Daytona: Kyle Busch preview

KYLE BUSCH Looking to Get Interstate Win Number 26.5 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 2009) -- Numbers and statistics can be miserable, as anyone who sat through a statistical analysis class in college can confirm. But numbers and stats can...

Looking to Get Interstate Win Number 26.5

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 2009) -- Numbers and statistics can be miserable, as anyone who sat through a statistical analysis class in college can confirm. But numbers and stats can also be fun, as in the case of Kyle Busch, who will be participating in Saturday's season-opening Camping World 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

Busch will drive the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and kick off Interstate Batteries' 18th year of NASCAR involvement with JGR.

The story behind the 18-year Gibbs/Interstate Batteries relationship involves faith, trust and a little luck.

Gibbs, along with business partner Don Meredith, formed JGR in July 1991 after the two met in April of that year with Jimmy Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports and seven-time series champion Richard Petty to discuss forming the team.

Amazingly, with only a handful of employees, no cars or engines and no racing experience to speak of, Gibbs secured sponsorship from Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries.

The team, which had less than 20 employees, hit the track for the first time in February 1992 in the Daytona 500 with Dale Jarrett driving the No. 18 Interstate Batteries car and Jimmy Makar serving as crew chief.

Since signing its first contract with JGR 18 years ago, Interstate has enjoyed a heck of a ride, highlighted by wins in the 1993 Daytona 500 (Jarrett) and the 2000 Brickyard 400 (Bobby Labonte), as well as the 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship (Labonte).

All told, Interstate has been to victory lane 25.5 times. That includes 21 Sprint Cup victories by Labonte, two by Jarrett and one by Busch. In addition, Busch has one Nationwide Series victory, plus what can be considered a half-win in April 2008 when he was driving a DLP-sponsored car, but wore an Interstate Batteries driving suit.

Busch will look to score win number 26.5 for Interstate Batteries on Saturday and pick up right where he left off in 2008. Last year he notched a record 21 victories in NASCAR's top-three divisions, including a series-high 10 wins in the Nationwide Series.

Unlike last year, when Busch drove "only" 30 of the 35 events on the Nationwide Series schedule, in 2009 he plans to compete in every race and attempt to give JGR its first driver title in the Nationwide Series, as JGR won the owner title with the No. 20 car in 2008.

Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Daytona International Speedway

Why did you decide to run both the Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series full-time?

"It's the same thing as last year. We sort of started out where we would go full-time in both of them and shied away from it in the middle of the year when we started struggling and falling a little bit behind. Funny thing is that if we would've kept going and taken the average finish of all my races of the year and just gotten the points from those, then we would have won the championship by 17 points. It's kind of funny how things play out. It was fun last year just doing the part-time deal, but this year we're just going full-time again and trying to see what we can do. If we can win the championship for Joe Gibbs Racing -- they haven't had a driver's championship in the Nationwide Series -- the first championship last fall was with an owner's championship, so we're trying to get both."

Do you do better when you're running races in all three series?

"It was a lot of fun for me to run every race. I like being out there on the racetrack. I would rather be out on the racetrack. The only time when it gets hard on you a little bit is trying to jump back and forth between Truck practice, Cup practice, Nationwide practice and qualifying, and all that stuff on the same day. Along with media obligations, sponsor obligations and all the stuff like that. To me though, when you're out on the racetrack, you would rather be there than sitting in a motor home watching the race on TV."

You finished second in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona last year, both times to your teammate in the No. 20 Toyota. Is the 20 car going to be one of your biggest competitors on Saturday afternoon?

"The 20 guys have won two straight at Daytona with that car so we know they will be good. I felt like we had a good car there in both races last year. We battled up front all night in July and stayed in position to win. I felt like I drove probably one of the smartest, if not the smartest, race out there the last two trips to Daytona. I just kept my stuff on the bottom and had a fast car where I could stay out of trouble and didn't have to maneuver around too much and find something that would work for my car. My car just seemed to work on the bottom the best. In Daytona testing last year, the 20 car was so strong that we cut mine up and tried to make it a duplicate and just couldn't get it done for the February race and we cut it apart for Talladega and still didn't get it. Then we cut it apart again for the July race and still didn't get it. It's the closest it had been, but we are giving it another shot for this race."

You won the Nationwide Series race at Daytona in July 2007, so you are familiar with winning there in the Nationwide series. 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 you know 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 Interstate Batteries car like we did in the Cup race last July."

Not only are you running the whole Sprint Cup schedule, but you'll log a lot of time in a Nationwide Series car and in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, not to mention a Late Model. How do you change your driving style and mindset going from one vehicle to another on different racetracks?

"There's quite a bit of difference in everything I will be driving. I'm jumping from a Late Model, to a Sprint Cup car, to a Nationwide Series car and a Truck, and each one is a bit different. The sense of knowing what vehicle you are in is what really matters. You can jump back and forth between them, but if you drive them all the same, then you're really going to struggle. You have to know what tendencies you need to run in the Truck, or the Nationwide Series car, or the Cup car. Understanding all of that is what makes you a good racecar driver. Utilizing that knowledge at each venue is what might make some guys better at it than others. It's difficult, but it's something I've been doing for quite awhile because at the beginning of my racing career I raced two or three different divisions at my local short track. I'd jump from a Late Model to a Legends car and then on to a Modified. I was always jumping back and forth between so many different race cars. Being able to do that really helped me to get to where I have an easier time jumping between cars now."

Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries, and your owner, Joe Gibbs, had a challenge race in January where Coach Gibbs flipped Norm for the win. What advice would you give Norm to come out on top next time?

"My advice for Norm is to trail back in second like Joe was and then to dump Joe in the exact same fashion. I thought that was a pretty good strategy. That way, he'll spin out or roll over Joe, but he'll come out on top next time. All joking aside, Interstate Batteries has been in this sport with JGR for like 18 years, so I'm hoping that they don't have anymore match races together. I'd rather have them Norm and Interstate Batteries stick around with us for a lot longer."

-credit: jgr

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Drivers Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Richard Petty , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing