By the Time I Get to Phoenix ... HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 16, 2009) -- A year ago this month, Kyle Busch proved to be an unstoppable force in the NASCAR Nationwide Series by scoring his first three victories of the season on consecutive ...
By the Time I Get to Phoenix ...
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (April 16, 2009) -- A year ago this month, Kyle Busch proved to be an unstoppable force in the NASCAR Nationwide Series by scoring his first three victories of the season on consecutive April weekends at Texas, Phoenix and Mexico City.
Busch went on to score a series-high 10 wins and finished a solid sixth in the season-ending point standings despite sitting out five of 35 Nationwide Series events.
As the series returns to Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., for Friday night's Bashas' Supermarkets 200, Busch will strap into the cockpit of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) as the defending race winner, where he finds himself on a roll very similar to the one he was in the midst of one year ago.
After thoroughly dominating the April 4 O'Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where Busch started from the pole and lead 178 of 200 race laps en route to his second Nationwide Series victory of the year, Busch is a mere .487 of a second from a chance at another three-weekend April win streak on Friday night at Phoenix.
Last Saturday on the Nashville Superspeedway 1.33-mile concrete oval near Lebanon, Tenn., Busch and the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota had their dominant moments, leading six times for 77 laps and running on virtual cruise control at the front of the pack until a pair of late-race cautions. JGR teammate Joey Logano took advantage of those late-race restarts, scooted past Busch and crossed the finish line less than a half-a-second ahead of him. To see the disappointment on Busch's face afterward, you'd thought the 23-year-old from Las Vegas finished dead last and not in the runner-up spot for his third top-two finish in six Nationwide Series outings in 2009.
By the time he gets to Phoenix, Busch will be well over the disappointment, particularly knowing the runner-up finish at Nashville, coupled with the fifth-place outing by Carl Edwards, moved Busch to within 23 points of Edwards for the Nationwide Series point lead.
If recent Nationwide Series history at Phoenix is any indication, count on Friday night's race to come down to a mad dash to the finish by those same two competitors. Busch's victory in the spring race last year was by .241 of a second in a green-white-checker finish over Edwards, giving him two in a row at the mile oval after his first-place finish in the November 2007 race.
Edwards returned the favor last November in another wild green-white-checker finish over Busch's JGR teammate Denny Hamlin in the No. 18 Toyota, crossing the line by a mere .096 of a second while Busch saw his shot at a Phoenix three-peat come to a disappointing end with a fifth-place run in the No. 32 Braun Racing Toyota.
Busch and the No. 18 team will dust off the very same JGR chassis (No. 1886) that Hamlin used to qualify on the pole at Phoenix last November, lead 62 race laps, and drive to within a whisker of victory. And, yes, there will be motivation aplenty for Busch with the Nationwide Series point lead up for grabs, the comforts of the desert Southwest surroundings for the Las Vegas native behind the wheel, and a track record at Phoenix that includes NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (November 2005) and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (November 2007) wins in addition to his recent Nationwide Series triumphs.
Kyle Busch, No. 18 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Phoenix International Raceway
You seem to be comfortable at tracks that are short and flat, like Phoenix. Why is that?
"For some reason, I'm always fast on the flat tracks in the Nationwide Series. I just have fun at those types of places. It's fun for me to be able to get the car hung out and loose all the time. But at a flat track like Phoenix, you can't necessarily do that because you lose your forward bite so much and you can't drive up off the corner as well in the Nationwide Series cars. I just seem to be comfortable at the one-mile flat tracks, for some reason. It probably has to do with running some of those types of tracks growing up, and also with my Late Model team."
You won the Nationwide Series races at Phoenix in November 2007 and April 2008. 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."
Jason Ratcliff, crew chief of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Phoenix International Raceway
What are your overall thoughts heading into Phoenix this weekend?
"Phoenix has been a good track for us. I enjoy it. I enjoy that area. I enjoy the racetrack. Of course, we won the first race last year, and Denny came back and ran the second race in this very same 18 car and came really close to winning it. I'm looking forward to it. It always seems to be a good place for Kyle. He likes it out there. That's his time zone, I think, so he feels it gives him that much more of an advantage."
Are there any particular challenges practicing and qualifying during the daytime and then coming back to race at night?
"It'll be a bit of a challenge. The spring race is not so bad because the weather is not overbearingly hot. Actually, we seem to struggle more the later we get into the race and the cooler it gets compared to practice. That's where we have the biggest challenge getting a read on the racetrack. We should be good. We've got enough notes to be able to get a good idea of what we need to do."
Chassis No. 1886: This car will be making its third NASCAR Nationwide Series start in Friday night's Bashas' Supermarkets 200. It debuted last September at Richmond International Raceway, where Denny Hamlin qualified 27th but drove his way to a fourth-place finish. Hamlin was back behind the wheel for Chassis No. 1886's second start last November at Phoenix International Raceway, where he qualified on the pole, led 62 laps and was runner-up to Carl Edwards in a green-white-checker finish.