Sporting a New Look
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 23, 2011) -- There is no denying that Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Toyota team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) have been "white hot" in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition over the last few years.
Busch has driven the No. 18 Toyota to victory in a staggering 30 races since the beginning of the 2008 season and won the 2009 driver championship, while the 18 team captured the owner title in 2009 and 2010.
Given his "white-hot" success in recent years, it's appropriate that Busch will pilot the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for JGR in this week's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 Nationwide Series event at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.
The 200-lap race will be the debut event for Interstate Batteries' new "white hot" paint scheme to help celebrate the company's 20-year partnership with JGR. The Toyota Camry is primarily white with green and black accents, including a distinctive lightning bolt design on the sides. But, perhaps the most talked about aspect of the new livery is the front of the Camry, which features a stunning illustration of an "Outrageously Dependable" green-top Interstate Battery seemingly bursting out of the hood.
It's a bold look to celebrate the anniversary of what was essentially a bold move 20 years ago by Interstate Batteries chairman Norm Miller.
In the summer of 1991, Joe Gibbs met with Miller in Dallas and pitched him on having Interstate Batteries being the first-ever sponsor for JGR, despite not having any cars, engines, employees or a building. Miller was sold on the idea immediately and a highly successful 20-year relationship was born. Interstate Batteries-sponsored JGR cars have won the 1993 Daytona 500 (Dale Jarrett), the 2000 Brickyard 400 (Bobby Labonte), the 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship (Labonte) and 24 Sprint Cup races (Labonte -- 21, Jarrett -- 2, Busch -- 1).
Interstate Batteries also has one Nationwide Series win to its credit and, fittingly, it came in the spring 2008 race at Phoenix with Busch at the wheel.
All told, in 11 Nationwide Series starts at Phoenix, Busch has been "white hot" as he has tallied three wins (November 2007, April 2008 and April 2010), three poles (November 2004, April 2007, April 2008) and eight top-10 finishes.
The last of his three wins came in dramatic fashion last April as Busch charged from 11th to first in the final 10 laps to defeat Kevin Harvick by 1.550 seconds in one of the most impressive drives of the 2010 racing season.
Busch will look for win number four at Phoenix on Saturday night, while hoping to kick off Interstate Batteries' 20th anniversary celebration with a "white-hot" bang.
Kyle Busch, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
What are your overall thoughts on Phoenix?
"Obviously, we're bringing the new car there and we've only raced the new-style Nationwide Series car once before (in September 2010 at Richmond) on a track a mile or less, so there are a lot of unknowns. I know Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the guys have really learned a lot with the new car since we ran it at Richmond last fall, so I'm optimistic. We have less practice time than we did at Daytona, or will have at Las Vegas, so there's not going to be a lot of time to make changes during the weekend. But I know the guys have really studied every aspect of the car and are as prepared as they can be headed into the weekend."
You won the Nationwide Series races at Phoenix in November 2007, April 2008 and April 2010. What does it take to be successful there?
"The coolest thing about Phoenix is you have two distinctively different corners. Turns one and two are different than three and four, and there's also a kink in the backstretch. Being able to run well there depends on how well you can turn in the center of turns one and two, yet still have a good drive up off the back straightaway because it's so long and fast. Then, getting into turn three, you really need to rotate. Just past the center of turns three and four, you have a little bit of kink on the apron, where you need to be able to turn and get a good drive off the corner. There are plenty of tricks to that place that you need to know to be successful."
You had an incredible drive to victory in last year's spring race. What do you remember about that win?
"We got penalized for jumping a restart and fell back, almost out of the top-20, with about 50 laps to go. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) didn't give up, I didn't quit and neither did the guys. We just fought our way back and got a couple of cautions and we were 11th with 10 laps to go. From there we just went for broke and were able to pass all those guys and get the win. It was an awesome night and it was amazing how it all played out."
What are your thoughts about Norm Miller, Interstate Batteries and their long support of JGR?
"Norm is just an amazing guy. When he asks, 'How are you doing,' he actually cares how you are doing. He's just a tremendous supporter of mine and JGR as a whole. He and everyone at Interstate have become such friends to Samantha (wife) and I. When you look back 20 years ago, it's amazing how big of a risk Norm took supporting JGR, since they were so new to racing. It's probably paid off well beyond what they thought it would. We get to debut the new paint scheme for 2011 and there's no better way to do that than in victory lane."
Jason Ratcliff, Crew Chief of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:
Last September's Nationwide Series race at Richmond is the only race for the new-style car on a track one mile or less. What can you take from Richmond and translate to Phoenix?
"We looked back on our Richmond stuff. We felt like we had a good car at Richmond. We needed to improve on it, obviously, but we feel like over the winter we've done our homework. I wish we were going to get a little more practice time at Phoenix. That's my only concern, not getting the practice time we need if we were to get into a situation where things get tough. There's just not going to be time to work it out. We got the extended practice time at Daytona and we get it next week at Las Vegas, which is a good deal. I wish we had it at Phoenix, but I'm confident our car will be good, and we'll have made some improvements to our short-track program from Richmond."
How has Kyle been adapting to the new-style car?
"Even though the front end of the (Sprint) Cup car is on bump stops and we're on just springs -- non-bump-stop cars -- the cars are fairly similar. So, obviously, his experience in the Cup car in the last few years is going to help him with what we're doing over here because they are so similar. But, they are still different, so it's our job to make sure we understand the coil-bind package and make sure it works as well as a bump-stop package and get the car where it needs to be. Kyle runs well at Phoenix. We've won a couple of races there with him and, hopefully, we can get a win with the new car."
You had a front-row seat for Kyle's amazing victory last spring at Phoenix. What do you remember about that night?
"I've never seen anything like that. When it all played out, I was thinking we might get a top-five out of it. We cost ourselves, I thought. We had a shot to win the race and whatever the situation was that put us a lap down, I thought, 'If we can come back and get a top-five, I'm going to consider that a victory.' And that's what we were shooting for. And then everything just played out exactly like it needed to for him to do that. If you go back and re-watch that race, there are several different scenarios that have to play out for him to pull that off. That race, at this time, looking back, is the one I will remember the most for being the most excited about. We didn't even expect it. Plus, we all like Phoenix and it's a great place to win. To be able to come back from our deficit and start 11th and come back with 10 laps to go or whatever and pass all those cars and win the race was a huge deal. It was fun."
How temperature-sensitive is Phoenix?
"It's very temperature-sensitive. In the first race there, it's early enough in the year that the temperature changes aren't as dramatic. But, with the sun on the track to when the sun goes down and it shades up, it's a pretty big deal. Before, it was a night race. Now, it's a late-afternoon race, so it will go into the evening. If you practice with sun on the track, you've got to know what direction the track is going to go when the sun goes down because it's definitely going to change on you."
How important have Norm Miller and Interstate Batteries been to JGR?
"Obviously, Norm's been a partner with Joe (Gibbs) for a long time and they are both really good friends. You couldn't ask for a better partner than Interstate Batteries. Our second victory with Kyle in the 18 car came in Phoenix with Interstate Batteries on the car and I know it was a big deal for Norm. If we can do that again with the new car and a new paint scheme for Interstate Batteries, which is a really cool deal, we'd be pretty happy. We're happy to fly those colors and see if we can pull off a win for Norm and everyone at Interstate Batteries."