Hoping Finally To Be ‘Top Dog’ at Martinsville
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 29, 2011) – One look at Kyle Busch’s burgeoning trophy case reveals an assortment of trophies for his now 91 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three series, which includes 20 Sprint Cup Series wins.
But even though Busch, driver of the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has more trophies than he probably knows what to do with, there’s one glaring omission – the seven-foot-tall clock that Martinsville (Va.) Speedway president Clay Campbell’s late grandfather and track founder, H. Clay Earles, decided to award his race winners after teaming up with a local clock company almost five decades ago.
Needless to say, Busch, the talented 25-year-old driver, has his sights set on getting that long-awaited maiden victory at Martinsville, the site of Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Of the 23 venues that will host Sprint Cup events in 2011, Busch has won at least once in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck – at 20 of those venues. There are only three current Sprint Cup tracks – Martinsville, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway – where Busch has not scored a victory in any of NASCAR’s top three series.
Despite the lack of a Martinsville grandfather clock, Busch has plenty of reasons for optimism this weekend, considering how he ran on the .526-mile paperclip-shaped oval during the spring and fall races in 2010.
Last March, in his first full season under the guidance of crew chief Dave Rogers, the Las Vegas native was running in second place when a late-race caution forced a decision by the No. 18 team to pit late in the race, costing precious track position. Then, after making contact with Paul Menard on the ensuing restart, Busch was forced to settle for a 22nd-place finish. Although it was a hugely disappointing way to end the weekend, Busch and Rogers left with the feeling they were capable of winning at Martinsville and backed it up with a solid fourth-place run in the October event. In all, Busch has recorded five top-10s in his 12 Sprint Cup starts there, including four fourth-place efforts. Those fourth-place runs came the spring and fall of 2007, the fall of 2009, and that most recent run last October.
So, as Busch heads to Martinsville this weekend with the bright colors of Pedigree brand dog food adorning his No. 18 JGR Toyota, he’s focused on finishing just a few notches higher than his last visit, so he can call himself “top dog” at the legendary racetrack and finally take home that much sought-after grandfather clock to showcase in his already large collection of trophies.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
The only three drivers who’ve won at a short track in the last couple of years are Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and you. Among that group, you are the only one without a win at Martinsville. For you, what makes Martinsville different from the other short tracks on the circuit?
“I’m getting better at Martinsville, so watch out this weekend with our Pedigree Camry. I think Denny has that place pretty figured out. He’s going to be hard to beat there, that’s for sure. But with my success at Bristol and Richmond, it’s been fun and I feel like Martinsville has been getting better for us. We’re getting there. Thanks to Dave (Rogers, crew chief), we’ve really worked hard at that. We kind of feel like we have a baseline – a better baseline that we can unload with and be faster off the truck. That’s a big benefit for us. As far as having the same three guys winning all the short-track races in recent years, you know, just look at the competition today. At Bristol, there were some good cars that raced up front and battled up front at times during the race. They didn’t quite have it when it mattered most, to keep themselves up front and in position to win the race. That’s what we did and, probably what you see from the three guys who do that every time, it’s that they’re just a little bit better at being able to do that.”
Are you still trying to figure out Martinsville, and are you comfortable racing there, now?
“If I had Jeff Gordon’s or Jimmie Johnson’s success there, then I would be comfortable going there. I’ve had some decent runs there, where I’ve felt like we’ve had a car to win and had a shot to win. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the track position toward the end of the race. Jeff (Gordon) is so good there, and Jimmie (Johnson) and Denny (Hamlin) are also good there. They are probably the three most difficult guys to pass there because they know the place. They know how to get off the corner and how to roll the middle of the corner there. Everything is timing, and their stuff just works, whatever it is.”
You are tied with Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty for most wins before age 26. What are your thoughts on that?
“I beat them to 25, but they beat me to 26. I didn’t win enough this year from May 2 (birthday) to May 2. There are still some opportunities for some more wins. Essentially that’s what it tells me. That’s what I read into it when you say I was the highest winner to 25, but now I’m not to 26. It’s interesting. It has all come at such a young age, but there have been guys who have been here at a young age, too, who have been just as successful. You say the guys – (Richard) Petty and (Jeff) Gordon – and (Jimmie) Johnson is another one of those guys. He wasn’t quite as young, but when you look at his career and how long he’s been here from 2002 – his rookie year to where he is now – going on 10 seasons, 54 wins or whatever it’s been. He’s a guy you look at and say, ‘Man, he’s done a lot in a short period of time, and five championships and everything else.’ Never finishing outside the top-five or 10 in points, or whatever. He’s a guy everybody would like to be if they had their choice and could pick somebody to follow after. We’ll see how things go here in the next few weeks, and next few years and through my career, but all in all it’s been good, so far. There’s plenty more time for it to grow.”
What is it that makes Martinsville so different when it looks so similar to other short tracks?
“Every track is different. There aren’t two racetracks out there that are the same. Everybody says that Atlanta, Texas, Charlotte, those places, are the same because they look the same from the sky. But they are so, so different. They say Chicago is the same as Kansas and (Las) Vegas, and those places are so different. California and Michigan, they’re so different. I would say that probably the closest racetrack that I grew up racing on was in San Bernardino, Calif. – it was Orange Show Speedway. That’s closest to what Martinsville is. I only ran Legends cars there, so it’s not a true telling. It was only a quarter-mile. It’s just a tough place because you’re so hard on brakes, but your minimum speed there – everybody’s is – the same, pretty much. Except, there are a couple of guys who will get a half-mile-an-hour faster through the center of the corner, and that is the difference between the pole speed and being dead last. You’re looking to find things that will make your car just that much faster there. You want to drive into the corner one foot deeper than that other guy. You want to step on the gas one foot sooner than that other guy and you want to roll a half-mile-an-hour better than that other guy. That’s why it’s so finicky and so hard there because everybody runs so tight that, any little thing you can find, it can help a lot.”
How do you approach Martinsville, since track position is so important there?
“It’s just a short racetrack and you’ve got to try to have a good car. But it’s hard to have a good car there with the field as tight as it is. Qualifying up front seems to help out a little bit. We know who the guys are who are going to be tough there. Really, there’s nothing you can change about that racetrack to stay out of trouble. Basically, you can be leading the race and have a wreck in front of you while you are trying to lap some guys, and that could be it.”