New Faces, Same Success
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 23, 2011) – Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in 2008, there is no question Kyle Busch has been the king of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
The driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry for JGR won 10 races in 2008, nine in 2009 and a series-record 13 in 2010. He also helped JGR to Nationwide Series owner titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010, while winning the driver championship in 2009.
Busch has continued his domination in 2011 with no sign of letting up. Last month at Phoenix International Raceway, Busch started from the pole and led all 200 laps en route to victory. He backed that up last week by winning at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where he led his 10,000th lap in Nationwide Series competition.
All this comes despite a few changes to the car Busch drives and the crew he works with.
Busch and crew chief Jason Ratcliff have spent much of the first four races of 2011 figuring out the characteristics of the new-style Nationwide Series car, which is being used in all races in 2011 after being used four times last year – in July at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, in August at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, in September at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, and in October at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
The new car includes a wider and taller cockpit, a longer wheelbase and a new front section.
While Busch and Ratcliff have quickly begun to master the new car, they’ve done so with some new faces to the Z-Line Designs team.
Longtime car chief Leo Thorson wanted to come off the road at the end of the 2010 season and was moved into the JGR engine shop. He was replaced by former Red Bull Racing employee Charlie Brock, while Todd Brewer joined the No. 18 team after a year working with the No. 20 JGR Sprint Cup crew. Jason Clements, who had been the tire specialist on the Z-Line Designs team, moved to a mechanic position, and the tire specialist role was given to Matt Sauer, who had previously worked for Eddie D’Hondt Motorsports, which is owned by Busch’s spotter, Eddie D’Hondt.
Despite the changes, the success has remained the same and Busch and Ratcliff have their eye on one of the few records they don’t already own. Legendary Mark Martin holds the Nationwide Series record for most career wins with 49 trips to victory lane. Busch trails him by just four races as his win at Bristol was the 45th of his career.
Martin isn’t making it easy, however, as he returned to Nationwide Series competition in 2011 after competing in only one race in 2009 (Richmond in May) and no races in 2010.
The layoff certainly didn’t hurt one of the most respected drivers in the garage as he won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway three weeks ago in his first race in nearly 21 months. He is scheduled to drive in three more Nationwide Series events in 2011, which means a friendly competition for the all-time wins record seems very likely.
Interestingly enough, one of those three remaining races is this week’s Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. And considering either Busch or Martin has won the last three Nationwide Series events, there is no reason to think they won’t be in contention at the 2-mile oval.
Busch has won four of the last five Nationwide Series races at Fontana and is hoping to make it five out of six while also continuing to inch closer to Martin’s all-time win record.
In addition to primary sponsor Z-Line Designs, the San Ramon, Calif.-based designer and import manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture, Busch’s racecar this week will also feature Fry’s Electronics. Fry’s, which has 34 stores nationwide, was founded in 1985 in Sunnyvale, Calif., and provides a one-stop-shopping environment for the high-tech professional.
Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/Fry’s Electronics NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
Is the Nationwide Series win record something you are focused on earning?
“No, it’s not a big deal to me to be able to do that. I think it will be once it happens – if it happens. Mark (Martin) and I, we have a little fun on the side, egging each other on a little bit. I talked to him before the race in Vegas and I sent him a text after the race, congratulating him on his win, and said thanks for making it one more. He said, ‘Time is evident.’ It’s on my side, not his side. It’s cool to have that, but I didn’t think about it until I was in victory lane last week at Bristol talking about the pioneers of this sport with Sam Ard and (Tommy) Houston and those guys and then I mentioned Mark Martin’s name and that reminded me of the win battle that we’ve got going on.”
How does it feel to have led more than 10,000 laps in the series?
“It’s big, especially when you’re able to break any kind of series record with the likes of Sam Ard and all the guys who made this series what it is. Kevin Harvick in his heyday, when he was really good – just a couple years ago. Of course, Mark Martin in his time and all the guys – (Larry) Pearson and (Tommy) Houston and all those boys. It’s pretty cool to be able to have led 10,000 laps and to accomplish it during a race we won.”
Why are you so much better than other drivers in this series?
