Las Vegas: Kyle Busch preview

KYLE BUSCH Simple Goal: Victory in Vegas HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 25, 2009) -- It's pretty simple, really. Kyle Busch is from Las Vegas and really, really wants to win a race at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 2002 honors graduate...

KYLE BUSCH
Simple Goal: Victory in Vegas

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 25, 2009) -- It's pretty simple, really. Kyle Busch is from Las Vegas and really, really wants to win a race at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 2002 honors graduate from Durango High School will get his first chance of 2009 in Saturday's Sam's Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the track just a few miles north of the Las Vegas Strip. And if last weekend's race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., is any indication, Busch should be the man to beat in the 200-lap event.

Busch absolutely dominated the Stater Bros. 300 Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway, leading 143 of 150 laps en route to victory in the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. This week at Las Vegas, the San Ramon, Calif.-based designer and import manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture will be back on the No. 18 car, where they'll look for their second consecutive victory with Busch and their seventh overall dating back to last season.

Joining Z-Line Designs on Busch's No. 18 Toyota will be Operation Helmet, a 100 percent volunteer, non-partisan charitable organization headquartered in Montgomery, Texas that provides helmet upgrade kits free of charge to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jim Sexton, president and CEO of Z-Line Designs, has been a longtime supporter of Operation Helmet, and is using his sponsorship of Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing to generate increased support for Operation Helmet.

"Our troops give selflessly in protecting our freedom, and Operation Helmet is doing its best to return the favor," said Sexton, whose father in-law, Hugh Wild, served in the armed forces. "Having had a family member in the military further magnifies the importance of this amazing organization."

Operation Helmet is led by Dr. Bob Meadors, whose tireless efforts have led to more than 40,000 helmet upgrade kits being distributed to U.S. military personnel since 2004. The upgrade kits prevent traumatic head and brain injuries to soldiers by focusing on three core elements -- protection, comfort and stability. Shock-absorbing pads keep the helmet from slapping the skull when hit with a blast or other impact, thereby decreasing the chances of brain injuries. Most importantly, the upgrade kit allows a helmet to stay on a soldier's head longer, more often and in one place.

"We've asked the military to use at least the same standards as NASCAR, whose flame testing is much more rigorous and aimed at uncovering even the slightest chance helmet lining/pad material might add to burn injuries," said Dr. Meadors, who also recruited pop-singer/songwriter Cher to become a spokesperson for Operation Helmet, and will meet the award-winning artist, along with Sexton, following one of her shows at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. "This is a labor of love. We have less than one-half of one percent of overhead. We have no salaries or payroll."

Sexton, who relished his time last Saturday in victory lane at Fontana, would certainly enjoy a return trip this weekend in Las Vegas, especially considering the philanthropic initiative he's championing via Operation Helmet. Z-Line Designs has given $30,000 to the organization, and the increased exposure that would come from the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota being up front and contending for the win at Las Vegas would prove incredibly valuable to garnering more support for Operation Helmet.

With a record-tying 10 Nationwide Series victories last year and finishes of fourth and first in his first two Nationwide Series races of the 2009 season, Busch is the right man to help push Sexton's agenda. The 23-year-old Busch is always ready to win, but that desire ticks a few notches higher when there's a race to be had in his hometown. Winless thus far at Las Vegas, Busch is ready to notch that first victory and add to the 22 Nationwide Series victories he's already earned in 140 career Nationwide Series starts.

To learn more about Operation Helmet, visit www.Operation-Helmet.org.

Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Las Vegas Speedway

You've had a great start to the season, especially on the Nationwide Series side with a fourth-place run at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and a win last week at Auto Club Speedway. How important is it to start the season on the right note?

"The biggest thing we try to do is to get results and get wins. That is the optimum thing you want to do -- to get your team to victory lane. We weren't able to do that in Daytona, but we were in the Truck and Nationwide Series races at Fontana. We've been strong in both our Nationwide Series races thus far, and I don't think there's any reason our Z-Line Designs Toyota won't be strong at Las Vegas."

There are huge races during the season that everyone wants to win, like Daytona and Indianapolis, but how much would taking a win in your hometown of Las Vegas mean?

"It's probably the second-biggest Nationwide Series race behind Daytona, and in the top-five of Sprint Cup races for me. It's a fun place to race and a great place to race. The fans get to watch a great show at Las Vegas, and I'm sure we're going to have a good time again."

