There’s No Place Like a Second Date on the Schedule
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Kansas is about to get a whole lot better for Kyle Busch. At least that’s the line of thinking as the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) makes his first spring visit to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 400.
For the first decade of its existence, Kansas had been just a single stop each fall for the Sprint Cup Series competitors. Beginning in 2004 – coincidentally when Busch first joined NASCAR’s top series full-time – it took on the added importance of being one of the 10 events in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
While the fall event remains, the addition of a second Kansas date on the Sprint Cup schedule this season has been welcome news for Busch, especially one that is far removed from the highly intense pressures of the Chase. After all, it has been one of his most challenging venues over the past seven seasons, and the addition of a second date only helps accelerate the growing database of knowledge it will take for he and his M&M’s teammates to find the kind of success they’re accustomed to at the 1.5-mile oval just a stone’s throw west of the Missouri-Kansas state line.
With an average finish of just 23.4 in his previous seven visits to Kansas in a Sprint Cup car, Busch knows there is nowhere to go but up. And visiting the track located smack in the middle of the Heartland of America while in the midst of one of his best starts to a Sprint Cup season can only help turn things around.
As is the case at most racetracks on the Nationwide Series schedule, Busch has tasted success at Kansas in NASCAR’s second tier of competition, scoring a victory (2007), a runner-up finish (2009) and a pair of third-place runs (2006, 2010). The best he has to show for his seven visits on the Sprint Cup side, unfortunately, is a seventh-place finish in 2006.
All of that can’t help but change, however, as the talented 25-year-old from Las Vegas, whose 21 career Sprint Cup wins have him tied with the likes of Benny Parsons, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton in the NASCAR record books, looks to finally take charge of a racetrack that has given him fits over the years with the addition of a second date on the schedule.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Kansas Speedway has only played host to Sprint Cup racing since 2001, and you’ve only run seven races there, but now will be going there twice a year. 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 weren’t very good at Chicago last year and the guys went to work to bring a better car to Kansas last fall since it’s a very similar layout to Chicago. The banking is just a little bit different but, other than that, it’s really similar. We really improved but, obviously, we had some issues there and ended up with a torn-up racecar and didn’t get to show what we had when it came down to the end. I’ve had some success with 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 with our M&M’s Camry.”
Were there any challenges to having only one Sprint Cup race each year at Kansas Speedway, and will it change things a bit for you as far as getting more knowledge and track time, there, with two races?
“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. I think the more Dave (Rogers) and the guys go there, we will keep learning, and it will only help us with our notebook of information. Dave is really good at learning from past races. He’s constantly thinking about ways to improve things, especially at places where we’ve struggled. I’ve really never had much luck at Kansas in the Cup car, 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 and get some more time there so I can learn as a driver and the team can learn more about set-ups there.”
The Kansas race often has come down to fuel mileage – including two of the last three years. What have you learned about saving fuel? Is it a matter of saving it, or just being in a position where you can gamble at the end of the race?
“It’s probably just a matter of either being in a position to gamble, more times than not. When you’re trying to conserve fuel, it’s pretty much all on luck. You try to roll out of the gas early and be smooth getting back to it. You’ll probably save a drop here or there, but nothing that’s going to make a big difference. I think four times in my career I’ve tried, but I didn’t make it on three of them. It depends on the scenario. If you’re short by three laps with 60 laps to go and you go green the rest of the way, if you start saving, you will go for it. But if you’re short five laps, if there is no other way but to stop, you might as well come in early and then go for it.”
That’s kind of the way it works out.
Is it a struggle for you not to pass during the race if you are saving fuel and your car for the end of the race?
“Yeah, you want to race those guys who are around you all of the time. You want to go, ‘Uh, there’s a car in front of me. I want to pass that guy.’ That’s what’s in your blood to do. Sometimes you’ve just got to back off a little bit and kind of let the race play out. You’ve got to get to the end of the final pit stop. Once you get to the final pit stop, then the race is on. That’s kind of the way it works out. This place can suck you in and it can suck you in pretty easily – into the wall, I mean.”
What was your plan when you sat down with Dave Rogers prior to the start of the 2011 season, and how would you evaluate it as we will be halfway to the cutoff for the Chase after Sunday’s race?
“We thought there were some ideas we could get better at – some things I didn’t do very well in the past, and some things the crew didn’t do very well in the past. And, we’re just trying to modify ourselves to be where we’re championship contenders every race. You want to be race winners. But, you can be a race winner and then, the next week you can be a 30th-place guy, where a championship race team wouldn’t quite be like that. It’s all about consistency and just making sure everybody is on top of his game, answering questions that need answers and not leaving any unanswered questions, and making sure your job is to button everything up and pay attention to detail. We haven’t been perfect, but I think we’ve had a shot to win almost every race this season. But we’ve also been smart and taken what the car has given us and not hurt ourselves by taking really bad finishes by going too far on car set-up or, for me, making a big mistake. I think we’ve done well, thus far, but we need to keep learning, keep improving and be on top of our game during those final 10 races.”