KYLE BUSCH Hello, Chase: It^Ã’s So Very Nice To See You HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 15, 2010) - It may seem like an eternity ago, already, but it's been just 10 months since Kyle Busch hoisted his first-ever NASCAR championship trophy, essentially...
Hello, Chase: It^Òs So Very Nice To See You
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 15, 2010) - It may seem like an eternity ago, already, but it's been just 10 months since Kyle Busch hoisted his first-ever NASCAR championship trophy, essentially running away with the 2009 Nationwide Series title.
It turned out to be the ultimate consolation prize for the talented 25-year-old from Las Vegas, driver of the No 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, for while he continued to set record after record en route to the Nationwide title over the final three months of the season, he also ended up on the outside looking in when it came to the all-important Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. He missed locking down one of the coveted 12 Chase spots by a mere eight points and was relegated to competing for merely race wins over the final 10 Sprint Cup events with no chance at capturing NASCAR's top prize.
Not so this year for Busch, whose crew chief Dave Rogers hails from nearby Marshfield, Vt. He had his Chase spot safely in his hip pocket even before taking the green flag for the final race of the regular season last weekend at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. And with a trifecta of top-five finishes at the last three events - a milestone victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway that capped an unprecedented sweep of all three NASCAR touring series event wins in the same weekend, followed by a fifth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., and a solid second-place run to JGR teammate Denny Hamlin last Saturday night at Richmond - Busch and the No. 18 Toyota team are on a roll heading into Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and the traditional kickoff to the 10-race Chase.
After finishing the 26-race regular season second to Kevin Harvick in the point standings, Busch begins this year's Chase tied with Harvick for third in the adjusted standings with 5,030 points each for the fellow three-time winners this season, They are 20 markers behind second-place and four-time-defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, and 30 points behind top-ranked Hamlin.
No matter the outcome of Sunday's Chase opener, it's guaranteed to be an eventful next 10 weekends for Busch and his fellow Chase competitors. Certainly, it will be more satisfying than it was a year ago for Busch. And, Busch says, he looks to benefit greatly this time around thanks to his experience of winning the Nationwide Series championship in 2009. Ah, the thrill of the Chase.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How important is it to get off to a good start in the Chase this week at New Hampshire?
"If you run well for the first five races, and then you go to Talladega and struggle, you'll at least have a cushion built up. You want to always try to build a cushion as big as you can. You don't want to start from behind. For me, I feel like it's really important to come out of the gate strong and to run well with our M&M's Camry. It's no different than, say, the beginning of the year. I always feel like the beginning part of the year is the most important - the first 10 or 12 races is the most important to get your footing and to get yourself set solidly in the point standings because then you have a little bit to lose. You might go a week or two here or there where you finish 20th or worse, but you have something that you can lose a little bit. You definitely want to get through the first five at least strong, where you have a good setting and then just kind of work toward the rest of the year, keeping what you have and, of course, maybe even getting away from some guys."
What questions do you have going into the Chase regarding what might happen?
"I think the things I look at right now, of course, what racetracks are in the Chase and I know that. We've known that for a few years, now. At which of those racetracks do I tend to run well at, I really like, or seem to know that I might have a chance of struggling at. Right now, looking at it, I look at Kansas as kind of being a struggle point. I look at Talladega - nobody really knows. And Martinsville, I ran really well there this spring and had a shot to finish second. Unfortunately, I got wrecked after a pit stop. You can have a second-place run going, or even a win going, and pit late in the going and then go back out and get wrecked. You just never know what might transpire. Loudon, I'm looking forward to. We ran third there in the spring. We were running with Jeff Burton there before getting spun and finished 11th. Dover, we won. Charlotte's been a pretty good track for me. I like going there. California has been good for us. Homestead was good for us last year. There are some good highlights there. I feel that we can really run strong."
How do you deal with the emotions of racing in the Chase?
"I think you have every emotion in the last 10 races. You have anxiety, frustration, nervousness, excitement - all of it can set in at any given point. I don't think it's going to take 10 error-free races, but in those races where you do have an error, it's how well you can bounce back from it. For instance, Talladega - if an error happens there and you get caught up in a wreck, can you even come back out? Who knows, if your car is demolished and destroyed, you're pretty much done. You have to wait for next week and then try to make it all back up. If you can, you need to get through these 10 weeks solidly with an average finish of probably - I think Jimmie (Johnson) even lowered it last year to, like - 6.4. It's going to be tough to get and you're going to have to get a couple of wins because you know you're going to have a couple of runs that may be 10th to 15th, so to get that average, you're going to have to knock that back down."
Are you comfortable when the emotions start to change in the Chase?
"Yes and no. I went through a little bit of it last year with the Nationwide Series championship and kind of learned a little bit about how to deal with it and how to pay attention to some of them and try to forget about others. For me, it was a really good experience last year to go after that Nationwide (championship). Of course, the pressure isn't quite what it's going to be this year, I assume, but I still feel like it was something worth going through and understanding and feeling. Now, this weekend, I'm pretty excited about carrying through into the Chase this year."
How do you view where you start the Chase?
"I don't feel it's that important. A lot of guys want to be the top seed or want to have the most wins and, obviously, the further up you start, the more you don't have to make up somewhere else. In order to win this championship and finish strong, you're going to have to run well. Those 10 points that you're going to get for a win to start this Chase off aren't going to mean a whole lot when you finish 43rd two weeks in a row. It's not going to do anything for you. You just have to build the consistency over the last 10 races. Where you start, it doesn't really matter. We could come out of Loudon and - trying to think of who's in and who's winless - (Jeff) Gordon or (Clint) Bowyer could be leading the points coming out of the first one. Granted, some other guys have more issues than not. It's a mathematical possibility, but whether it happens or not, I don't think you'll see it. It can certainly turn out that way."
What's different about New Hampshire that you enjoy, as opposed to another flat track like Phoenix?
"New Hampshire is a fun track for me, as a driver, even though it was a tough year there last year. It's flat like Phoenix and Milwaukee, but it's a little bit tricky. In order to do well there, you need a car that works on all the different kinds of asphalt the tracks seem to be putting down. You need a car that has a lot of side bite in the rear and front grip to turn easier. At New Hampshire, it seems like I've always been loose into the corner and tight in the center, which is hard to fix, sometimes. I think the team that can fix that the best will have the best car."