KYLE BUSCH FROM THE SMALLEST TRACK TO THE BIGGEST TRACK HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 28, 2009) -- When NASCAR officials tweaked the 2009 Sprint Cup Series schedule by moving the fall dates for Atlanta Motor Speedway, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway...
FROM THE SMALLEST TRACK TO THE BIGGEST TRACK
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 28, 2009) -- When NASCAR officials tweaked the 2009 Sprint Cup Series schedule by moving the fall dates for Atlanta Motor Speedway, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., it created an interesting scenario that is currently playing out.
Last Sunday, the Sprint Cup competitors beat and banged on each other at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway which, at .526-mile in length, is the smallest track on the championship trail.
This week, the series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway which, at 2.66-miles in length, is the longest track on the schedule and literally takes the series from the smallest of the small to the biggest of them all.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), knows that Talladega -- site of Sunday's AMP Energy 500 -- can be full of surprises given its restrictor-plate style of racing, which bunches together the 43-car field three- and four-wide for the lion's share of 188 hair-razing laps.
Busch knows that, at one moment, he can be leading the field and then, just one lap later, find himself in 30th after falling out of the draft.
He's already conquered Talladega in nine career Sprint Cup starts with a victory in April 2008. But with only two other top-15 finishes and three Talladega outings ending in an accident for Busch, he knows all too well there's no such thing as a sure thing in restrictor-plate racing.
That said, Busch and the M&M's team head to Alabama feeling pleasantly surprised after their fourth-place finish last week at Martinsville, a place where Busch had not finished better than 24th in his previous three starts. Hard work, a little patience and a gutsy two-tire call late in the race helped him equal his career-best finish at Martinsville. He also finished fourth in both 2007 races.
With NASCAR's longest racetrack on tap, their Martinsville result is a pint-sized bit of momentum -- but momentum, nonetheless -- as Busch and Company once again face NASCAR's biggest challenge, and its most unpredictable afternoon of racing.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What is the key to pulling off a victory at Talladega?
"The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble. You pretty much stay around the bottom, since there is a lot of grip there, and you can pretty much run wide open every single lap. Everyone can run up on top of each other. When you get single file at the bottom, sometimes it's hard to get a lane on the outside with enough good cars to get something going. It can be frustrating at times because of that. It also seems to still put on a good race each time we go there. If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that's when it starts to get crazy."
Is it an advantage being a former winner at Talladega?
"It doesn't matter at all. It's such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what's going to happen and where the wreck is going to come from."
Do you have confidence heading into Talladega, knowing that the Joe Gibbs Racing restrictor-plate program is so strong?
"I think our Toyotas are pretty good when we get to the restrictor-plate tracks, so Talladega is going to be fine. I think we'll have a good run there. Everybody is typically fast at Talladega, so it will be a little bit different. I'm looking forward to it. I feel like myself and Denny (Hamlin) are good drafting partners, and Joey (Logano) is starting to get the hang of it for sure."
There was some really entertaining drafting at Talladega since the introduction of NASCAR's new car there. What's the difference between racing the old car versus the new car there?
"With the old cars, we could bump-draft each other through the corners. And with these cars, they are the same way, but the rear bumpers are high and the front bumpers are low. So we are able to bump-draft all the way through the corner and build up a lot of speed all the way around. But when you have two guys who know what they are doing and keep their car straight, and you don't hit somebody too hard and just sit on them nicely, it really works and you can use it to your advantage."
Last year's win at Talladega in April finally bucked your streak of bad luck there. How big was it to get the monkey off your back?
"It did a bit, but there's still so much luck involved and being at the right place at the right time. Mark (Cronquist, head engine builder at JGR) and all those guys at the shop did an awesome job building a great Toyota engine and it helped power us up through the field there, when we were getting bumped and banged all over the place. I felt pretty fortunate that I was able to win there because it's just been a struggle for as long as I've been going there. I don't think I've ever finished one there without having some sort of damage. That good-luck streak didn't last too long, though, since we got a piece of the big wreck there at the end in the fall race. You just have to survive there and hope you somehow stay out of the inevitable big wreck."