‘White-Hot’ Heading to New Hampshire
As Kyle Busch and the entire No. 18 team focus on this weekend’s first of two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stops of 2011 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, they’ll hope to keep their “white-hot” streak going after bringing home a dominating win in Saturday night’s Inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
Making things all the more interesting is that Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), now sits atop the Sprint Cup standings heading into Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire. He and his JGR teammates look to begin a critical eight-race summer stretch leading up to race 26 by bringing home another solid result. It’s all in an effort to maximize their position in the standings by the time the series makes its return trip to New Hampshire on Sept. 25 for the second event of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. While New Hampshire is no longer the first race of the Chase, Busch knows that a top-five finish in September would bolster his championship hopes, making this July race key to learning what it takes to win when the series returns in the fall.
The talented 26-year-old has had an up-and-down relationship with the “Magic Mile” throughout his seven-year Sprint cup career. From 2005-2007, Busch notched three top-five finishes while also capturing his first Sprint Cup win at the 1-mile track in July 2006. In his first season with JGR in 2008, Busch & Company struggled woefully at New Hampshire as he brought home finishes of 25th and 34th. The culprit in the September race that year was a broken trackbar mount that essentially erased his championship hopes before they really had a chance to get going.
Most recently, Busch posted finishes of seventh and fifth in 2009 at New Hampshire, along with decent runs of 11th and ninth in 2010 at the 1-mile oval. But Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers know they’ll need to improve their production at New Hampshire in order to be a contender for the championship. Top-five finishes, not top-10 finishes, have proven to be the formula used by five-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and his team during the final 10-race stretch each year.
So far in 2011, Busch and the Interstate Batteries team have shown they have what it takes to give Johnson a run for his money. The Las Vegas native has notched an impressive 10 top-five finishes in 18 starts. Busch, Rogers, and the entire No. 18 team hope to continue their “white-hot” streak this weekend in Interstate Batteries colors, focusing on the things they’ll need to do over the next eight races prior to the start of the Chase. If they achieve their goals, they’ll be in perfect position to chase the ultimate one – a Sprint Cup championship.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What does it take to be successful at New Hampshire?
“Loudon is a pretty particular racetrack. It’s tough. It’s not like Phoenix. It’s not like Dover at all. It’s a flat racetrack and it’s really typical of a tough racetrack to pass on. You can’t just have a really good racecar and finish up front. You have to keep track position. You have to keep up all day and make everything work. We’re excited to have Interstate Batteries back on the car there this weekend and we would really like to get Norm (Miller, Interstate Batteries chairman) and everyone a win and keep our hot streak going.”
Why are there fewer dominant teams and drivers this season?
“I think it’s because everyone’s so equal – competition is so tight. Everybody has a really good sense of this car, now. There’s not much room for leeway in the rulebook for us to get creative and get our cars faster than anybody else’s. You notice it comes down more to the end of the race and strategy and how pit strategy plays out, how fuel mileage plays out. All of that determines who you see in victory lane, rather than somebody coming off pit road eighth or 10th and then being able to pass everybody and get up to the lead. The cars are all so equal, they run the same time. Any time you can get out front and not have to race the guys behind you, it just seems like a better opportunity to put yourself in victory lane.”
You took the points lead last weekend. Do you take any confidence out of that as you try to run well on all types of tracks with the Chase just around the corner?
“That’s something Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and I have talked about and looked at and know that we need to get better at – our mile-and-a-half program. The 11 (teammate Denny Hamlin) was certainly really good at it last year. We’ve been looking a lot at their stuff, trying to figure out why, and what we were doing differently that we could do better to run up front with those guys. It’s good to run well at the intermediate tracks. But, you know, the next steps are, of course, going to be the Chase races that are the mile-and-a-halves, like Chicago, Texas, Charlotte, and Homestead, and places like New Hampshire, where we’ve run well but not consistent enough in the past.”
As you approach 100 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three series, what are some of your favorite NASCAR wins?
“That’s a tough question. I probably can’t even remember 10 of them, to be honest with you. Last weekend at Kentucky certainly ranks right up there, being able to win the first Cup race there. I think (Las) Vegas, winning there in my hometown, was probably the biggest win of my Sprint Cup Series career. I’ve not won the Coke 600 or the Brickyard or the Daytona 500. Vegas is right up there on the top of my list. I’d say the Bristol night race. Guys always talk about how important that one is and how that one feels. There was a Nationwide win earlier this year at Phoenix – I led all the laps – and (at) ORP (now Lucas Oil Raceway), where I almost did the same thing but I didn’t get it done. I missed, like, three. In the Truck Series, I’ve won so many there that I think the best one I remember was the finish at Atlanta with – I think it was – Jack Sprague and Johnny Benson or a couple other guys, where we were racing coming to the stripe and we all wrecked out of turn four and I made it to the line. Those guys weren’t so successful at it. Those are a couple – just the ones off the top of my head, right now. Certainly, hopefully, there will be plenty more.”
How cool would it be if you could get win 100 at the Brickyard, since you haven't won there? Or do you just look at the next race at New Hampshire?
“I’m hoping it comes at Loudon, sorry. Certainly, whenever the next one is, I’ll be cherishing it just as much as I did the last one. To me, I don’t want to wait that long for win 100. Hopefully, we get the opportunity to run up front again and have a chance to win some other races before we get to the Brickyard. Brickyard is still a little ways off. Maybe we can talk about 102 by then.”
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.”