At Home in the Desert HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 14, 2009) -- While Kyle Busch lists his hometown as Las Vegas, whenever he treks to anywhere in the western desert, it feels like home. While the driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe...
At Home in the Desert
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 14, 2009) -- While Kyle Busch lists his hometown as Las Vegas, whenever he treks to anywhere in the western desert, it feels like home.
While the driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) is comfortable just visiting a desert locale, it's no surprise that he's most at ease behind the wheel of a racecar there, whether it be the sand car he wheels through the dunes for fun, or with his day job as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.
The talented 23-year-old earned more than 65 wins in Legends cars from 1999 to 2001 and racked up two track championships at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before moving up to Late Model stock cars. The winning seemed to continue naturally for Busch, as he captured 10 victories in Late Model competition at the Bullring in 2001.
Busch, who now lives near Charlotte, N.C., has since graduated to the elite Sprint Cup ranks and always jumps at the chance to head back to the desert, where he will be again this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., for Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500k.
While Las Vegas is where he is from, Busch has quickly made Phoenix another home away from home. Busch has eight Sprint Cup starts at the mile oval in the desert and has six top-10 finishes, including four in a row dating back to the spring 2007 race. He won the pole for the spring 2006 event and scored his second-ever Sprint Cup victory on Nov. 13, 2005, in the Checker Auto Parts 500k in his first start at the "Diamond in the Desert."
His overall resume at Phoenix isn't too shabby, either, considering he has won two of the last three NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Phoenix, has four top-10 finishes in six Nationwide Series starts, and has won the pole three times. He also scored a Camping World Truck Series victory in November 2007, and in his three Truck Series starts has never qualified worse than 16th or finished worse than 11th.
So as the M&M's driver treks west again this weekend, he's hoping to again leave his competitors in a cloud of dust and bring home his second Sprint Cup win at a place that feels very much like home.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
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. What are your expectations for this weekend?
"We were okay in both races at Phoenix last year, but we weren't running where we wanted to be. 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."
What do you think of Jeff Gordon's start to 2009? Will he now be a contender after breaking his 47-race winless streak at Texas?
"He's a contender every week. He's run so strong this year, and has been so consistent this year, that's why we look at Jeff. You know that a guy who's run well -- and had a lot of bad luck early in the year until Texas -- you never know when he could come out and take to the track and be able to dominate a race and win one here."
How do you gauge the level of competition just seven races into the 2009 season?
"We were terrible at Martinsville and Atlanta, so we know that we have more work to do. This year seems as if a guy hits it, he really, really hits it. Say, in Atlanta, Kurt (Busch) led the most laps and he really hit it there. He was really good. We hit it at Bristol, we were really good. There were about three cars, there, at Martinsville. It looked like Jimmie (Johnson), Denny (Hamlin) and Jeff (Gordon) really had it at Martinsville. When you look at things, there are a lot of guys who are competitive week in and week out, but it seems like it's the same guys who are the top-five week in and week out. It's hard for me at Martinsville, for some reason, to run well. We struggled there."
Has more experience with the new car helped drivers shine?
"I think, sometimes, that was the way the old car was, too. A guy would hit it. I think it's been the past three years in a row -- whoever has won Atlanta has won at Texas the following week in the fall. It goes in swings, I guess, sometimes. Somebody will find a certain set-up that they really like and they'll keep running that at particular tracks. We had Kasey Kahne three or four years ago winning every mile-and-a-half track on the circuit. It goes in swings, I believe."