Not All Road Courses Are Created Equal
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Aug. 9, 2011) – The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ two annual visits to road courses may look similar to some casual fans, but to Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), there’s a stark contrast from Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, site of Sunday’s Helluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen.
So much so that Busch describes how different the two road course layouts are by comparing Infineon to Martinsville, the smallest Sprint Cup oval, while comparing Watkins Glen to Talladega, the longest oval on the circuit.
Even though both road circuits are very much different, one thing they do have in common for Busch is that the talented 26-year-old always feels as if he has a shot to win whenever he visits Infineon each June, and Watkins Glen each August.
For a racer who grew up on the short track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway known as the “Bullring,” Busch has always had a soft spot for the oval tracks, and short tracks in particular. But, even though he grew up on the short-track scene, he has taken to road-course racing quite well, especially since joining JGR at the beginning of 2008. That year, he dominated at the road courses, leading 130 of the total 202 laps contested en route to victories at both Infineon and Watkins Glen.
As if that weren’t enough, Busch started things off in April of that year by capturing his first road-course victory of any kind when he competed with the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, where he led twice for a total of 22 laps on his way to victory lane.
So while Busch’s success on the road courses in recent years reflects his newfound enjoyment of mixing right turns with lefts, he stands firm in his belief that two road-course races per year are quite a different experience for him and his M&M’s team. As for this weekend at The Glen, Busch hopes a healthy dose of right turns helps him navigate his way right to victory lane in a repeat performance of his 2008 win there. The precious bonus points – two for each win scored during the 26-race “regular season” – would certainly come in handy with the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup starting just five races after the checkered flag flies on Sunday.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What is the difference for drivers at Watkins Glen compared to Sonoma?
“Sonoma is kind of like Martinsville and Watkins Glen is kind of like Talladega. That’s how different they are. Watkins Glen seems like it’s an easier road course for these cars and for us to be on. They’re not as agile as other sports cars are. We’re 3,400-pound racecars where other sports cars are maybe 2,500 or 2,800 pounds. You can throw them around a lot easier. Their brakes are a lot better and they stop a lot better. With as big and heavy of tanks as these (Sprint Cup cars have), we seem to have a problem, already, not running into each other, let alone being on a tight road course like Sonoma certainly adds a challenge.”
Can you afford to gamble on fuel mileage at Watkins Glen?
“We certainly can. We’re in the predicament that we can take some pretty good gambles like we did at Indy recently. We were going to finish about 30th if we didn’t do what we did there and come in and get fuel and try to stretch it the three laps we were short. In doing that, it gave us a good finish and it gave us a top-10 finish, so that was good. Watkins Glen, we can probably do the same thing if we need to with our M&M’s Camry.”
What does it take to be successful at Watkins Glen?
“At Watkins Glen, the biggest thing is pit strategy. Obviously, you’ve got to pick and choose when you’re going to pit and stick to your plan. Whether or not we can still do it on two stops, I’m unsure because Sonoma turned into a three-stop race for us all because the new fuel mileage is a little bit off than what we were here last year with the old fuel. Watkins Glen though, you definitely have got to be good at being able to carry speed, obviously, through the esses and down the long backstretch. That seems to be the key part to the racetrack.”
Will we see a lot of drivers getting into each other at Watkins Glen like we did at Sonoma?
“I think you will. Yeah, you’ll see a little bit of it, especially on restarts and stuff like that. Watkins Glen is a place where we get a little bit more spread out throughout the run. Certainly, there are some areas where some guys can make some moves. Like, getting into turn one, you can out-brake somebody really good. Getting into the bus stop, you can out-brake somebody pretty good there, too. It’s like Marcos (Ambrose) did to me in 2009, I think it was in the Nationwide Series. If you out-brake somebody getting in there and you both are already on so much edge, one of you is going to have to give. If you’re that guy on the inside, you’re going to run into the guy on your left and you’re going to put him off into the island, there, in the grass. You’ve got to be conscious of that. That’s why I got out of the way and stopped when I had my problem there.”
Do you prefer Watkins Glen over Infineon Raceway?
“No, not really. I like both road courses. They’re both fun. For me, road racing is enjoyable. You get a chance to turn right and turn left and do something different than what you typically do. For me, I’m excited about it. Hopefully, we have a good shot at running well there again this year with our M&M’s Camry. We won three years ago and finished fourth and eighth there the last couple of years, so we’ve been decent and, hopefully this time around, we’ll do the same.”
When did you become better at road-course racing?
“I think I really hit it probably in ’07, when I was still at Hendrick. I think I finished 10th out at Sonoma, or something. We had an OK day. But then, at Watkins Glen, I think I was running fifth or fourth, just passed Jeff Gordon, and that’s when my track bar broke and I went six laps down fixing that, got all the ‘Lucky Dogs’ to get back on the lead lap, and finished 12th. But we were really fast and we were good. I took that experience from ’07 into ’08 with the M&M’s car and Joe Gibbs Racing and we swept both races and were pretty good at it. I feel like I’m a relatively good road-course racer. It took me a little bit to get used to it, to figure out how hard to charge the corners or how hard not to charge the corners, and different braking techniques.”