“Good question. I don’t know. I wish there were more opportunities for this on Sunday, really. I think it’s got a lot to do with the guys and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and what kind of product they bring to the racetrack. There’s a lot to be said about what happens at the shop and that’s a true testament to Joe Gibbs Racing. I’m familiar with that now with Kyle Busch Motorsports and what we do over there. I know what these guys go through and what kind of stuff they do on a daily – let alone weekly – basis in order to keep these cars competitive week in and week out. It’s like J.D. (Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing) says, ‘If we’re not competitive and we’re not winning races, then we’re not going to be here very long.’ I feel like these guys thrive on success and getting to victory lane. I give all the credit to them, but I would say that, for some reason, the Nationwide cars just suit my style perfectly. I don’t know what it is. I’ve always been really good in the Nationwide cars ever since I started. In my first race, I finished second and I’ve had a lot of great success over the years with Hendrick Motorsports and NEMCO Motorsports and, now, with Joe Gibbs Racing. All in all, it’s fun.”
Jason Ratcliff, Crew Chief of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/Fry’s Electronics NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
What are your thoughts heading into Fontana?
“I felt like we were pretty good at Las Vegas, so I’m hoping we can take that to California. We’ve made some adjustments in the last couple weeks since Vegas and, hopefully, we’ll be a little bit better at California. We’ve had a lot of good runs out there and brought home a lot of trophies. It’s going to be a lot different with the new car, just like the last four races have been compared to years past. I feel good about it, though. I think we’re getting on a roll with the car and getting to a point where we really understand it. We’re learning how to adjust on it and what it takes to go fast and what it takes to make the driver happy, so I feel good about it.”
Kyle led his 10,000th lap in the Nationwide Series and is closing in on Mark Martin’s all-time win record. How important is it for you to be a part of those records?
“It’s obviously important, but for me, I look at it from standpoint of, you set records and somebody breaks them. Somebody sets another record and someone breaks that record. Just to have the opportunity to go out and get close to those types of records and be a part of that is just incredible. I’m able to do something and be part of a group and work with drivers who are doing things that may stand for a long time, if not forever. There’s only one guy who’s going to get that opportunity and, for that guy to be me, I’ve got to pinch myself every once in a while. I think, ‘How did I get here and what did I do to deserve these blessings?’ So, yeah, it’s important. But, for me, it’s just the opportunity because a lot of guys don’t get an opportunity like this. To be able to get close to a guy like Mark Martin is just incredible. I know it’s important to Kyle because Mark’s obviously one of the best there has ever been. It’s fun. It seems like every year, for the last two or three years, there has been some type of record. In 2008, Kyle shows up and we’re still trying to build a program and it’s, ‘Hey, let’s go out and win a few races.’ And then we go out and tie Sam Ard’s win record. Then you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ Then, in 2009, it’s, ‘Let’s go out and win a driver championship.’ OK, we got that done. In 2010, it’s, ‘Let’s go for an owner title.’ In the process of that, we break Sam Ard’s record. This year, we’re working with a guy who’s led 10,000 laps. It’s just always something. Every week, someone brings up a record and I’m, like, ‘I didn’t even know we were close to that.’ It was very interesting to see Mark when he ran at Las Vegas. He’s run about one race in the last two years and Kyle’s closing in on him and Mark goes out and tacks one more on. I thought that was pretty funny. That’s really neat. It makes it that much more special that you’re hunting a guy who’s still putting them on the board. It’s not like he’s laying down. So it’s a lot of fun. For me, like I said, just having the opportunity is an extreme blessing.”
With the new car and some new team members, are you happy with the way this year has started out?
“I really am happy. There are a lot of talented people in this sport. But you’ve got to put together a group of talented people who can work together. That was one of my biggest goals. When Leo (Thorson, former car chief) said, ‘Hey, I want to get off the road,’ – and I knew that was going to happen – I thought, ‘How can I position this team so that if something like this happens again, we can continue to bring guys up and put them in that position?’ I couldn’t do that last year. But it worked out really well. I came across three guys (Charlie Brock, Matt Sauer and Todd Brewer) who just have come together right away and have a lot of respect for each other. It’s like they’ve been working with us for five years. I’m thrilled. To be able to go through four races and win two with some new guys is great. They have good camaraderie and respect for each other. I was concerned about it. Anytime you change that many people, it doesn’t matter what the talent level is, sometimes you get some personalities that won’t work together and we haven’t see that at all.”