Event: Las Vegas
KYLE BUSCHLooking To Come Out Ahead in Las Vegas
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 1, 2011) -- Everyone who heads to Las Vegas has dreams of winning big. And nearly everyone who leaves Las Vegas seems to exit with less money than he entered with.
The same can be said for the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) NASCAR Nationwide Series teams. But Kyle Busch and his crew chief Jason Ratcliff aren't losing money at slot machines or blackjack tables but, rather, in SAFER Barriers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
While the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry for JGR has been nearly unbeatable in recent years, Las Vegas has been cruel to the top team in the Nationwide Series.
Since joining JGR in 2008, Busch has finished 31st, 38th and 16th in three starts at Las Vegas. His 2008 and 2009 races at the 1.5-mile-oval ended with accidents that destroyed the race car he was driving and forced the machine to be cut up and thrown away, never to be used again.
Unfortunately, the carnage is not limited to just the No. 18 team. In 2008, former JGR driver Tony Stewart finished 27th in the Nationwide race at Las Vegas after an accident destroyed the No. 20 Toyota Camry he was piloting. One year later, Denny Hamlin finished 21st in the No. 20 Toyota Camry after an accident ended his day four laps short of the finish and caused JGR to take home yet another trashed race car.
So, forgive the JGR crew if it's not screaming "Vegas, baby!"
Despite their tough luck at Las Vegas, Busch and the Z-Line Designs team enter this week's Sam's Town 300 Nationwide Series event on a high after they scored a dominating victory last week at Phoenix International Raceway.
Busch led all 200 laps en route to victory in the Bashas' Supermarket 200 at Phoenix and became the first driver since Dale Earnhardt Jr., in July 2003 to lead all the laps of a race in one of NASCAR's top three divisions.
That momentum, coupled with Las Vegas being Busch's hometown, will hopefully be enough for the No. 18 Z-Line Designs team to finally hit the jackpot and end its tough stretch of luck in southern Nevada.
Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
Were you surprised you were able to lead all 200 laps in last week's Nationwide Series race at Phoenix?
"I knew that, after the first run, it was such a long run that nobody stayed out. Then, the second run, it was such a long run that everybody pitted again and, same thing. I was like, 'Man, so far I've led every lap of this thing,' and it came down toward the end of the race, there, and Carl (Edwards) was alongside me and he was trying to pass me and I was, like, 'Man, just beat him back to the start-finish line, man just beat him back to the start-finish line.' I was just trying to hold on for as long as I could. Finally, it seemed like it was about 15 laps or so that his stuff would just start falling off enough where we could start clicking back away and get away from him a little bit. I knew if I could just make it to that threshold, that I thought we'd be OK. Fortunately, we got there. When it came down to the end of the race, I knew it was every lap. It was pretty cool. I love doing that stuff and being where you're the guy to beat."
You watched Las Vegas Motor Speedway being built. What do you remember about that?
"My family watched the place get built from the ground up. When we were racing out at the Bullring, the track was nothing but a dirt lot. It was actually part of the parking lot for that Bullring racetrack. So, it's come a long way. I remember sitting up in the grandstands when I was younger and when Kurt (brother) and my dad (Tom) were racing, turning around and looking out there and watching it. They broke ground, I think, in '95 or '96 or something like that. I just kept turning around and watching it, watched the grandstands go up, the banking be put in, the outside retaining wall, the garages and stuff. Every weekend we were over at the Bullring, we saw what was happening at the big track."
You won the Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas in 2009. How important is it for you to win the Nationwide Series race there in 2011?
"Obviously being from Las Vegas, it's a huge race for me. My preference would be to win both races at Las Vegas and get a sweep for the weekend. It'd be nice to win the Nationwide race, though, considering we've not done well there the last few years. We've run well, we just haven't been able to finish like we need to. It was awesome winning the Sprint Cup race there, so I'd love to get to victory lane again with Z-Line Designs and celebrate in my hometown."
Jason Ratcliff, Crew Chief of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
What are your overall thoughts heading into Las Vegas?
"There are four tracks this year that NASCAR is going to give us more time to practice and Las Vegas is one of the tracks that everyone selected. I think Vegas will be very similar to Charlotte. The tire combination is little bit different, so we'll have to adjust for that. But I feel good about our car going into Vegas. It's a track we've run well at in the past. We just haven't been able to finish, for whatever reason. It's a fun track to go to and it's fast. Kyle enjoys it. It's his hometown, so he's always in good spirits and runs well there. He's won a (Sprint) Cup race there, but we need to get him a Nationwide Series win. He's been close with other teams, so I know if we can get him a Nationwide win, that'd be big."
Is there extra pressure to succeed, given that Las Vegas is Kyle's hometown?
"Last year, I felt like there was. We knew how important that would be to him and that made it very important to us. We had a great car and we've had really good cars there and, when we ended practice, we thought, 'We've got a really good car. We've got as good a shot as anybody.' The temperature changed and it got really cold and the car just wasn't what it was in practice. But we still led some laps and had a shot at it. We just fell a little short."
What has been so challenging for JGR Nationwide Series teams at Las Vegas?
"We've just had tough luck. We've lost a lot of cars there and not just the 18, but Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole. We've had a hard time getting out of Vegas without the fenders being bent. We've lost a lot of money in Vegas and we don't even gamble (laughs). We've been snake-bitten for whatever reason, and it's been a hard one for us to finish, especially with fenders on it. But we've run well and we'll get it figured out sooner or later."