Joe Gibbs Racing
Extreme Makeover at Kansas
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – After Sunday’s running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 400, Kansas Speedway in Kansas City is slated to undergo quite the extreme makeover before the series comes back for its second stop of the season in October.
The 1.5-mile oval built in 2001, which at the moment features 15 degrees of banking in the turns, will undergo a massive renovation project that includes repaving of the existing track surface, reconfiguration of the oval, and the addition of a new infield road course. The new configuration will change to a new track geometry that features up to 20 degrees of variable banking in the turns. The current banking throughout the turns does not vary from its constant 15 degrees.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), might welcome the drastic change to the track surface as much as anyone. With an average finish of just 21.1 in his previous nine visits to Kansas in a Sprint Cup car, which includes just one top-10 finish, Busch knows there is nowhere to go but up.
But 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 nine visits on the Sprint Cup side, however, is a seventh-place finish in 2006.
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. The M&M’s team hopes to keep moving up in the Sprint Cup standings with a breakout finish at Kansas after moving up two spots to 14th following last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
While the Las Vegas native would love to finally taste success at 1.5-mile oval just a stone’s throw west of the Missouri-Kansas state line, he also knows the track reconfiguration in the fall will be a chance to wipe the slate clean at a place he’s struggled over the years.
So, as Busch heads to the Heartland of America this weekend, he knows an extreme makeover begins after the race with a significant repave that’ll hopefully help the talented 26-year-old bolster his stats there. But, first things first, he’ll work hard one last time on bringing home that long-awaited strong finish at Kansas.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What changes have you seen over the years at Kansas Speedway?
“Kansas is a typical cookie-cutter-type racetrack that we always call a mile-and-a-half that has that layout. It’s got older asphalt, now, but we know that’s going to change for the next race in October. The surface has matured a little bit over the years. It’s a racetrack where you can move all over the place. You can go from the bottom all the way to the top. Typically, when we repave these places, you’re always stuck to the bottom. It’s the fastest way around – the shortest way around. Sometimes, there’s not a lot of grip. It’s got good age to it. It’s got some character. There are definitely some things about it that are different than other racetracks we go to. And that’s what we like – that’s what the drivers like. We don’t want to see a Charlotte, a Texas and an Atlanta all the same. They’re all so different. But yet, from the naked eye looking from above, they’re all laid out the same. So, you would think they drive the same. But, they’re completely different.”
Why has Kansas been so difficult for you over the years?
“It’s not that you might not like a track or might not like a race or something like that. It’s just a matter of trying to figure it out. Once you kind of get it figured out or get the right situations kind of lined up, you can have a shot. I look at this place a lot like Michigan. That’s a place where I struggled for a long time, but we finally were able to break through there for a win last year. Of course, just like Michigan, as soon as I figure it out, they are going to repave it just like they are going to do at Kansas, but it would be nice to get a win on the current surface at Kansas before they do the repave just like we were able to do at Michigan.”
Beginning in 2001, Kansas Speedway has only played host to one Sprint Cup race a year until last year when the series visited the track twice in one year. You’ve only run nine races there total. Does that make a difference with how much track time you’ve had there?
“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 much better at Chicago the last two years even though our results didn’t show it, and the guys went to work to bring an even better car to Kansas this weekend and it’s a very similar layout to Chicago. The banking is just a little bit different but, other than that, it’s really similar. 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.”
The Kansas race often has come down to fuel mileage – including three of the last four years. The spring race there came down to fuel and the first two Chase races also came down to fuel mileage. 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.”
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 on 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. Kansas can suck you in and it can suck you in pretty easily – into the wall – so you have to be careful.”