KYLE BUSCH Defending Nationwide Champ = Outrageously Dependable DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 2010) -- "Defending Champion:" two words that are simply music to the ears of Kyle Busch as he saddles up for another new NASCAR Nationwide Series...
Defending Nationwide Champ = Outrageously Dependable
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 2010) -- "Defending Champion:" two words that are simply music to the ears of Kyle Busch as he saddles up for another new NASCAR Nationwide Series season on Saturday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
The 24-year-old driving prodigy, who steamrolled his way to the 2009 Nationwide Series title -- his first of any kind in NASCAR's top-three divisions -- will be back behind the wheel of the familiar, green No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) when he takes to the 2.5-mile superspeedway for Saturday's season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300.
As he and his JGR teammates look to continue their recent mastery of the Nationwide Series circuit in 2010, Busch harkens another couple of words that can best describe last year's drive to the championship, which also describe the key to returning to victory lane with regularity in 2010: "Outrageously Dependable."
Those words just so happen to be the tagline for longtime sponsor Interstate Batteries, which this month kicks off its 19th season partnering with JGR. They certainly paint an accurate picture of how Busch & Company went about methodically picking apart their Nationwide Series competitors the past two seasons.
Consider that after collecting a series record-tying 10 wins, 18 top-fives and 20 top-10s in just 30 races in 2008, Busch took on the full 35-race Nationwide slate in 2009 and won a series-high nine times, finished second another 11 times -- including placing first or second in an astounding 10 consecutive events -- tied a series single-season record with 25 top-five finishes, crushed his own single-season record originally set in 2008 by leading 2,698 of a possible 6,715 laps (40.2 percent), and cruised to the championship by a 210-point margin over Carl Edwards.
If that's not outrageously dependable, nothing is. Add the fact that, for the second season in a row, Busch led all Nationwide Series competitors in driver rating (a formula that combines wins, top finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest laps, most laps led, and lead-lap finishes with a maximum score each race of 150), and his on-track consistency is all the more apparent. Busch's 2009 season-ending driver rating of 126.6 was the best since the inception of NASCAR's loop data statistics, and his four perfect driver rating scores of 150 in 2009 upped his career total to an all-time Nationwide Series-leading seven "perfectos."
Of Busch's 30 career Nationwide Series wins -- fourth on the all-time list behind Mark Martin (48), Kevin Harvick (34) and Jack Ingram (31) -- one particularly memorable one came when the No. 18 Toyota was painted Interstate Batteries green in the April 2008 event at Phoenix International Raceway. And, one of his most memorable NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories came in the July 2008 Coke Zero 400 right here at Daytona wearing, yes, Interstate Batteries green.
With that, Busch can't think of a better way to open defense of his Nationwide Series championship than by demonstrating a heaping helping of that outrageous dependability, neatly outfitted in his Interstate Batteries green, once again, on Saturday afternoon.
Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Daytona International Speedway
What did it mean to you to win the Nationwide Series title and what long-term lessons did you take from that?
"It's important because it shows that I do know how to win a championship. Even though, in the Nationwide Series, you're racing against a few less competitors every week, it's still the same 43 spots. The Nationwide Series has about 12 guys who can win on a given week and the Sprint Cup Series has about 15 to 20 guys who can win every week, so it's tougher competition. But for me, I've shown I can win a championship. I've been determined enough to do that. Last year, being able to achieve that in the Nationwide Series, I'm looking to take that to this year and try to become a Sprint Cup champion. I think there were plenty of lessons to be learned from last year. As much as I was upset with second-place finishes and top-fives and not wins, once I sat back and looked at it, that's what won our team a championship, so the consistency of last year is not lost on me."
You know what it takes to win in the Nationwide Series at Daytona as you scored the victory there in July 2007. Where do you want to be during the final couple of laps to be in the best position to win?
"The best place to be is out front most of the time, but not always. If you're on a restart, it's not the best place to be, but if it's a long, green-flag run to finish the race, then you try to get to the front and stay there. It all depends on the situation. When you have a car as strong as I had there in July of 2007, then it's pretty easy to get out front and stay there. I've got a pretty good feel for what I need to run strong when I go to Daytona, and I'm hoping we can do it again with the Interstate Batteries Toyota. All we can do is get in the position to win and hope it all plays out. That's all you can do at Daytona, and just hope for the best."
Danica Patrick will be making her Nationwide Series debut Saturday at Daytona. What are your thoughts about that, and do you have any advice for her?
"I think it's going to be interesting to see what happens with Danica (Patrick). I think she's serious about her racing, what she's done. She's done a great job in the IndyCar Series in the years she's been there. She's won a race. She's had multiple top-five and top-10 finishes. She's been in contention for a lot more than that to win races. But I feel like, with the testing that they've done, finding racetracks to get her at, finding racetracks to get her experience at with herself and Kelly Bires, too, he's familiar with the car she's getting into. You shouldn't judge her just from the Nationwide race at Daytona, though. I think she'll do fine, long-term. She's got plenty of resources behind her. She's got plenty of help to go to. She is kind of in the same organization with Hendrick Motorsports, so she has all those drivers to feed off of. The best advice I could give to her is just listen to your peers. Take advice from anywhere you can get it. Don't try to do this on your own. You've got to be able to us the help of anybody and everybody."
The Daytona Nationwide Series race will be the first of the year for Interstate Batteries. What does the relationship with Interstate Batteries mean to you?
"It means a lot, actually. I got to spend some time with Norm (Miller, Chairman of Interstate Batteries), fishing earlier this week and we just had a blast. I'm fortunate that I have great partners like Interstate, M&M's, Z-Line Designs, NOS, all who know me and just let me be myself. Trust me, I appreciate it a ton."