Phoenix II: Kyle Busch preview

KYLE BUSCH Something to Build Upon HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 11, 2009) -- As the laps wound down in last Sunday's Dickies 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, it appeared as if Kyle Busch and the No. 18...

KYLE BUSCH
Something to Build Upon

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 11, 2009) -- As the laps wound down in last Sunday's Dickies 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, it appeared as if Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team were destined for a magical Hollywood-style ending.

Busch had already won Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, then followed it up by winning Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series event, putting the talented 24-year-old in position to make history in hopes as the first driver to win all three of NASCAR's top-tier events on the same weekend.

Adding further drama to the storyline, Busch welcomed a new crew chief in Dave Rogers, who made his debut with No. 18 Toyota team and quickly showed why he had been tabbed by Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) for the job. With Rogers atop the pitbox, Busch led six times for a race-high 232 laps.

As fate would have it, the Hollywood ending just wasn't meant to be as Busch's fuel tank ran dry with just three laps remaining, dropping him to a heartbreaking 11th-place finish, but still left him hopeful for the remaining two races of 2009 and beyond.

While Sunday's finish at Texas turned out to be anything but storybook material for Busch, the driver of the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota Camry for JGR will look to build upon the momentum from last weekend as he and Rogers tackle this weekend's Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

Making the crew chief change with three races remaining is all about getting a head start on communication and learning lessons to build upon for a championship run in 2010. So while the future for Busch and Rogers already looks bright, they also already showed last weekend what they are capable of accomplishing together.

And this weekend in Phoenix, Busch will have the added bonus of working at a track that has been his home away from home. Busch has nine Sprint Cup starts at the 1-mile oval in the desert which is just 300 miles south from his hometown of Las Vegas. He has six top-10 finishes, one pole (spring 2006) and scored his second-ever Sprint Cup victory there in November 2005 Checker Auto Parts 500k in his first start at the "Diamond in the Desert."

Busch's overall resume at Phoenix isn't too shabby, either, considering he has won two of the last four Nationwide Series races at Phoenix, has six top-10 finishes in eight Nationwide starts, and has won the pole three times. He also scored a Camping World Truck Series victory in November 2007 and, in his four Truck Series starts at Phoenix, he's never qualified worse than 16th or finished worse than 11th.

A special guest will ride along with Busch for Sunday's race courtesy of primary sponsor Pedigree, as an image of "Kasey," a four-year-old rescue dog, will adorn on Busch's Pedigree Toyota. Proud owners Joan and Charles Petit of Kellar, Texas, submitted the winning entry for Pedigree's "Luckiest Dog" contest and will be treated to a three-day/two-night trip to the race, where they'll see their four-legged friend's face turning laps around the mile oval in-person.

As the Pedigree Racing driver treks further West for this weekend's festivities, he's hoping -- unlike was the case at Texas -- that Kasey the rescue dog makes him the "Lucky Dog" that brings home his second Sprint Cup win at Phoenix and finish the job he started a week earlier.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:

What has it been like to win 19 times across the top-three series in NASCAR this season? And how does that make you feel as you plan to put more of an emphasis than ever on the Cup side in 2010 in your quest for the championship there?

"I wish we could have gotten a couple more Cup wins. I felt like there was some opportunity for those. It didn't work out. We've had a great year. All the Joe Gibbs Racing team drivers won in their hometown, which was pretty cool. Denny (Hamlin) won at Richmond (Va.), Joey (Logano) won up at Loudon (N.H.) and I won at Vegas. That's pretty cool, all in the Cup Series. And for Joey, of course, it was his first win. It's been a great year for Joe Gibbs Racing overall. It's been a great year for me in all three series. I've run the best I've ever run in the Truck Series and have had good trucks every week. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the guys have done a good job with our Nationwide cars every week to come unload like that. Our Cup program has struggled a little bit but, unfortunately, sometimes that happens, and Joe and J.D. (Gibbs) ended up making a change with Dave coming on board. You look at Matt Kenseth. He won the first two races of the year and he's right there with us sitting 13th or 14th. It's disappointing but, on the other side of things, I think it was actually a little bit of a good thing that I was able to put more focus toward the Nationwide deal and get the championship wrapped up here and not have to worry about both of them. Now, the Nationwide deal is close to being done with and we can go back to focusing more on the Cup effort there and try to get ourselves to championship-caliber on that side. Somebody has to beat that 48 (Jimmie Johnson)."

While you've had a lot of success at Phoenix during your career, you've been pretty vocal about the need to get better on the flat tracks in the Sprint Cup car.

"We were okay in both races at Phoenix last year. We weren't running where we wanted to be but we ran really well in the spring, here, and I got busted for speeding on pit road and that hurt our finish. I was going to be very happy with a top-five and it just didn't work out. I know everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing has been working extremely hard on our flat-track program in the offseason. That's something we worked hard on in the off-season but just didn't have the results at Martinsville that we wanted. We had trouble at both New Hampshire races and Pocono, in particular, last year. But I know the guys are focused on making those tracks better. Hopefully, we're heading in the right direction on the flat-track stuff."

You won in your very first Sprint Cup start at Phoenix, along with two out of the last three Nationwide Series races there. What does it take to be successful at Phoenix?

"Phoenix is a pretty neat place. For some reason, I've always run well there. I don't know if it's that I'm comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different corners at Phoenix. Turns one and two are different than three and four, and there's also a kink in the backstretch. Being able to run well there depends on how well you can turn in the center of turns one and two, and yet still have a good drive up off the back straightaway because it's so long and fast. Then, getting into turn three, you really need to rotate. Just past the center of turns three and four, you have a little bit of a kink on the apron, where you need to be able to turn and get a good drive off the corner. It's really dependent on how I like the car set up so I'm able to make a good lap time. There are plenty of tricks to that place that you need to know to be successful."

You have opportunities to get back to the West Coast a lot in the first part of the season. Do you enjoy traveling out there, and do you feel more comfortable going to that part of the country, since that's where you grew up?

"Everybody hates the time change. I use that to my advantage since I think I'm usually on West Coast time anyway. I still haven't gotten East Coast time down, yet. It's fun for me. It's a cool atmosphere and the weather is great without the humidity. If it's hot out, it's nice and warm, so the heat doesn't bother me as much as it does in other places. And if it's cold, it's a crisp cold. It's still home and I love being out west, and I really feel at home anytime we race out there."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Jimmie Johnson , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing