'18' Isn't Just a Number HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 1, 2008) -- Despite being just 22 years old, Kyle Busch has quickly gained an appreciation for the winning history of his current team. Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota...
'18' Isn't Just a Number
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 1, 2008) -- Despite being just 22 years old, Kyle Busch has quickly gained an appreciation for the winning history of his current team.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), became part of that winning history last month at Atlanta Motor Speedway when he piloted the No. 18 to its first victory in four years. The win was also the first for Toyota in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.
The nostalgia surrounding the moment certainly wasn't lost on the Las Vegas native.
"The 18! The 18! The 18 is back at Atlanta," Busch screamed on the radio after scoring the first win for JGR's original team since former JGR driver Bobby Labonte brought the No. 18 Interstate Batteries home a winner in the 2003 season-ending race at Homestead (Fla.) Miami Speedway.
Busch's triumph ended a 147-race drought for the team and nobody was more emotional about seeing the No. 18 car in victory lane than current JGR Vice President of Competition Jimmy Makar, who was one of the original employees at JGR and the first crew chief of the Interstate Batteries machine.
Over a nine-year span, Labonte and Interstate racked up 21 Sprint Cup Series wins, along with a magical 2000 season that saw the Makar-led team bring home the championship in NASCAR's top series.
"Kyle Busch," Makar said on the radio as Busch crossed the finish line at Atlanta, "thank you for bringing the 18 back."
Makar and the rest of the Huntersville, N.C.-based organization were thrilled to watch Busch and crew chief Steve Addington carry the No. 18 car back to prominence, but many of the crew who have been there from the very beginning still feel like they have some unfinished business leading into Sunday's Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
What might their next mission be? To bring the familiar green and black colors of JGR founding sponsor Interstate Batteries back to victory lane in the backyard of the company's Dallas headquarters.
Interstate Batteries Chairman Norm Miller would love nothing more. Miller helped jumpstart JGR by committing to sponsor Joe Gibbs' first NASCAR endeavor with a handshake in his Dallas office in 1991. One year later, Gibbs and Miller's dream became a reality as the team hit the circuit with Dale Jarrett behind the wheel of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries machine.
While Busch understands what bringing the No. 18 car back to victory lane meant to JGR's founding sponsor, he's also aware that he has a tremendous opportunity in front of him to become a major part of the team's history. And with his wide-open style, patience isn't something the talented Busch normally exercises, and he expects to add to Interstate Batteries' history sooner rather than later.
The same race-winning chassis from Atlanta will make the rounds this weekend at Texas, but Busch doesn't want to wait to rewrite history. He'd rather add to the legacy of the No. 18 starting this weekend in the shadows of where it all began.
KYLE BUSCH: Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry
The green and black colors of Interstate Batteries will be back on the Cup car at Texas this week. How special was it to bring the 18 car back to victory lane at Atlanta, and how special would it be to also get a win wearing Interstate green at Texas?
"I'd love to be able to do that. Interstate Batteries has long been a supporter of JGR and really helped start the team with Norm Miller and Joe Gibbs going such a long way back. It was really awesome to see all the 18 guys back in victory lane at Atlanta and enjoying the win. I remember the years of watching Bobby Labonte dominate at Atlanta and plenty of other places. The win reminded me of watching the 18 car up front where it used to be and where it belongs. To see the smiles on everyone's face was great, especially Steve Addington and how excited he was about his first Cup win. And of course to get Toyota the win, well, it just all meant so much. Now that we've got the first one, you just try to go out and dig deeper and win more of them."
Is there satisfaction in the praise you're getting from the media and competitors for your driving abilities?
"Yeah there is. You always like to be recognized in that area and not crucified in that area. It's fun to be able to go out there and race the way I race. Obviously, it's a good show for the fans and a good time for TV. We'll just keep it the way it is and hopefully be able to win some."
You won earlier this year at Atlanta. As you head to Texas, a track with a similar configuration, does that give you any more confidence knowing how good you were at Atlanta?
"I think Texas is going to be a fast place. It's going to be a little bit different getting in and coming up off the corners than Atlanta because there isn't as much banking at Texas getting into the corner. For me, Texas has always been a tricky place. I've never really run well there and been confident there. We've been getting better in recent years in the Cup car and have had some success in the Craftsman Truck Series and the Nationwide Series. I get a little more comfortable each time I get back there in the Cup car and hopefully we can get the race car close to my liking when we get there this weekend."
Atlanta was always a tough place for you and you were able to break through there. Do you think you could experience a similar breakthrough at Texas?
"Not really. Every track is different. You can't expect to run well at one track and have it translate over to another, no matter how close the configuration is. We've just got to be able go out there in each practice session and try to make the car better."
You really have seemed to mesh well with crew chief Steve Addington so far this season. What are some of the things you like about Addington's style as a crew chief?
"I think Steve understands how passionate I am and how eager I am to run well and be successful. He's the same way, but appears to everyone else as laid back and doesn't always show it. If I'm the one upset about something, he's the one that understands my frustrations and he'll just keep working on making things better instead of just getting frustrated with me. It's easy for me to get frustrated behind the wheel driving these things. But for him to be on my side and understand what I'm feeling and what I need in the race car has just made it an easy transition for me."
Things have changed so much since your last trip to Texas. How much do you think you've learned over the past year about handling yourself on and off the race track?
"I feel really comfortable so far here at Joe Gibbs Racing. We've had the chance to concentrate more on what we need to do to stay up front and win and not worry about any other distractions. I've learned a bunch coming over here that has helped me get acclimated with who I am as a person and a race car driver. What happened last year at Texas was a misunderstanding and a mistake on some people's parts, including mine, of course. Going there this year, we all recognize that I'm in a better place as far as being comfortable in my own skin and the support I've received from everyone at JGR."