Conquering What Has Been the Unconquerable HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 25, 2009) -- To say Kyle Busch has been rather busy this season might be the understatement of the year. The driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing ...
Conquering What Has Been the Unconquerable
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 25, 2009) -- To say Kyle Busch has been rather busy this season might be the understatement of the year.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has competed in every race in NASCAR's top three divisions thus far in 2009 -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.
To say Busch merely competed might be another monumental understatement. He's won five of the 12 races available to him in 2009 for a staggering winning percentage of 41.6. Busch has found victory lane in two of the three Camping World Truck Series events (Fontana, Calif., and Atlanta), one of the four NASCAR Nationwide Series events (Fontana), and two of the five Sprint Cup events (Las Vegas and Bristol, Tenn.) held thus far.
His second Sprint Cup win and fifth overall NASCAR victory of 2009 at last week's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway inched the talented 23-year-old closer to a record that could well be his before the season is over.
Jeff Gordon holds the record for most Sprint Cup victories before the age of 25 with 15 wins before he hit the quarter-century mark. Busch, who does not turn 25 until May 2, 2010, is now just one win away from tying Gordon and two from surpassing the four-time champion's mark.
This week, in addition to trying to match Gordon's record, Busch will attempt to conquer a track that has been unconquerable to him in his young career.
Of the 30 tracks that will host NASCAR's top three divisions in 2009, Busch has competed at 28 of them at least once and won at 20 of them. One of the eight venues where he has not been victorious is Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the setting for Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 Sprint Cup race.
That's not to say he hasn't been close. Busch has four top-10 finishes in eight Sprint Cup starts at the .526-mile track, including a pair of fourth-place efforts in 2007.
Martinsville Speedway is the smallest track on the Sprint Cup schedule and is shaped like a paperclip with long straightaways, tight corners and a groove about as wide as an M&M's Chocolate Candy.
Because of the tight racing quarters, Busch and the M&M's team have identified four key areas to focus on as they vie for their third Sprint Cup victory of 2009.
The first is a good qualifying effort on Friday to ensure not only a good starting spot, but a good pit stall to help Busch get on and off of pit road as fast as possible. History appears to be on the side of Busch and the No. 18 team in this area, as his last two qualifying efforts at Martinsville has earned Busch the sixth and eighth spots, respectively, on the starting grid.
Along those lines, item number two is Busch's pit crew performing flawless stops, as track position at Martinsville pays more of a premium than anywhere else on the circuit.
Number three on the list is having a good brake package that will last all 500 laps, for throughout the long afternoon, drivers will be at top speed down the long straightaways and then must do all they can to slow the car and get it to roll through the corner before jumping on the gas again. Few, if any, drivers have been successful at Martinsville if they've used up their brakes before covering the race distance.
The fourth and final area of importance is simply having Busch do what he does best -- drive hard and drive smart -- something that hasn't been a problem for him in the last 16 months.
Martinsville requires a total team effort, and if everything comes together with minimal problems, Busch may well find victory at his 21st different track, and earn Martinsville's traditional grandfather clock trophy from track president Clay Campbell for the very first time.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Martinsville Speedway has always been a tough place for you. Last year in particular, the No. 18 team had a tough time there and on some of other flat tracks. What have you and the team done over the off-season to get better at Martinsville?
"I've really struggled at Martinsville in the past. Last year, we really struggled at all the flat tracks, and that's something that Steve (Addington, crew chief) and all the guys at JGR have worked really hard on in the off-season. The best finish I think I've had there is a fourth in Cup and a fourth in Trucks, too. I've got two chances this weekend. Hopefully, we can get one of them. Last year at Martinsville, we had brake issues at both races -- the first race locking up rear brakes and eventually breaking the rear gear, and then overheating the front brakes during the second race and popping right-front (tire) beads. We went and tested at 'Little Rock' (half-mile oval in Rockingham, N.C.) to try and get our brakes squared away and we found out how to pop right-front beads over and over. We fixed that problem. We used to pop them in 46 to 50 laps, and now we can go 80 laps straight and not see a darn issue. We feel like we've got that fixed. Also, you can work on a little bit of set-up stuff."
Much has been made about your relationship with your team this week, but sometimes everyone only gets to see things when things haven't gone well. What kind of relationship do you have with your guys out of the public eye?
"Those guys know that I love them. I was just over at JGR today (Tuesday) to be a part of the victory lunch from the Las Vegas race that we had set up even before Bristol. Those guys know that I trust everything they do. And, you know what? I truly believe they are the best on pit road, so when they make a mistake, it shocks me. They know that I give that same effort out on the racetrack. And when I make a mistake, it shocks them, too. You'll have some days where the guys on pit road just have an off-day or an off-stop. I have off days. I wrecked in Vegas, for no reason, 25 laps into the Nationwide race, and that's 100-percent my fault. It all boils down to being a team. You win as a team and lose as a team. It's frustrating when that stuff happens, but those guys know I believe in them and I believe those guys believe in me. There are a lot of emotions that come out in the heat of the battle, but they know I believe in them and that's what matters."
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 that you can change about that racetrack to stay out of trouble, at times. Basically, you can be leading the race and have a wreck in front of you while you are trying to lap some guys. Really, it's no different than Bristol last week."
Are there tracks where qualifying matters more than others?
"At the short tracks, you really like to qualify up front, especially at Martinsville. It's hard to pass there. Martinsville and Loudon (N.H.) are places where it's hard to pass, and sometimes pit strategy helps. Sometimes, you can't really do much to get yourself positioned up front, and you would rather qualify up front for those."