why didn't it work? What did we do wrong?' That gave us a great opportunity to look at our program to make it better than before. We had similar lessons that weren't as magnified at Phoenix and Homestead and it provided some really good discussions this offseason. I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun."
What are your goals for the 2010 season with Kyle Busch?
"Priority one is the Chase. We're going to look at it as two seasons. There's the pre-Chase season, and then there's the Chase. We set some goals for the first 26 races. Kyle (Busch) and I sat down and talked about what we want to accomplish throughout those races. If we can meet those goals, to get into the Chase, then once we meet that goal, we'll set some new goals. We're not going to try to get too far ahead of ourselves and set ourselves up for disappointment."
What will the relationship between you and Kyle Busch be like this season?
"My biggest goal right now is to get to know Kyle (Busch) and understand what makes him upset, what holds him back. All drivers get upset on the radio and I think the crew chief, if they handle themselves the right way, can reign them back in. There are going to be times that I'm just going to have to let him go and be Kyle. And there are times that I'm going to have to step up and say, 'Hey, stop.' I think the relationship needs to be where Kyle respects me enough to allow me to do that. Yeah, I'm soft spoken, but I have my limit. Kyle knows it and I think he respects that. Likewise, I know Kyle has his limit and I can't push him too far, also. We have to learn each other and figure out what makes each other intense."