Two races down, 34 to go in your quest for a Nationwide Series title. Do you feel like you're off to a good start?

"We've had great cars in both races and we've gotten off to a good start. There is a long way to go and we're just taking it race by race so that when we get to the last few races, we've put ourselves in a position to win the championship."

Where do you like to eat out West that you can't back in Charlotte, N.C.?

"I love to eat at In-N-Out Burger or Wienerschnitzel. I think we always gain some weight when we get back out to the West Coast."

What do you plan on doing during the few days between California and Las Vegas?

"I go straight from California to Las Vegas and play on my quad out in the sand dunes. It's a good chance to get away and have some fun."

Jason Ratcliff, Crew Chief of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Since the track was reconfigured and repaved in 2006, has the surface aged and changed your strategy there?

"When they first reconfigured it and we went out there and tested, the track had a lot of grip, so you were just hauling the mail. They were afraid that they were going to wear the tires out because everyone was just wide-open. So, they brought back a tire with a lot less grip to slow the cars down. Now, you're just searching for grip. It was kind of like Charlotte after they paved it. Now that the track's aged throughout the last two or three years, hopefully they're going to bring a tire that is similar to the other racetracks. Right now, I'd say it's very similar to Texas or Charlotte, and once it gets a couple more years on it, it will become a two-groove racetrack. As far as the style of racetrack, we typically show up with a mile-and-a-half high-banked setup similar to Texas or Charlotte. We have to do some things a little bit different because of the tire. But they change it every year, so it's different every year, and without testing this year, it's going to be interesting. There's probably going to be a lot of guys that will unload with last year's setup and be way off, and there's going to be some guys that will be in the right direction and going to be really good."

Being in the desert, does Las Vegas age faster than other racetracks because it just bakes in constant sunlight?

"I don't know. It seems to me that the tracks that go through a tough winter, like Kentucky, seem to change more year to year -- more than the tracks that just get heat and sunlight. It's the hot summers and the freezing winters that make the changes. I would say Vegas probably changes less because the climate doesn't change as much."

You're bringing Chassis No. 1890 to Las Vegas, a brand new car that has never turned a wheel on the racetrack. Is there any apprehension when you bring a car that has never been used?

"The guys do a really good job of building every car so similar to the others. There are templates and a million measurements and they are so close, you can't really tell a difference. The car we raced at California has a lot of races on it, and we can take a new car and it should react similarly. I think that's what separates some of the consistent teams from the not-so-consistent teams -- being able to duplicate cars. If you have four intermediate cars in your fleet, all four of those intermediate cars are as close as they can be. So, there isn't any concern about it. We'll put one of our normal mile-and-a-half setups on it and should be good right off the truck."

With Kyle being a Las Vegas native, how important is it for you and the Z-Line Designs team to put him in victory lane?

"It's real important. When we went to Las Vegas last year and tested with Kyle -- and that was one of the first tests we did with Kyle -- we could tell how important it was to him. Winning at every track is a big deal, but I think for Kyle, winning out there is even a bigger deal. I lived in Texas for 13 years, so every time I go to Texas, it's a big deal for me, even though I don't live there anymore. Last year we put a lot of emphasis on the Vegas race. We had a good car in practice and, unfortunately, we tore up our car in qualifying. We still had a good car in the race, worked our way to the front and we just had some circumstances that didn't work out for us. That said, I think we've got some good notes, the track hasn't changed too much, and if Goodyear brings a tire that's comparable or something that we can compare to a Charlotte or another track, I think we'll be good. He'll be pumped up. Everytime we go to Vegas, he's even a little bit more ready to go, even for him."

How is 2009 different than 200,8 considering that last year you had multiple drivers in the No. 18 and this year Kyle is running the full season and going for a championship?

"Really we just focus on each race. There are 35 races, and this week we're focusing on Vegas with an eye toward Bristol (Tenn.). We just treat it like that. We're going to try to continue the success we had last year and try to win every race. It's going to be a little bit different because last year points didn't matter and you could take some risks and if it didn't work out, hey, you were going for the win. This year, if you have to be a little more conservative and take a second or third, you might not want to do that, but you need to do that, so when you get to Homestead (Fla.) you're in a good position for the championship. It's exciting, but we're really trying to keep it to one week at a time."

The Car
Chassis No. 1890: This is a new car that has not seen on-track activity.

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing