FONTANA -- THE LAND OF FIRSTS FOR BUSCH HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 6, 2009) -- For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), it's a good bet that Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., will always be...
FONTANA -- THE LAND OF FIRSTS FOR BUSCH
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 6, 2009) -- For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), it's a good bet that Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., will always be remembered for both good times and bad.
The "bad" occurred in 2001 when Busch, at age 16, was set to make his first Camping World Truck Series start at the 2-mile oval but was pulled from the event by NASCAR officials because of a conflict between his age and the weekend's open-wheel race that featured tobacco sponsorship. The impromptu ruling led to age limitations for all competitors and sidelined Busch from NASCAR competition until his 18th birthday.
While he left Fontana in the fall of 2001 disappointed, his exit from the track in September 2005 could not have been any more different.
On that hot Southern California summer night four years ago, Busch drove the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. At just 20 years and 125 days old, Busch was the youngest Sprint Cup winner in NASCAR history -- a record he held until this past June when his JGR teammate, Joey Logano, won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon at 19 years and 35 days old.
While Logano broke Busch's record for youngest Sprint Cup winner, Busch still holds the record for the youngest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole -- a feat he accomplished in February 2005 also at Fontana in just his eighth career Sprint Cup start.
Busch, who was 19 years, 317 days old, broke the record previously held by Donald Thomas, who was 20 years, 129 days old when he won the pole at Lakewood (Ga.) Speedway on Nov. 16, 1952. Thomas went on to win that race and remained the youngest race winner in Sprint Cup history until Busch won at Auto Club Speedway on Sept. 4, 2005. Busch bested Thomas's record by a mere four days.
Auto Club Speedway and Busch have been intertwined for nearly a decade beginning with the unexpected ruling of 2001, to the record setting pole and victory in 2005, and through his 10 career Sprint Cup starts at the track.
Heading into this weekend's Pepsi 500 Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, Busch would love nothing more than to add another chapter to his growing list of storylines at Fontana.
Since his maiden victory in 2005, Busch has rattled off seven consecutive top-10 finishes at Fontana -- but it's a sure bet he's got his eyes focused on nothing less than another Fontana trophy come Sunday afternoon.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What do you remember about that night in 2005, when you captured your first Sprint Cup win at California?
"We ran in the top-five all day long, but we really didn't think we had a winning car. When we got the lead a few times throughout the race, we just pulled away and led by quite a bit. It was really cool to have a really dominant racecar. I remember having to drive the car really loose. That was the loosest I think I've ever driven a racecar that was still moving forward. It was crazy because I came over the radio and told the guys I couldn't believe how loose I have to drive the car. But it was fast."
You won both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Fontana in February and finished third in the Sprint Cup race. What kind of a challenge was it to attempt to win three races in the same weekend like you did?
"It's never been done before, so it was definitely a challenge. We knew that. I've won two in one weekend a few times and did it again in Bristol in August. In Atlanta last year was probably my best shot to do the three. We won Friday, Saturday we led the most laps and were leading with 20 to go, and we had a shock break, put us in the wall, then we won on Sunday. The last one's always the hardest to get. They leave it the hardest to get because it's on Sunday and it's the biggest show. It's not easy in this sport and we came home in third place in February, but it's tough when you're racing guys like Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon for the win like we were, living legends of the sport, really. But maybe one day we can do it somewhere."
Only you and Mark Martin have won in all three NASCAR series at Auto Club Speedway -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck. Along with the two wins in the same day, how special have those moments been there?
"It's pretty cool because I've only been able to add a couple other racetracks this year. California and Phoenix were the first ones, but I think there's six total, now. It's cool, especially with Mark Martin being the only other guy to be able to do it there. He's, of course, a legend and pretty respected in his own right, being able to win as many races as he has. California is a strange place in my heart because I remember my first Truck race I came here for, I got kicked out. So, the first Truck race I actually was able to run, I won and I got my first Cup win there, too. Those were both pretty neat."
How has Auto Club Speedway changed over the last few years, going from a new track to a place that has a lot more character and racing grooves?
"That place is tough. It's really a hard racetrack to get hold of, now, especially when it's hot and the sun is out. There are two completely different types of racing when you run the top versus the bottom groove. You can run from the top to the bottom, but when you run the bottom, you really feel like you're puttering around the racetrack. You feel like you aren't making up any time on the bottom, but when you are running the top groove, you feel like you're getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top."