KYLE BUSCH It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 17, 2010) -- While it's in the name of NASCAR's top series, the word "sprint" might not be the best way to describe the grueling, 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series...
It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 17, 2010) -- While it's in the name of NASCAR's top series, the word "sprint" might not be the best way to describe the grueling, 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.
For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), lessons learned during his five full seasons at NASCAR's top level have taught him that, in order to be eligible for a championship come mid-November, it's better to run it like a marathon. To put it into perspective, while NASCAR heads into its second week of competition, Major League Baseball teams, who will only start a month of Spring Training in the coming weeks, will have crowned a World Series champion almost a month before the Sprint Cup season is over.
The talented 24-year-old, known for his hard-charging style and relentless passion for winning, took note of the marathon approach in 2009 after missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup by a mere eight points and being forced to watch NASCAR's "playoffs" from the outside looking in. In the process, there were plenty of lessons learned by Busch and new crew chief Dave Rogers as they formulated their plan of attack in chasing the Sprint Cup trophy in 2010.
Among those lessons was the "Outrageously Dependable" manner -- to coin the tagline from longtime JGR sponsor Interstate Batteries -- in which Busch steamrolled his way to the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, his first NASCAR title of any kind. Busch's Nationwide numbers were staggering. They included a series-high nine wins, another 11 second-place finishes -- including placing first or second in an astounding 10 consecutive events -- and a series single-season record-tying 25 top-five finishes. Busch also crushed his own single-season record originally set in 2008 by leading 2,698 of a possible 6,715 laps (40.2 percent), and cruised to the championship by a 210-point margin over Carl Edwards. The Las Vegas native will look for just that kind of consistency this year on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Race two of the 36-race Sprint Cup marathon for 2010 comes this weekend for Busch at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., a place that has treated him quite well in the past. It's where he accomplished his record-breaking first-career Sprint Cup win in 2005 that made him the youngest race winner in series history at the time. His JGR teammate Joey Logano topped that record with a victory last June at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
If last Sunday's 52nd Daytona 500 was any indication, Busch might have the mindset it takes to win a Sprint Cup title. While he had a car that was top-five worthy for much of the day, starting on the inside lane on the last three restarts prohibited him for challenging for the win on the final laps. But instead of trying to make something more than what he was capable of, Busch showed incredible patience by bringing home his No. 18 Toyota in 14th place, and he now sits 13th in the standings after the first race of the season. Busch and Rogers are certainly expected to contend for wins throughout the season, but Busch also knows that if he gets the most out of what his car can give him, and to keep from making mistake by trying to get too much, he'll be in contention to make the Chase and go after the title he and the whole Interstate Batteries team are craving.
So, as Busch and the Interstate Batteries team head to the "Left Coast" for Sunday's Auto Club 500, their focus already has them working on getting into position to hoist NASCAR's ultimate prize come Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They know all too well that, while it is the Sprint Cup, the NASCAR season is nothing less than a marathon.
KYLE BUSCH: Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry at Auto Club Speedway
You won both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Fontana last February on the same day -- which has never been done before -- and finished third in the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. 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 all three. We won Friday. Saturday, we led the most laps and were leading with 20 to go and we had a shock break, which 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. We almost got it done in Texas last year and came up a bit short on gas, so maybe one day we can do it somewhere."
Can you win a championship in the Sprint Cup Series?
"I'm glad I could actually win a championship last year and say, 'Yeah, it can be done, I've done it.' I just haven't done it at the level that I need to do it, yet. We need to get ourselves in position to do that this year. By keeping myself in that position and getting the team in that position and rebuilding toward finishing in those top-five and top-10 spots more often, then it will get done. We're hoping we can show that at California this weekend and bring home a solid run and exposure for Interstate Batteries, too."
Things happen so fast in a racecar. Is the key to winning a championship getting yourself calmed down inside the car, and can you do it?
"I have recently, yes, actually. We had problems late last year on a couple of pit stops in the Nationwide Series, and then in the Truck stuff, too. It's over, it's done with, you're not going to fix it and you have to move forward and try to come back through the field and come back toward the front."
What will it take to beat Jimmie Johnson on any given race weekend?
"We have to have cars that are capable of winning all 36 races. We've been fast at places here or there, but have struggled at other places, so we have to make sure that we can get out there and run well every single week and be able to contend every single week for a top-five finish. If you're running top-five toward the end of the race in every single race, you know you have a shot to run well or try to win that race. Jimmie (Johnson) can do that and, right now, we can't, and we have some work to do to try to get to that point."
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."
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."