‘You Belong at Bristol’
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 15, 2011) – Those who have seen the commercials for Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway over the last year are familiar with the tagline, ‘You Belong at Bristol,’ which extolls the virtues of the exciting racing and the overall fan-friendliness to be enjoyed on and around the .533-mile concrete oval, which has long been a fan favorite on the NASCAR circuit.
Much like Bristol’s loyal patrons, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), also considers the half-mile track one of his favorites, and he’s very much looking forward to Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race there. Look no further than his recent record at the bullring nestled in the mountains of northeast Tennessee and it’s easy to understand why the talented 25-year-old has proven he belongs there, particularly in victory lane.
Busch didn’t immediately take to Bristol, however. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But Busch’s record in his last 10 starts at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” has been nothing short of amazing. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that March 2007 win and, since then, nobody has been better at Bristol than Busch. The Las Vegas native has added three more wins, four top-five finishes and six top-10s in the last seven races contested on the current surface.
While those numbers are impressive, Busch’s most notable Bristol feat occurred in his most recent visit there last August, when he became the first driver in history to win all three of NASCAR’s national touring series events in the same weekend. Busch won the Wednesday-night Camping World Truck Series race, added a win in the Friday-night Nationwide Series race, then wheeled his No. 18 Toyota to victory and into the history books in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race. Busch led four times for a race-high 282 laps in the Sprint Cup race, bringing his weekend total to 514 laps led out of a possible 956.
Busch is also nearing another racing milestone this weekend as he finds himself closing in on the 20,000 career laps led mark across NASCAR’s top three series. His current total is 19,079 career laps led in Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series racing.
With a scheduled 800 total laps of racing on the docket this weekend, Busch can conceivably take a huge chunk out of the 921 laps he needs to lead in in order to reach the magic number of 20,000. At the very least, he’ll be shooting for his fifth Sprint Cup win at the high-banked half-mile oval and look to prove once again why he belongs as Bristol.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How satisfying was it to win all three races at Bristol last August?
“It was pretty cool because, when you come so close and then don’t get it, it’s pretty frustrating. In 2009, we won the Truck race and we were leading the Nationwide race and we got crashed out, and then we ended up winning the Cup race. So, it was probably a year delayed. There have been some other times we’ve come close to getting it done at other places, too. It was pretty special. It was cool to be able to put it all together in a complete weekend, with the truck, with the Nationwide car and with the Cup car.”
What is it about Bristol that you’ve figured out?
“It’s just kind of really worked well together. It’s a fun place that you go to that you like going to. You enjoy the race around there. We grew up at the (Las Vegas Motor Speedway) Bullring and stuff like that. Maybe not as banked as Bristol is, but I love going and racing at Winchester (Ind.), Slinger (Wisc.), and Salem (Ind.), where I’ve raced before. Those are all really high-banked racetracks that are a half-mile in distance, or a quarter. They’re really fun to race around and you kind of get a great feel for racing in a bowl. You go down the straightaway and you slam it into the corners and you mash the gas and you kind of sling right back out of the corners. It’s a lot of fun to do that. It’s kind of an art. Some guys are really good at it, and some find a knack that makes them really good at it and make it seem easy. I remember last spring we were horrible there. You can definitely snap that string pretty quickly.”
What is it about Bristol Motor Speedway that makes it so unique and a place that fans love?
“Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit. All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins, and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 43 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time. We have the SAFER barrier on the outside wall taking up a little bit more racing room up off the corners since they’ve run the wall further down the straightaway. But it’s taking up some racing room and it makes the racing even tighter and we are probably going to see some more action.”
You’ve won four Sprint Cup races at Bristol. What is it that makes you so good there?
“I’m not exactly sure what makes me so good at Bristol. I’ve just had a lot of success there, but I’ve also had some misfortune there, too. Ever since I got through my rookie year, I’ve just taken a liking to the place. Of course, I’ve been able to get some help from my brother. He’s always been really, really good there. But when they changed the track to this current surface, I just really took to it right away. I really liked it and I’ve been fast there but, also, I’ve had great racecars from Joe Gibbs Racing. I’ve been able to win the last three Camping World Truck Series races there, too, so it’s just a fun racetrack no matter what series I’m running there. You really have to be on your game because, you make one mistake or someone else makes one mistake, like what happened in the fall Nationwide Series race there in 2009 with a car with a flat tire coming down the track and essentially ending our day, that’s it. Hopefully, we can keep that good luck going there in the Sprint Cup Series this weekend with our M&M’s Toyota.”
How have you had to change your driving style there since the track was resurfaced?
“Your driving style has had to change at Bristol a lot. Bristol used to be a track where you could charge the corners a little bit and get it right in and down to the bottom of the track. You kind of would go through the middle of the corner and then slingshot out on the exits. And now it’s just so smooth that you’re easy in, you’re kind of easy through the center, and easy off. The track is a little slower than I think it was because they reduced some banking in order to put sort of the progressive banking into it to make the outside groove better for the fans.”
What makes you want to race in all three series during the season?
“For me, it’s experience on the racetrack. You’re able to go out there and you’re able to spend the time on that Goodyear tire for that particular race track for that particular week, whether it’s a day race or a night race. You get all that experience in – that’s what I like to do. I learn so many things during the race that I can correlate to my Nationwide car or my Cup car. I like to be able to give that information to Dave (Rogers, crew chief). Another thing, too, is when I’m working with Eric Philips (18 Truck Series crew chief) and with Jason Ratcliff (18 Nationwide crew chief) – they have way different mindsets and thoughts and processes of how to make a vehicle go better and faster than Dave Rogers might have. I can take all that information I learned all the way back and forth across all three and try to increase the level of competition in all of those. My encyclopedia fills up quickly.”