From Bad to Bristol
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 14, 2011) – After a rough weekend in the glitzy and glamorous city of Las Vegas, Kyle Busch might be looking forward to a trip to a slightly less-exotic locale such as Bristol, Tenn.
At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, located on the northern edge of his hometown, Busch had a less-than-memorable weekend in what has otherwise been a spectacular racing career. He crashed out of the NASCAR Nationwide Series event on March 5 and then suffered a blown engine one day later in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the 1.5-mile oval – ending up 30th in the Nationwide race and 38th in the Sprint Cup event.
Since 2006, Busch has competed in the both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races during the same weekend at the same track 125 times. His tough weekend in Las Vegas marked only the third time in that span he has finished outside the top-30 in both events.
The last time he failed to finish inside the top-30 in either race was in April 2007 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where he finished 39th in the Nationwide event and 37th in the Sprint Cup race. The only other occurrence came in November 2006 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when he finished 41st in the Nationwide race and 38th in the Sprint Cup event.
To forget about one of the worst statistical weekends of his career, Busch will be happy to head to a place where he had his best statistical weekend. On the same weekend last August at Bristol, Busch won the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races. He became the first driver to sweep the three major NASCAR touring series events in the same weekend.
The middle part of that sweep occurred as Busch started third in the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and led 116 of 250 laps en route to victory in the Food City 250 Nationwide race.
He’ll be back behind the wheel of the Z-Line Designs Camry this weekend for the Scotts EZ Seed 300 Nationwide race, looking to build on his already impressive resume at the .533-mile oval where he has two wins (March 2006 and August 2010), one pole (August 2005) and 10 top-10 finishes in 13 Nationwide Series starts.
So, while Bristol doesn’t have the bright lights and famous strip of Las Vegas, the little town in beautiful northeast Tennessee might be just what Busch needs to get back to his regular winning ways.
Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
All races on the Nationwide Series schedule are tough, but what makes Bristol so challenging?
“Anything can happen there and you can get caught up in somebody else’s wreck. Things happen so fast there that, sometimes, you don't have anywhere to go. It’s not like the big tracks, where you might have the apron or the grass to avoid an accident. You just try to get in a rhythm, avoid the wrecks and put yourself in position to win at the end.”
You had a rough weekend in Las Vegas, finishing outside the top-30 in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races. How happy are you that Las Vegas is behind you?
“We were blowing tires, mowing grass, knocking walls down and setting balls of fire down the backstretch in both races at Las Vegas, and Kurt (Busch, brother) was doing ‘loop-dee-dos’ through turn four. We were having problems in our own hometown, so it was probably best to get out and move on to Bristol.”
You and the Z-Line Designs team are bringing chassis 18-109, which was used three weeks ago when you started on the pole and led all 200 laps en route to victory at Phoenix. Had you ever been close to leading all the laps in a race before?
“I have, before, but sometimes you don’t get to lead every single lap. There are guys who stay out on pit road or something like that. I think I missed leading three laps at ORP (now Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis) a couple years ago, or something. It was such a phenomenal race with the Camry and I’m excited we’re bringing it to Bristol.”
Was Phoenix the perfect race for you, since you won the pole and led all the laps?
“It would seem as though it was the perfect race but, unfortunately, no, it’s not. There were some mistakes made on my part. You’re going to have little mistakes missing a line or doing this, doing that, throughout the event. I think everything went well with Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and I – the conversations we had. There were a couple of times I slipped and kind of screwed up that really got Carl (Edwards) closer to me and then he got me on the inside. I was trying like heck to keep him off of me. I did rebound from those, so you could say you made up a little bit for what you lost. It was not that far from perfect.”
Jason Ratcliff, Crew Chief of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
You’re bringing the same car that won the pole, led every lap and won the race at Phoenix. Can that perfect streak continue at Bristol?
“To try and keep that record intact, you’re probably not going to attempt it at Bristol (laughs). I’ll be happy if we can just go there and run well with the new car and be in contention to maybe get a win. To try to go there and think we could lead all the laps, I think we’d be kidding ourselves. We’ve run well there the last two or three years with the old car. Hopefully, we can just keep that momentum going. Kyle runs well there in the (Sprint) Cup car, so maybe some of their stuff will apply to the Nationwide car.”
You said at the beginning of the season that, with the addition of a third JGR Nationwide Series team and having to build all new cars, that getting through the first three races with very few damaged racecars would be very important. How would you assess that goal now that three races are complete?
“We’re in good shape. The guys in the shop were steadily popping out cars when we were gone. I was happy with the fact we led laps at all three racetracks – Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas. We had a legitimate shot to win all three races. This past weekend at Las Vegas, I thought we had a shot. We had a car capable of winning, our pit strategy was going to work out at the end, and he (Busch) was just driving hard. And shoot, man, any time he’s up on the wheel driving hard, I don’t second-guess that for a second. We’re in good shape. The Vegas car that crashed wasn’t too bad and that won’t take too long to fix. We’re getting our fleet built up and that obviously helps. We should be in good shape because we go to Bristol and then California, and then we get another week. By the time we get to Texas, I think everything will be repaired and we’ll have plenty of racecars.”
The new-style Nationwide Series car will make its first trip to Bristol. For a fan who is attending the Bristol Nationwide Series race, what are three or four differences between the old and the new Nationwide Series car?
“The biggest thing we have to focus on is the difference between the splitter and the valence. The splitter is a solid stop. You can’t go past it. But, you want to get to it. The valence – you wanted to get to it but, because of the material it was made of and the way it was designed, you had some flexibility there. You could go a little beyond it. You could go short of it a little bit and be OK. So, the splitter is probably the number one difference that requires us to shift our setup around. The second thing would be that this car has quite a bit more drag on it. Is that going to be a big deal at Bristol? Probably not, but it does show up. I don’t think there is a racetrack we go to that we go so slow that aero isn’t a factor. The third thing would probably just be the approach you have to take, because the center of gravity is so much higher with these cars than it was with the old cars. So, you have to take a different approach with the setup and a little bit of a different thought process to get things working for you. The fourth thing, and the thing we’ll be focusing on heading into Bristol, is probably the brake package. I don’t know that it’s going to be a lot different than it was last year, but I suspect it will be. Because the center of gravity is higher and makes the car a little more difficult to turn, you have to slow it down a little bit more. Also, this car is five inches longer than last year’s car. So it’s more like a (Sprint) Cup car with the wheelbase and the tread width. That requires a little bit of a different thought process because it transfers weight differently. So those are probably the biggest attributes that force us to look at the car differently and change our setup compared to last year’s car. So far it’s been pretty good. I don’t mind a challenge at all. We kind of took that approach and said, ‘Hey, this is a challenge. Let’s jump in there with both feet and try to get this done.’ We’ve come out of the box pretty well. I’m really pleased with it. The thing I’m most excited about is that we haven’t reached the pinnacle, by any means. There’s enough stuff about this car that I don’t know, so to run as good as we have, and knowing we have so much room to grow, that’s pretty exciting. Last year’s car, we kind of peaked out. We kind of hit every little piece and we fine-tuned every little piece and got the most out of everything. We really didn’t have any more room to grown with it. With this car, I think we’ve got a lot left to learn.”
Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry
Chassis No. 18-109: This car’s only on-track appearance came three weeks ago at Phoenix International Raceway, where Busch started from the pole and led all 200 laps en route to victory in the Bashas’ Supermarket 200.