Joe Gibbs Racing press release
It’s ‘Time’ For a Martinsville Win
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 27, 2012) – One look at Kyle Busch’s ever-growing trophy case reveals an assortment of trophies for his now 104 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three series, which includes 23 Sprint Cup Series wins. In fact, one whole trophy case features 12 trophies alone from the high-banked Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway half-mile oval.
But even though Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has more trophies than he probably knows what to do with, there’s one glaring omission from another famous half-mile short track – the traditional, seven-foot-tall clock that Martinsville (Va.) Speedway president Clay Campbell’s late grandfather and track founder, H. Clay Earles, began awarding Martinsville race winners more than five decades ago.
Needless to say, Busch, the talented 26-year-old driver, has his sights set on getting that long-awaited maiden victory at Martinsville, the site of Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Of the 23 venues that will host Sprint Cup events in 2012, Busch has won at least once at 20 of those venues in at least one of NASCAR’s top three divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck. There are only three current Sprint Cup tracks – Martinsville, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway – where Busch has not scored a victory in any of NASCAR’s top three series.
Despite the lack of a Martinsville grandfather clock, Busch has plenty of reasons for optimism this weekend, considering how he has been able to pick up his game at the .526-mile paperclip-shaped oval ever since being paired with crew chief Dave Rogers.
During a three-race stretch starting when he joined Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the spring of 2008, the Las Vegas native never finished better than 24th at Martinsville. But Busch’s fortunes there began to turn around with a solid fourth-place finish in the fall of 2009.
Enter crew chief Rogers in March of 2010. During his first full season under Rogers’ guidance, Busch was running in second place when a late-race caution forced a decision by the No. 18 team to pit late in the race, costing precious track position. On the ensuing restart, the Las Vegas native made contact with Paul Menard and was ultimately forced to settle for a 22nd-place finish. Although it was a hugely disappointing end to the weekend, Busch and Rogers left with the feeling they were capable of winning at Martinsville and backed it up with a strong fourth-place run in October 2010.
In his next trip to the tricky Virginia short track last March, Busch led a race-high 151 laps before scoring his career-best Martinsville finish of third. And, last fall, he led another race-high 126 laps before being collected in an accident not of his own doing late in the race. Indeed, Busch feels like the M&M’s team keeps getting closer and closer to that elusive win at Martinsville with each return. In all, Busch has recorded six top-fives in his 14 Sprint Cup starts there, including the aforementioned career-best third last March.
Adding to his recent close calls in the Sprint Cup Series, Busch has also brought home back-to-back runner-up finishes in his last two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Martinsville in October 2010 and April 2011.
Busch is heading to Martinsville this weekend coming off a solid second-place finish – his first top-five of the season –at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where he led twice for a race-high 80 laps. He’ll hope to use that momentum as he aims for his first Martinsville grandfather clock after knocking on the door during his last five visits to Southern Virginia.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
After a run of tough luck to start the season, do you gain any momentum with your strong run last weekend at Fontana?
“It certainly didn’t hurt. Just seemed like, to start the season, if there was trouble, we were in it. It felt good to just go out there, lead a bunch of laps, have a shot at the win and not get caught up in someone’s else’s mess or have something happen to set us back. Coming to Martinsville had been challenging for us in the past but it really hasn’t, lately. We’re getting a little bit better at it and kind of picking up on it each and every time. Would love to go out there and finally win there, but we just need to run up front, hopefully lead some laps and be there at the end and have another solid week with our M&M’s Camry.”
Is Martinsville similar to any other short tracks you’ve raced on?
“You say it’s similar probably just because the size of it being a half-mile, but Martinsville is not like any other racetrack that I’ve ever raced on. Not even close. Denny Hamlin would probably be able to assess that statement a little closer because he grew up at Southside (Speedway in Midlothian, Va.) and that is a lot closer to this place. Although it’s a quarter-mile, it’s flat and it’s like racing in a parking lot. For me, I’ve raced on three-eighths-mile, half-mile and three-quarter-mile racetracks all across the West and they were banked, they were flat, but nothing that was so conducive to heavy braking and all that kind of stuff. It’s certainly a challenge to figure out how to get around here and it makes it tough on you because the guys who are good here have run here for that many years. There’s always that transition period of younger guys coming in here and having to spend their time and cut their teeth and learn what it takes to run around this place. You’ve got the Harry Gants of the world or the (David) Pearsons of the world, and then you have the (Dale) Earnhardts, who come in and take a little while to get better at it and then they’re really good at the place. And you have the Jeff Gordons, who take a little time to get used to it. Then they are really good here. It just goes in cycles like that.”
Is Martinsville a racetrack where you have to show a lot of patience?
“For sure. It’s certainly a racetrack that you can be leading the race and think you’ve got a shot to win the thing in the last 30 laps and then getting beat on from behind and getting moved out of the way. We did that. It’s certainly a racetrack that’s indicative that, if you’re just a little bit off, then the guys are going to be right on your rear bumper and trying to get by you. For us, it’s been a challenge but we’re getting better at it and learning some more as we go along. We would like to be able to continue that here this weekend.”
Are you still trying to figure out Martinsville, and are you comfortable racing there, now?
“I didn’t used to like Martinsville but, ever since I started working with Dave (Rogers, crew chief), we feel like we get better every time we go there and we’re getting close to finally winning one. I’ve had some decent runs there, where I’ve felt like we’ve had a car to win and had a shot to win. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the track position toward the end of the race. Jeff (Gordon) is so good there, and Jimmie (Johnson) and Denny (Hamlin) are also good there. They’re probably the three most difficult guys to pass there because they know the place. They know how to get off the corner and how to roll the middle of the corner there. Everything is timing, and their stuff just works, whatever it is.”
What is it that makes Martinsville so different when it looks so similar to other short tracks?
“Every track is different. There aren’t two racetracks out there that are the same. I would say probably the closest racetrack I grew up racing on was in San Bernardino, Calif. – it was Orange Show Speedway. That’s closest to what Martinsville is. I only ran Legends cars there, so it’s not a true telling. It was only a quarter-mile. It’s just a tough place because you’re so hard on brakes, but your minimum speed there – everybody’s is – the same, pretty much. Except, there are a couple of guys who will get a half-mile-an-hour faster through the center of the corner, and that is the difference between the pole speed and being dead last. You’re looking to find things that will make your car just that much faster there. You want to drive into the corner one foot deeper than that other guy. You want to step on the gas one foot sooner than that other guy and you want to roll a half-mile-an-hour better than that other guy. That’s why it’s so finicky and so hard there, because everybody runs so tight that, any little thing you can find, it can help a lot.”