KYLE BUSCH Hail to the Victor HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Aug. 13, 2008) -- If there was a theme song for Kyle Busch's 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the most obvious choice would be the fight song of his favorite college football team, ...
Hail to the Victor
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Aug. 13, 2008) -- If there was a theme song for Kyle Busch's 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the most obvious choice would be the fight song of his favorite college football team, the University of Michigan.
As the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) makes a return trip to Michigan International Speedway (MIS) for Sunday's 3M Performance 400 race, the talented 23-year old will hope to be the one singing "Hail to the Victors" at a facility that sits just 40 miles from the U of M's Ann Arbor campus.
His Sprint Cup victory march continues to run like a well-oiled machine, as he's won a series-high eight times already this season. Last Sunday, he thoroughly dominated the Sprint Cup field and once again took his signature post-race victory bow on the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. With that win, he became the first driver since his JGR teammate Tony Stewart in 2005 to sweep both road course events in the same season.
Busch's eight victories have already helped him clinch the Chase for the Sprint Cup's top seed with the 80 bonus points those wins provide. Sunday at Michigan, Busch can become the first driver to clinch a Chase berth by finishing 10th or better.
In addition to his spectacular Sprint Cup season, the Las Vegas native has had a record-breaking season across NASCAR's top three series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck -- as last Sunday's Watkins Glen Sprint Cup win was his 16th overall. When he won the Nationwide Series race at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis in late July, Busch broke a tie with Kevin Harvick (14 total wins in 2006) for the most overall victories in a season since the addition of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Ironically, Busch's season has been so dominant that many openly wondered that he might be losing steam following back-to-back finishes of 15th and 36th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, respectively, in recent weeks. But just as he has done several times this season, when he and the No. 18 team show any signs of opening the door for their competitors to sneak in, Busch slammed it shut yet again at Watkins Glen. Earlier this season, Busch followed a 43rd-place finish at Pocono and a 13th-place finish at Michigan with a win on the Infineon Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif. The very next week, he finished a disappointing 25th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, but then followed a week later with a win at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
So, will competitors finally find a chink in the armor of Busch and his Interstate Batteries team this weekend? If the first 22 races this season are any indication, the No. 18 team might again be the ones singing "Hail to the Victors" on Sunday night. But this time, fittingly enough, it would be within earshot of Ann Arbor.
KYLE BUSCH: Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry at Michigan International Speedway
What are your overall thoughts on heading back to Michigan International Speedway for the second time?
"It's just a fun place to race. It's wide-open racing and you can run from top to bottom. The biggest thing is just trying to get grip here. Some guys are able to get it, other guys can't. You can get it for maybe five laps and then you're just out to lunch. The biggest thing is just trying to make your car comfortable and make it last throughout a whole tire run and, of course, make it fast, too. Yeah, the wide race track is good. That's what makes Michigan so exciting and so fun. That's the biggest deal about it. For me, coming to Michigan, I tend to run well here, for whatever reason, and the biggest deal is trying to finish, and finish up front. We ran toward the front there in June, but we ended up making a late pit stop, and with all the fuel mileage strategy that was going on, we ended up getting shuffled back. We've had some great runs with the car that we are bringing this weekend, so I'm hoping we can improve on our June finish and keep the momentum going from last week's win."
You are a big fan of the University of Michigan football team. How did you become a fan?
"My brother moved up to Michigan years ago to run in the Craftsman Truck series and he went to a Michigan game. He bought me a Michigan sweatshirt and sent it home for me. I never really paid attention to college football until then, but I became a Michigan fan. Not too complicated of a story, but it's fun to be able to follow them when I have a Saturday afternoon off in the fall. I was lucky enough to be able to go to their practice last fall and get to know a few of the guys. You always respect people who are as competitive as you are, and they certainly have the same drive to win that I do."
You had a lot of people questioning you after tough finishes in back-to-back races at Indianapolis and Pocono. Do you ever question yourself when you have those types of races, or do you just need to quickly put them behind you and focus on the next race?
"We'd love to be the best every week, but it's not going to happen. We've got to take our bad weeks in stride and move on quickly. Last week was last week, and this week is always a new week. That's why, when you have a good week and you win, like this past weekend, you try to keep as level-headed as you can because you know the bad weeks are going to be there, too. I said from the beginning of the year that we just wanted to keep riding and keep going in the way that we have been. And, fortunately, we've been able to do that. Yeah, there have been a couple of weeks when you might fall back a little bit. But you look at Pocono and we were running fourth before we ran out of gas. And then at Indy, we were running in the top-10 much of the day and circumstances just kept us from finishing there. You've got to keep it going in the right direction and not let one particular week get to you. You have to keep the mountains and valleys as close as possible."
When you are getting this close to the Chase, do you have a little bit of a go-for-broke attitude, knowing that you can keep giving yourself as big of a jump in the Chase as you can and take more chances? In other words, when you keep winning like you are, is it a bit of a mental game with other teams that are chasing you?
"We're just out here to race our race and concentrate on making our car the fastest at the beginning of the weekend and then go out there and try to race with the rest of these guys. We know the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) is strong, but it took him a little longer than normal to get going this year. Carl (Edwards) has been tough all year, especially on tracks like where we are going this weekend in Michigan. The (No.) 9 car (Kasey Kahne) has looked good at times and has had bright spots. You also can't count out Tony (Stewart) and Denny (Hamlin), even though they don't have the wins to show for it. (No. 18 crew chief) Steve (Addington) and I know what kind of equipment and people they have, and the Chase really even things out for a lot of guys. We just need to keep doing what we've been doing and we'll be fine. We can't control how everyone else runs, but if we can keep doing what we have been, there's a chance we can get all of them second-guessing themselves, at times. You've just got to keep going, and those statements will be made, but you can't concentrate on them. You have to worry about what you can control."
Your confident attitude is questioned at times, but is that also what helps you strive to be as good as you can each weekend?
"I'd rather people dislike me for who I am than like me for someone I'm not. Everyone wants to be cheered, but I can certainly handle it if I'm not because I know I go out there and put out my best effort each time I race. To me, if you want to like me for who I am, that's fine. I just am who I am. I'm out there to be a fierce competitor and I've got a drive and a fire inside me to go out there and be the best I can with the ultimate goal of winning."