Something Old, Something New
While the inaugural race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta will take place on Saturday night, there are plenty of drivers, teams, and fans who are already quite familiar with the 1.5-mile oval.
One driver with plenty of experience at Kentucky happens to be Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), along with his crew chief Dave Rogers.
At the ripe age of 18, Busch dominated during his first race at Kentucky in 2003 while competing in the ARCA Racing Series for Hendrick Motorsports. He led a race-high 91 laps en route to victory. The Las Vegas native returned to the Bluegrass State the following year, when he again found victory lane, this time in his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Kentucky Speedway. In all, Busch has one win, two top-fives, and has led 311 laps in four Nationwide Series starts at the track. The talented 26-year-old also has two top-10 finishes and 116 laps led in two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Kentucky.
As for Rogers, his bio may list Marshfield, Vt., as his hometown, but the 37-year-old crew chief absolutely owned Kentucky Speedway in 2008 and 2009 while calling the shots for JGR’s No. 20 Nationwide Series team and driver Joey Logano. In their two Nationwide Series starts together at Kentucky, Logano and Rogers won both races from the pole and led a total of 96 laps. The 2008 victory was not only the first of many for the tandem of Rogers and Logano, it was also Logano’s first career Nationwide Series win in just his third start in the series after the young driver celebrated his 18th birthday just one month prior.
Kentucky Speedway opened in 2000 and has hosted a total of 60 major races that include the Nationwide Series (10), Camping World Truck Series (11), IZOD IndyCar Series (11), Firestone Indy Lights Series (nine), and ARCA (19). This weekend’s Sprint Cup race was made possible when NASCAR realigned its schedule and moved the race from Kentucky’s sister facility of Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is also part of the Speedway Motorsports Inc., portfolio of racetracks. But while it’s a brand new track for the Sprint Cup competitors, more than a decade of summers in the hot Kentucky sun, along with dozens of racing events over the last 11 years, have given the 1.5-mile oval plenty of character by way of a wide racing groove and plenty of bumps that will make it challenging for teams and drivers to find the right set-up.
So as the Bluegrass State welcomes Sprint Cup racing for the very first time, a number of drivers, crew chiefs and teams – most notably Busch and Rogers – look to take advantage of their experience of racing and winning already at Kentucky this weekend. That certainly bodes well for the M&M’s team.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Are you looking forward to racing at Kentucky?
“I’m looking forward to getting to Kentucky with our M&M’s Camry. It’s a great opportunity for the speedway to have the triple there this weekend – the Trucks, the Nationwide cars and the Sprint Cup cars there, all together. For their first Sprint Cup weekend, it’s not just a standalone event, and it’s not just a Nationwide Series and Cup Series event. It’s all three. It’s big for the speedway and, hopefully, it will be good for myself, Kyle Busch Motorsports, and Joe Gibbs Racing.”
What type of racing do you expect at Kentucky Speedway?
“I couldn’t expect anything but some good, hard racing. Kentucky is a fast racetrack. There are a lot of sweeping corners, there, so you’ve really got to keep your momentum going and it’s a big momentum-type racetrack. There’s a lot of throttle-on time there. You carry a lot of good speed but, yet, the place is really wide, so you’ve got room for maneuverability. You can run the bottom. It seems like you can run the middle. I don’t know how great the top will be, but we’ll have to see once we get there and what kind of tire we’re on.”
What will be the biggest challenge in a Sprint Cup car at Kentucky Speedway?
“I think the biggest challenge for all of us is just going to be how bumpy the track is and how much load we can distribute through the bump stops in the cars versus through the spring, or hold it down with a shock, and all that stuff. That’s where the biggest balance is going to come from. You know, we can pretty much predict who’s going to run well there. I think Joey (Logano) will do well – I expect him to run well there. And, I expect we can run well there since Dave (Rogers, crew chief) has a lot of experience there. Also, we just have to put it all together and get everything the way you need it to be.”
Are the bumps a problem, or do they add character to Kentucky Speedway?
“I don’t know. I’ve never run there in a Cup car, so I don’t know. It definitely adds character, sure. If the bumps are too harsh and you’re bouncing up the track, or you can’t run in underneath somebody because you’re afraid you’re going to bounce up into them and hit them, obviously, that’s an issue that we’re all faced with.”
Is there an advantage having previously run Nationwide races at Kentucky Speedway?
“I think there’s a little bit there, but not much. We all go to new racetracks. Guys who haven’t ever won there or raced there sometimes win there. Like Jeff Gordon won at Kansas – I think it was, or Chicago or something – when it was new. California, when it was new. I don’t think it means much.”
Did the team learn anything from the tire test that your JGR teammate Joey Logano had last month at Kentucky Speedway?
“The guys just went there and tried to work through some of those things – like the bump stuff and what all we can do to try to make our cars fast around there. We’ll have a whole day of testing when we get there, so I’ll get my taste of it and be able to decipher through the differences from other mile-and-a-half racetracks.”
How long does it take to be comfortable when you go to a new track?
“I don’t think it takes that long. Obviously, I’ve been there before, so I’ve got laps. And, laps mean a lot of experience. It won’t take long.”
Is Kentucky Speedway similar to any other track?
“No, not really. Kentucky’s its own. They all have their own identity. Charlotte is its own versus Texas versus Atlanta. Everybody says they all look the same, but they really don’t drive the same at all. They’re not even close. I think that’s what makes all of those tracks challenging and I’m looking forward to the new challenge in Kentucky this weekend and hoping we can get our M&M’s Camry to victory lane.”
By: joe gibbs racing