By Joe Gibbs Racing
While Kyle Busch is often a force to be reckoned with on the ovals each and every week in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he feels some of the most fun he has on a racetrack all season long is on the series’ two road courses.
For that very reason, Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is looking forward to having fun turning left and right as the Sprint Cup Series visits scenic Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350k.
While the road-course races have always been fun for the talented 26-year-old, his road-course fun meter jumped a notch higher shortly after joining JGR in 2008. That year, he dominated the road-course scene, leading 130 of a total of 202 Sprint Cup road-course laps and capturing victories at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Much like other NASCAR regulars who are known to be strong on the road courses – most notably Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon – Busch quickly established himself three seasons ago as a routine road-course contender.
After getting shut out on the road courses the past two seasons with a couple of strong runs at Watkins Glen in the mix, Busch has made it known that he thoroughly enjoys the change of pace that road-course racing has to offer outside of the other 34 points-paying Sprint Cup events that take place on ovals. The fourth-year JGR driver, who already has two Sprint Cup wins to his credit this season, also hopes the 10-turn, 1.99-mile venue in Sonoma will add to the string of strong runs the M&M’s Pretzel team has experienced in recent weeks.
Busch and Company currently sit fourth in the standings, trailing championship-leader Carl Edwards by just 29 points. Additionally, Busch has notched back-to-back third-place finishes at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Those finishes are even more impressive considering they occurred at two tracks the Las Vegas native had struggled at until this year.
So, as the Sprint Cup Series heads to its annual stop in Northern California’s Wine Country, Busch already knows Sunday will be “Funday.”. The big question, however, is will he be able to have even more fun by repeating his Sonoma win from 2008.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Do you enjoy road-course racing?
“The road courses are fun. For me, I enjoy it. It’s pretty cool to go out there and race the road courses. You get to turn right, turn left and everything, so it’s fun. Sonoma is more technical just because there are more turns and it’s a little bit slower. You have to concentrate on getting off the corner a little bit and have good forward bite. Sonoma, in our M&M’s Pretzel Toyota, is going to be fun, going out there and seeing what these cars have this year. It will be a fun race, though. I always look forward to going up there and challenging the road course.”
How challenging is it to race against road-course specialists who you might not race against on a regular basis?
“It’s different, already. There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do. The neat thing about road racing is just being able to have – it’s like a vacation weekend. You just go out there and have fun and do the best you can and you’ll either do really well or you’ll do really bad and you just go on to the next one. We do have some testing for it and you try to pick up on it but, with respect to who you’re racing, you can expect to race a little bit of a different crowd. (Marcos) Ambrose has been really good this year, so we’ve been racing him more and more on the ovals. Juan Pablo (Montoya), the same thing. Jimmie (Johnson) has been a lot better at the road courses, so now you race against him, you race against Tony Stewart. A lot of the guys who race well at both, you race against every week.”
Is it important in your career to have a road-course win?
“I think it's pretty good. I think it’s great to be able to have wins at all types of facilities. I think, in ’08, when I won the road-course races, I also won the road-course race in Mexico. That was a big road-course year for me, for some reason. I just clicked at all of them. We’ve run top-five and top-10 since but haven’t quite been the car to beat at those road courses. I enjoy that type of racing and I’d like to get back to it and it’s cool, the opportunity that comes at Sonoma.”
You’re coming off of two consecutive strong runs at places where you’ve struggled in the past. Does that give you more confidence as we get closer to the Chase?
“For sure. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and all the M&M’s guys have done a really good job bringing me good racecars to the track every week, and we are showing up prepared and running well at places I’ve struggled. At Michigan, I certainly would have been excited to win, but I know if we could get a third-place finish every week, we would have a shot at the championship. That’s what we are all focused on, right now, and the guys have stayed focused and I’ve been able to stay focused, as well.”
What’s your favorite part of racing at Infineon?
“The elevation changes can make it a lot of fun but, in the beginning, I was lost at Infineon, to be honest with you. I raced Legends cars and other road courses five years ago and learned the technique and stuff of shifting and braking and all that, and then got to the Cup cars, and they are so different. I was just lost. I give a lot of that credit to testing with Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) a lot of times and learning a lot from those guys when I was at Hendrick and working with them. And, of course, more of that expertise goes to Max Papis, who was our test driver at Hendrick, and learning stuff from him and reading reports that he did and picking up on it, following guys like Boris Said and Robby Gordon, the guys who are good at it and are fast at it