Kyle Busch feeling at home in the desert

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“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave"

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 5, 2013) – There’s just no place like home for Las Vegas native Kyle Busch. But, there is a close second.

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

While Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), relishes each chance to visit his desert hometown, there’s yet another desert destination that ranks as next-best for Busch.

Where might that be? Of course, it’s Phoenix International Raceway, site of Sunday’s penultimate stop on the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign, the Advocare 500k.

Located just 300 miles to the south and east of his hometown of Las Vegas, the likewise desert setting of Phoenix has been a favorite place to wheel a racecar long before Busch joined the Sprint Cup ranks. And the results have certainly shown, starting with a solid eighth-place finish in his very first outing there in the spring of 2005, followed by just his second career Sprint Cup victory in his very next start there in the fall race that year. Coincidentally enough, his first Sprint Cup win came just 10 races prior in another desert-like setting – Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

In 17 Sprint Cup starts at the mile oval known as the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has one win and nine 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. Busch also was in position to win both Sprint Cup races at Phoenix in 2010, as well as the February 2011 race, and both races there in 2012, but things never fell his way.

Add five victories, eight top-five finishes, 11 top-10s and five poles in Busch’s 15 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, and a pair of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins in the fall 2007 and spring 2011 events, and it’s no wonder Busch relishes every opportunity to compete at his desert home away from home. With numbers like that, who wouldn’t?

Busch currently sits fourth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. While the top-two contenders – points-leader Jimmie Johnson and Busch’s JGR teammate Matt Kenseth – have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, the M&M’s team will be working as hard as possible to overtake third-place Kevin Harvick, who is 12 points ahead of Busch, and be ready in case any of the top two slip up. Busch’s best career points finish was fifth in 2007, so he knows he’s a in solid position to better that when the checkered flag flies to end the season two Sundays from now at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thus, with just two races remaining on the Sprint Cup calendar for 2013, Busch sees Sunday’s 500-kilometer run at his home away from home as his first of two chances to finish off the season in victory lane and, more importantly, tally his best final points finish in his Sprint Cup career.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:

Has this been a better Chase for you?

“It certainly has been. It’s beneficial. Last year, we ran really well in the Chase but we weren’t a Chase car. That was frustrating. We knew we could do it. We proved to ourselves we could do it and we come out here this year and we were able to follow up on last year’s success. Barring Kansas, I think we’ve done a really nice job and the way – knock on wood – there wasn’t a big one at Talladega that didn’t get any championship contenders really, but that’s where you try to make up ground when you can, when some of those guys have a bad day and you don’t. That’s when you make up big ground and nobody really did anything. It was just a little bit of swap here and there. Other than that, we’ve run a lot better this year than in years past. Apparently, there’s still a lot more room for improvement just with the bar that those guys at the front have set.”

What do you think of the battle between Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson?

“It’s awesome to see. Certainly, it’s pretty impressive because they both are running top-five every single week and they’re running around each other every single week. It’s a dogfight, for sure. It’s interesting to watch and see because you look for one of them to feel the pressure and stumble a little bit, but so far they haven’t. You come to places like Phoenix and Homestead – I think two of the five guys you look at winning those races are the two top guys who are going for the points championship right now. It’s ‘mano-y-mano’ here for the final two races.”

Do you think the surface has aged at Phoenix?

“I hope it aged a little bit so then we can all race a little bit better. It’s been a little bit difficult to pass, it felt like, still, and getting into turn one has been a little bit slick. I think that’s kind of always been the tradition at Phoenix. I think it should be a good one, hopefully, and we just need to get a little bit better. Denny (Hamlin) was pretty fast out there the last couple of times, so we’ll see if we can’t steal some more of their notes. We had a rough race there in the spring so, hopefully, we can run up front like we did there last fall and get us a win this time with our M&M’s Camry.”

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, this being only the fourth race on the new surface, it could make it interesting.”

In addition to five 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. For some reason, I’ve always run well there and we’ve come so close to winning there with JGR that we should be due here at some point. 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.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
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Tags busch, nascar sprint cup, pir, toyota