Kyle Busch - Rolling the Dice
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch might know a thing or two about “rolling the dice,” but heading into this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron’s 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, there might be no track on the circuit that’s as much of a “crapshoot” as the mammoth 2.66-mile oval.
I think what they are looking for is just to keep the speeds down, obviously.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. But, with only three other top-15 finishes and three Talladega outings that ended in an accident for Busch, the talented 25-year-old knows the winner of Sunday’s 499-mile race will need to have a strong car and be lucky in order to survive the seemingly inevitable multicar accident if he is to find victory again at NASCAR’s longest track.
And as if the challenges of the past weren’t enough for teams to navigate, a completely new style of restrictor-plate racing was introduced at this year’s season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway as a new front bumper replaced what was an important but fragile front splitter on Sprint Cup Series cars this year. With that front-end design change came a whole new phenomenon of racing at the restrictor-plate tracks. Until this year, the typical race at Daytona and Talladega would feature lengthy lines of cars that would bunch together, mere inches apart. But the new look to restrictor-plate racing, as seen at Daytona, involves cars running in pairs, almost as if the rear of the lead car is connected to the front bumper of the car following.
It’s a style of racing no driver or team has seen before. And everyone, including Busch and the M&M’s Pretzel team, look to learn more as the two-car draft evolves, and how it might be different this weekend at Talladega than it was in February at Daytona. Furthermore, unlike most everywhere else on the Sprint Cup circuit, the competitors know their fate depends on other drivers, oftentimes not even their teammates, if they want to find success in this new style of restrictor-plate racing.
If Busch has learned anything at the restrictor-plate tracks, it’s that you have to be good to be lucky. He knows he has great equipment underneath him, thanks to the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota provided to him by JGR. He also knows he’ll need to slice and dice, and find the right draft partner to help him land on the right number, which first means surviving Talladega, and second, having a chance at repeating his lone triumph there from three years ago.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: What are your thoughts going into Talladega this weekend?
“It’s going to be a crapshoot. You have no idea what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. For us, what do we worry about going there? We just worry about surviving and trying to survive with our M&M’s Pretzel Camry. Right now, with the way that we saw the race play out in Daytona, we’re expecting the same thing – NASCAR is expecting the same thing and that’s why we had the restrictor-plate change, already. They’re being a little bit proactive in that, and allowing us to get some testing done – some dyno testing with the smaller plate so we can be ready for that aspect. I expect speeds to be higher because we’ll be pushing all the way around. Other than that, it’s just Talladega.”
How do you think the new restrictor-plate size will impact the racing at Talladega?
“I think what they are looking for is just to keep the speeds down, obviously, with how we all figured out how to push draft. They were expecting the speeds. We didn’t push draft all that much last year at Talladega. They’re going to be expecting us to do that. They’re going to be expecting the speeds to be higher. They’re just being a little proactive there. No problem in doing that. I think it’s actually a smart idea rather than changing it on us when we do get to the racetrack. They did a good job. I don’t think it will change much. The racing will stay the same. The push draft will still be there. Essentially, the dynamic of the race like it was in Daytona will be the same in Talladega.”
You never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from.
Who is your favorite drafting partner at Talladega?
“I don’t know, since things were so different at Daytona. I’ve drafted well with a lot of people over the past, but I would say (Juan Pablo) Montoya helped me win the race I won at Talladega a couple of years ago. Jimmie (Johnson) is always pretty good to draft with. My brother (Kurt Busch), as well, but many more than that. It just all depends on which other cars end up working well with your car. Aside from out teammates, we had about another 10 guys who we thought would work with us in our radio at Daytona, so I’ll expect we will figure out what other car works well with our car during practice and during the first part of the race.”
Does being a former race winner at Talladega offer you any sort of advantage over the competition?
“It doesn’t matter at all. It’s such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from.”
What does it mean to be up toward the lead in points this early in the season?
“It is early, but we’re excited about it. We feel like it’s a great opportunity to be up front and have some good results. Unfortunately, our engine failure at Las Vegas kind of set us back a little bit. We’ve been able to rebound nicely and get back up to the points lead and we’re not too far back headed into this weekend. I feel good with where we’re at. I feel really good with where the cars are at. I think that’s the most important thing. If we can keep building upon this momentum and our recent success, then we can keep that going all year, hopefully.”