Joe Gibbs Racing press release
And Now, for the Rest of the Season
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 29, 2012) – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams spend more than two months during the offseason preparing for the season-opening and most prestigious race, the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
But despite all of that preparation by more than 43 teams, followed by 12-plus days spent in Daytona by those that go the distance, only one driver-and-team combination emerges victorious from the big race on the 2.5-mile oval. It’s typically the driver and team that has found the perfect combination of help from others and a hefty dose of racing luck in the ultimate battle of restrictor-plate, big-pack racing. And that victorious driver and team is the only one that gets to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy in racing’s most famous victory lane.
For Kyle Busch and the entire No. 18 M&M’s Ms. Brown Toyota team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), there’s Daytona, and then there’s the rest of the season. After Monday night’s 54th Daytona 500, the grueling, 36-race marathon-like schedule heads out West to the second race of the 2012 season – Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.
In 14 Sprint Cup starts at the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has one win and eight top-10 finishes, including four in a row from the spring 2007 through fall 2008 events, and he won the pole for the spring 2006 race. The talented 26-year-old was in position to win both Sprint Cup races at Phoenix in 2010 and the February 2011 event, but things did not fall his way.
Busch started this season on a high note by notching a win in the Jan. 18 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, but he came up a little short in Monday night’s rain-delayed Daytona 500, finishing 17th. To win the Budweiser Shootout, Busch passed 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 event. Busch won by .013 of a second, the closest finish in Budweiser Shootout history. Considering he had to avoid crashing twice during the race by exhibiting phenomenal displays of driving skill on both occasions, it was incredible that Busch was even in position to win.
Yes, Busch’s saves during his Shootout win were among the most talked-about occurrences during a Speedweeks stretch that was more eventful than usual. But as they now head to the mile oval in Phoenix, Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers and the rest of the M&M’s Ms. Brown team are comforted in knowing their fate is much more in their own hands. Handling and driver skill have much more to do with a team’s success at Phoenix than Daytona. The mile oval, which was repaved prior the November race there, remains rather difficult to pass on as the racing groove continues to widen as tire rubber gets laid down. This could mean an advantage for a driver as talented as Busch.
The Las Vegas native will hope to equal and better his Phoenix performance from a year ago, when he led 23 laps late in the race but had to settle for a second-place finish to winner Jeff Gordon.
This weekend, Phoenix marks the beginning of the rest of the season, and the M&M’s team is already focused on gaining the wins and consistency it will need over the next 25 races in hopes of again being a part of the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Ms. Brown Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How will Sunday’s race at Phoenix compare to the one there last November?
“November was a little bit different than what we all expected. The way the race played out and the way the groove kind of widened out a little bit, it made it a bit racey. We expect some of that there this time but, hopefully, the conditions are a little cooler so we can lay more rubber down and we can spread the groove out more and make for a good race. It seemed like you could run guys down but it was a little hard to pass where, on the old surface, you could at least get guys to get a little loose or whatever, or start losing grip in their tires and start fading. Now, it’s just you running the same time all the time. It’s hard to get going.”
How do you feel about heading to Phoenix this week after having an up-and-down Speedweeks?
“I’m glad to go back to a racetrack where drivers matter and car handling matters. I ran really well at Phoenix last spring but just needed that one more position and we would have had the trophy. We had an engine issue there in the fall, but I think we were as good as anyone until that happened. I’m looking forward to getting back there, for sure, and hoping we can get our M&M’s Ms. Brown Camry into victory lane again, as well.”
What does it take to be successful at Phoenix?
“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but being only the second race on the new surface, it could make it interesting.”
In addition to three Nationwide Series wins at Phoenix, you also won in your second Sprint Cup start at the mile oval. Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix?
“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave last year. For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different corners at Phoenix.”