Home Game (Sort Of)
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 6, 2011) – Kyle Busch has won so many NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in recent years at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth that any event at the 1.5-mile oval might as well be considered a “home game” for the 25-year-old driver.
While it’s true Busch was born in raised in Las Vegas, he has won five of the last six Nationwide Series races at Texas, along with the last two Camping World Truck Series races he has entered.
Entering this week’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Nationwide Series race at Texas, Busch has an incredible 11 top-10 finishes in 12 Nationwide Series starts at the 1.5-mile oval. He scored five consecutive victories (April 2008, November 2008, April 2009, November 2009 and April 2010) and three runner-up finishes (April 2004, November 2007 and November 2010).
The driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/Conn’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has led at least half the laps in a race eight times, including seven of the last eight events. Four of those times he led more than three-quarters of the race.
So while his hometown says Las Vegas and his current residence reads Mooresville, N.C., Texas Motor Speedway might as well be a vacation home for Busch.
But for Busch’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, races at Texas Motor Speedway truly are a “home game.” Ratcliff moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area following his graduation from high school in Westlake, La. He attended DeVry University in Irving, Texas and began working in grass roots racing. Also while living in Texas, he met and married his wife, Christi, a native of Coppell, Texas. All told, Ratcliff spent nine years in the Lone Star State before continuing his racing career in Nashville and, ultimately, North Carolina. But his roots remained firmly in Texas for several years as until just recently his parents lived in Coppell.
So while all competitors want to win the Nationwide Series race at Texas, given that the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 is one of the premier races of the year, for Busch, and Ratcliff especially, it’s a little more personal. And they’d love nothing more than to continue their dominance in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
This week, Busch will have extra support as Conn’s, a Beaumont, Texas-based appliance and electronics retailer, will be featured on the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota. Conn’s was also present on Busch’s car when he won at Texas in April 2010.
Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/Conn’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
Why are you and the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota team so good at Texas?
“I don’t know. It’s a team effort. It’s Jason (Ratcliff) and all of those guys – all the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing – the chassis guys, the body guys, the guys in the engine shop and everybody who makes this possible. It’s just good racecars and good people. They work so hard and bring such good cars to the racetrack. Hopefully, we can start another streak this week at Texas.”
It’s great to go out there and kick everybody’s butt and win the race.
Two weeks ago at Fontana you took two tires and won the race, despite not having the strongest car all day. Is it satisfying not to have the strongest car and still win the race?
“I think it’s pretty satisfying when you can win one like that. It’s great to go out there and kick everybody’s butt and win the race and come to the media center and go home. But, a race like Fontana is a little bit more fun. I don’t know why. You’re working your butt off all day long and you think you’re going to end up third, which kind of stinks but it’s still decent. Then, you end up making a pit call like that, where nobody else does it, and you’re like, ‘Damn, we’re going to win this thing.’ You just get jacked up.”
Mark Martin is the all-time Nationwide Series leader in wins with 49. You have 46 victories. Is 50 kind of the magic number, and is that your goal?
“It’s not really something I think about, to be honest with you. We just know that, if we run well and if we do what we know how to do to be competitive and to reach our potential, and do what we need to do on race day, then the wins will come. The only reason all the stats are what they are is not because I was out there to say, ‘I’m going to reach 10,000 laps one day, watch this.’ It’s just about going out there and running as hard as you can and running every lap the best you can. It helps working with the crew chiefs and the engineers and all the guys who work on your team who pour a lot of good blood, sweat and tears into your cars and make them fast. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of fast racecars in the Nationwide Series and have been really good at bringing them to victory lane sometimes, too. That’s meant the most.”
Jason Ratcliff, Crew Chief of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/Conn’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
Two weeks ago at Fontana, you made the call to take two tires late in the race and that call gave you and Kyle the victory. You’ve had some time to reflect on that a bit. Talk about your feelings following that great pit call.
“I won’t say it was disappointing, but running third most of the day and not really being in contention for most of the day was a little tough. It tells us we’ve got some work to do. But anytime you can figure out a way to give yourself an opportunity to win and have it work out, that’s a pretty good feeling. A win’s a win. I don’t care if you win with a first-place car or a 12th-place car. Any time you get to go to victory lane, that’s a fun deal. To be honest with you, I was really shocked we were the only ones who took two tires. It was fun and it was surprising because, all day, we were making the car better but also knew that we just didn’t have it. So, to have it come down to the last 12 or 13 laps and be on the edge of your seat wondering if they are going to catch you, or wondering if the caution is going to come out, and then to have it work out, that’s probably one of the most exciting wins I’ve been a part of. And that’s just because you don’t see it coming.”
Last November, the Z-Line Designs team finished second after winning five consecutive races at Texas. How frustrating was it to not get six victories in a row and break the tie for the series record with Jack Ingram and Dale Earnhardt?
“It was frustrating, just from the standpoint there have only been a couple of drivers who have had that kind of streak at a racetrack and we were really close to taking it one notch further. To come up short was disappointing. But, at the same time, you put it in perspective and say, ‘OK, we just won five races in a row at a racetrack, it’s not the end of the world, for sure.’ If you look at our last six races at Texas, what’s our average finish? Like 1.1 or something crazy like that? Going back there with the new car will be interesting. It’s always one of my favorite tracks to go to because I lived in the area for so many years and have a lot of friends around there. And, I just like the track and we’ve had some success there so, hopefully, we can take the new car there and have the same success with it that we had with the old car. Our mile-and-a-half program has been decent. I thought we had a good race at Vegas. We had a chance to win there. I was disappointed at Fontana – happy that we won, but I thought we should have been faster. That’s the area that used to be our strong suit – the intermediate tracks with the old car. Right now, that’s not our best racetrack and we’ve been working really hard on that.”
What do you remember about your nine years in Texas right after high school?
“I moved to Texas right out of high school and went to DeVry University (in Irving). It was my first time out on my own and I met my wife there and we were married there. It’s a neat place. I really liked it and the people in the area. Dallas/Fort Worth is just such a neat area and, if you can think of it, you can probably do it in that area. Everything is there. It’s a cool place and I’m not a big-city guy, but it’s an area where you can get the benefits of the big city without feeling like you’re in the big city. I have a lot of friends there, and my mom and dad lived there until just recently. When you live in an area that long, it feels like home. That’s one of the few tracks we go to that, when we show up there, I don’t need a map. I can tell you where to go and where to go eat. So, it’s always nice to go back there and spend some time.”