KYLE BUSCH Keeping His Eyes on the Prize HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 29, 2010) - For Kyle Busch, a ninth-place finish followed by a sixth-place finish in the opening two races of the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship have him hopeful that...
Keeping His Eyes on the Prize
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 29, 2010) - For Kyle Busch, a ninth-place finish followed by a sixth-place finish in the opening two races of the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship have him hopeful that he and his team will remain contenders for the Sprint Cup championship until season's end.
But the driver of the No 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) knows that, in order to keep up with the lofty standards set by four-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, he'll need to improve his average finish. And going a long way toward improving that average finish will be winning at least one race over the eight races that remain.
While several races down the stretch are ones the talented 25-year-old and his M&M's team believe they can win, Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, site of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400, isn't among them. Nonetheless, crew chief Dave Rogers and everyone back at the JGR shop in Huntersville, N.C., have been working diligently on their Kansas setup in hopes of helping Busch deliver his first top-five finish at the 1.5-mile oval.
Even though they might not necessarily be confident of a win, Busch and the No. 18 team are as focused as ever on doing what it takes to bring home a championship for the Las Vegas native. As a driver, Busch has taken many of the lessons from his Nationwide Series run from one year ago as a building block to compete for NASCAR's top prize. There's no need to look further than the last two weeks for proof of his focus.
In the opening Chase round two weeks ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Busch battled an ill-handling car all race long, but instead of getting frustrated and trying to get more out of the racecar than it allowed, he ran around in 12th to 15th-place and managed to gut out a top-10 finish by the time the checkered flag dropped. Last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Busch battled eventual race-winner Johnson for the lead with less than 100 laps to go, but a tight-handling condition set in down the stretch and Busch hung on for a still-solid sixth-place run.
So while it's well known that Busch goes into any race he runs with victory on his mind, he also knows that to have a shot at the Sprint Cup championship and cracking Johnson's incredible streak, he'll need to take what each race gives him. With his eyes focused solely on the ultimate prize during this year's Chase, Busch hopes to keep proving he's finally got what it takes to be called a Sprint Cup champion.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Based on your experience in the Chase, do you feel you've learned what to do and what not to do to be successful over a 10-race stretch? Can you apply what you've learned in years' past to your championship run this year?
"I think so. I've been in the Chase four out of my six full seasons. But every year is different. When Kurt (Busch, his older brother) won the championship in 2004, I think he had a wreck in Loudon and had an engine let go at Atlanta, and had a couple of bad finishes. But when you look at last year, for example, I think Jimmie Johnson had an average finish of 6.4 or something like that. It just tells you how consistent you have to be in this Chase to beat those (No.) 48 guys because what they've done to win four championships in a row is incredible. You aren't going to get a sixth-place average without running in the top-five and winning some races. So far, I have a ninth and a sixth, which is around a 7.5 average, and I'm going to have to do better to get it down closer to the that average of sixth. We'll see what it happens to take this year, but it's good when you can win a couple and you hope you don't have a bad race. But you have to build that possibility that you could have a bad race or two. With Talladega coming up, you know anything can happen there, and same with the short track at Martinsville. With the remaining 2-mile and mile-and-a-half tracks, you can bank on just running the best you can at those places and hopefully finish in the top-10."
Kansas Speedway has only played host to Sprint Cup racing since 2001, and you've only run six races there. What are your thoughts heading into Kansas this weekend?
"I think we need to be better than I have run there before. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and all the guys in the shop have worked really hard to be as prepared as possible for Kansas. We ran at Chicagoland earlier this year and we found a problem with our car that we had, but I'm not banking on that being the only issue we struggled with there. We just weren't very good at Chicago, and Kansas is very similar to Chicago. The banking is just a little bit different but, other than that, it's really similar. With how we ran at Chicago, we need to turn it around with our M&M's Camry Cup car. I've had some success at JGR and Hendrick in the Nationwide Series there, and I'm hoping with a little more experience and knowledge, I can do that in the Cup car at Kansas, as well. This weekend would be a great time to get it figured out and, hopefully, have a good solid top-five day."
You've won a lot of races, but how would a championship be different for you?
"I think championships just kind of solidify how good you are throughout a year and how you're able to beat the best of the best in the weekends that it matters the most - the bad weekends. You can win all the races you can win throughout your career and be known as a guy who can go out there and win on a given weekend. But to win over the whole year, that's 36 races that you beat everybody else. To be known as a champion is what everybody wants to be known as in this sport. For myself and for Joe Gibbs Racing, that's what we start the year off looking for - trying to go after the championship. Everybody is always talking championship. Other people might well say, 'Oh well, I hope we can win five races this year,' but that's not really what we're looking to do. We're more so concentrated on trying to win a championship."
You are in contention for championships in all three of NASCAR's top three series, albeit the owner's titles in Nationwide and Truck. How does racing as much as you do on Friday and Saturday translate into success on the Cup level?
"I think it's important to race as much as you can race. I feel like, for me to get all the experience I can get, really helps me. When I come down pit road on Sunday, I already have been on pit road at least four times that weekend with the Nationwide car and/or Truck. I've gone through the pit stops and the cycles, and it's experience. The best experience you can get is to be behind the wheel of a racecar or truck. For myself, I look forward to racing because I like racing and I like getting that experience. When it carries over to Sunday, it's all the better. When you have good cars, get the experience on Saturday in the Nationwide Series, it helps me for Sunday. You learn about the racetrack and get the different tendencies on how the track or your line is going to change during the race and I try to relay that to Dave (Rogers) on the Cup side. That's what I did this past weekend. Saturday night after the Nationwide Series race, I called Dave and we talked for over an hour about how the track was and what changed and what things were going on throughout the race and what we were changing to make some of the handling tendencies better. We put some of those things into the Cup car for Sunday and the Cup car was really strong. We just missed it on one change on the second-to-last pit stop and we just didn't have enough cautions in the end to fix the tight condition that we got with about 100 laps to go. We were strong and had a shot to finish in the top-two. So I think it helps me a lot to be honest."
Are there any challenges to having only one Sprint Cup race each year at Kansas Speedway?
"We go to Indy once a year, we go to Chicago once a year, a lot of different racetracks once a year. It's a little bit different of a challenge because you've got to remember that far back. It's the same for everybody, though, so you just kind of go out there and try to get going as quickly as you can. I've really never had much luck at Kansas in the Cup car, it seems like, so I'm hoping we can turn that around this weekend. I've run well there, at times, but seem to be snake-bitten a bit with mechanical issues or getting caught up in an accident. We're hoping we can turn that around this weekend."