Checkers or Wreckers
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (May 15, 2012) – Non-points races seem to be tailor made for Kyle Busch. Exhibit A: the first non-points race of this season – the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway back in February.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) wound up sideways in the draft not just once, but twice. Busch showed incredible car control on both occasions by saving his racecar as it got sideways and appeared to be headed for certain wrecks. Twice, he kept the M&M’s Camry off the wall and saved it from major damage. Busch followed those incredible saves by passing three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart coming to the finish line on the final lap to claim his first career victory in the non-points Shootout. Busch won by .013 of a second, the closest finish in event history.
Considering Busch intervened so adeptly when his racecar twice seemed destined for the back of a wrecker and took the checkers at Daytona instead, the talented 27-year-old will undoubtedly be one to watch again as the series heads into the second non-points event of the season – Saturday night’s $1 million-to-win Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
The Las Vegas native first left his non-points-race mark on the 2009 edition of the Sprint All-Star Race. NASCAR first instituted short-track-style double-file restarts for just the All-Star Race that year. After Busch pulled off several bold moves that helped inject plenty of excitement into the race, it prompted NASCAR to go ahead and institute the double-file restart rule permanently for its top three series beginning at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway just weeks later.
Busch didn’t earn his spot in the All-Star Race on his ability to save a racecar, or his crafty restarts alone. He locked in his spot for this year’s All-Star event – comprised primarily of 2011 and 2012 Sprint Cup race winners, plus past All-Star Race winners and past series champions – via his four series wins in 2011 and his one win in NASCAR’s top series thus far in 2012, which came three weeks ago at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway
The Las Vegas native not only has earned the title of All-Star, he’s become one of the dominant forces in the elite Sprint Cup Series. His win at Richmond last month was the 24th of his Sprint Cup career, and Busch now has 105 career wins in NASCAR’s top three divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck. With the aforementioned win at Richmond, Busch jumped into a tie for 26th place on the all-time Sprint Cup win list with his brother Kurt.
Busch was regarded as a potential star when he entered the Sprint Cup ranks full-time in 2005 as a raw 18-year-old, but he’s quickly transformed that star potential into bonafide All-Star status since joining JGR at the beginning of 2008.
As a competitor who has tried to focus on racing smart during points-paying events week in and week out, something that has spurred his recent climb from 16th to ninth in the standings over the last five events, Busch views Saturday’s non-points-paying All-Star Race as his annual opportunity to throw patience out the window at his own discretion.
The way it’s gone lately, could there possibly be another driver who exemplifies “checkers or wreckers” quite like Busch?
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What driving style does it take to succeed in the All-Star race?
“I think just being aggressive and knowing when to be aggressive and how to be aggressive is the biggest thing. It’s a race where you have to get to the front and you have to get out there and get yourself, more importantly, in clean air in order to keep yourself out front and on your own.”
What skills have you used to find success in the All-Star race?
“I’ve been aggressive and I’ve been maybe too aggressive at points and not aggressive enough at other points. Last year, we just ran a clean race and didn’t really do much aggressive driving or anything and we ended up second. Maybe there was a little bit more that needed to be done but, overall, it was a good week there for us with our M&M’s Camry.”
What does it mean to be a part of the All-Star Race in this sport?
“It matters, especially with who your fellow competitors are. For us, being an all-star and being in the All-Star Race is one of the most fun things we get to do each year. I’d say the Budweiser Shootout is another one of those and, with the All-Star Race, they are certainly two fun races where we get a chance to go after just a win and bring home the checkered or the wrecker. It’s an exciting night and there’s a lot of energy there. Charlotte does a great job. I think it’s an awesome venue for that race. It gives you the opportunity to run, whether it’s a 40-lap segment, 25-lap segment, 10-lap segment – it gives you the opportunity to run that many qualifying laps in a row. That’s all you’re doing – you're giving it all you’ve got every single lap. You’re definitely up on top of the wheel and your guys do the best they can to give you a good car and to make it as lightweight as possible and throw away the air conditioning unit and keep all the front fans away from you – no radiator fan. All that stuff, just try to lighten that baby up and make it fast.”
What drivers do you think are best suited for the All-Star Race?
“You look at the guys who are really good who qualify well. I think qualifying well can always lend itself to racing the All-Star Race well because you’re running however many laps that segment is. You’re running that many qualifying laps in a row. You’re just trying to get the most you can out of your car there. It’s sometimes hard to pass because the guy in front of you is trying to get the most out of his car and so are you, so you just can’t get there.”
What would it meant to see your team win the Pit Crew Challenge?
“It would be really cool. They’re the best in the business and they’ve deserved to win for a few years. I know my rear changer and our front changer have both had some record times in the singles competition. I think my jackman, as well, too. Those guys are pretty quick – they know what to do. It just seems like we can’t get the pushing part figured out. We never get the car to go down the track. That’s all right. I know when I come down pit road what I’m looking forward to and that’s stopping in the 18 box.”