Fontana: The Land of ‘Firsts’
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 20, 2012) – For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., will always be remembered for both good times and bad.
The “bad” occurred in 2001 when Busch, at age 16, was set to make his first Camping World Truck Series start at the 2-mile oval but was pulled from the event by NASCAR officials because of a conflict between his age and the weekend’s open-wheel race that featured tobacco sponsorship. The impromptu ruling led to age limitations for all competitors and sidelined Busch from NASCAR competition until his 18th birthday.
While he left Fontana disappointed in the fall of 2001, his exit from the track in September 2005 was quite the opposite.
On that hot Southern California summer night during his rookie year in 2005, Busch drove the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. At just 20 years and 125 days old, Busch was the youngest Sprint Cup winner in NASCAR history – a record he held until June 2009 when his JGR teammate, Joey Logano, won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon at 19 years and 35 days old.
While Logano broke Busch’s record for youngest Sprint Cup winner in 2009, Busch still holds the record for the youngest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole – a feat he accomplished in February 2005, also at Fontana in just his eighth career Sprint Cup start.
Busch, who was 19 years, 317 days old, broke the record previously held by Donald Thomas, who was 20 years, 129 days old when he won the pole at Lakewood (Ga.) Speedway on Nov. 16, 1952. Thomas went on to win that race and remained the youngest race winner in Sprint Cup history until Busch won at Fontana on Sept. 4, 2005. Busch bested Thomas’s record by a mere four days.
Auto Club Speedway and Busch have been intertwined for nearly a decade beginning with the unexpected ruling of 2001, to the record-setting pole and victory in 2005, and through his 14 career Sprint Cup starts at the track.
Heading into this weekend’s Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup Series race at Fontana, Busch would love nothing more than to add another chapter to his growing list of storylines there.
Busch dominated the Auto Club 400 a year ago, leading five times for a race-high 151 laps before Jimmie Johnson, and then eventual race-winner Kevin Harvick caught the Las Vegas native with just two laps remaining in the 200-lap event and Busch had to settle for a third-place finish.
Despite the disappointment of seeing victory taken from his grasp in the closing laps in 2011, Busch’s overall record at Fontana is impressive. Since his maiden victory in 2005, he has rattled off nine top-10 finishes in 14 races at the track. As he makes his return for this weekend’s Auto Club 400, Busch and the No. 18 Interstate Batteries team will be totally focused on another first – their first victory together in 2012.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
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.”
What does it take to be successful at Fontana?
“It’s a fast racetrack and you just have to be able carry a lot of speed through the corners. You’re in the corner for a long time, but the more the speed you carry through the turn the better it makes your straightaways. It’s a big, fast racetrack and I’m hoping we can get the Interstate Batteries Camry back to victory lane there like we did at Michigan last August for Norm Miller (Chairman, Interstate Batteries) and all of their distributors and dealers.”
How does strategy come into play at Fontana?
“It’s a new tire, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. Pit strategy is always key everywhere you go. Trying to get track position, trying to stay up front – closer to the front – and maximizing everything you’ve got.”
Do you enjoy racing at Auto Club Speedway?
“I like California. It’s fun. It’s really wide and it’s kind of flatter than Michigan, so it’s a little harder to kind of get a hold of, but you can really spread out. We’ve been seeing a lot of guys all the way down at the white line. We saw guys all the way up at the wall. It always seems to be a really good race, there. It’s a really fun racetrack. It’s widened out and it’s become where you can race all over it and, with the race being as long as it is, you need to take a lot of time working through traffic and being able to have a good car and all that. It’s the same thing every week. California is just another one of those racetracks that seems to suit Jimmie (Johnson) really, really well. He’s been in contention to win the past eight races there, I think, and he’s probably won four of them. You have to hit it at the right time in these races as far as your adjustments go. Everywhere you go, but at California too, it’s all about the second-to-last pit stop and the last pit stop. I remember California last year – we led the most laps, we ran up front all day long and then the last run of the race we missed a little bit of something. Jimmie caught me, passed me and then Kevin (Harvick) came out of nowhere and passed Jimmie, too. You have to be able to hit it right through the end of the race in order to win these things. It seems harder to do that but we’re hoping we can stay ahead of those adjustments this time and get our Interstate Batteries Toyota to victory lane.”
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 ahold 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.”