Phoenix: Phoenix: Kyle Busch preview

KYLE BUSCH Smile with Kyle, Revisited HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 8, 2008) -- It seemed as if everyone within the NASCAR garage was smiling with Kyle Busch last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The craze began last Wednesday when...

Smile with Kyle, Revisited

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 8, 2008) -- It seemed as if everyone within the NASCAR garage was smiling with Kyle Busch last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

The craze began last Wednesday when Interstate Batteries Chairman Norm Miller passed around "Smile With Kyle" buttons to all his employees prior to Busch's visit to the company's headquarters in Dallas. All were gathered to celebrate Interstate Batteries' sponsorship of Busch and the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota in the Samsung 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas.

By the time teams had moved into the garage area on Thursday, it seemed everyone was donning a "Smile with Kyle" button. Team owner Joe Gibbs proudly displayed one. Rival team members had them on. And before long, members of the media and some within the ESPN broadcast team were smiling with Kyle. Even Busch's previous car owner, Rick Hendrick, had requested one.

And when the checkered flag dropped on Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Texas, it was Busch and the Jason Ratcliff-led No. 18 team wearing the biggest smiles thanks to a dominating win that saw Busch lead four times for a race-high 126 laps.

It was a welcome and much needed turn of events for Busch, for he could hardly muster a smile during the six previous Nationwide Series races where he led a total of 345 laps but had nothing to show for his efforts.

While he started the season with back-to-back second-place finishes to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., accidents at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway spoiled Busch's strong drives.

Meanwhile, crew chief Ratcliff and the No. 18 team endured the frustration of having to watch three events from the sidelines, as Busch competed at Atlanta and Nashville with Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Nationwide Series team and at Bristol with the No. 32 team of Braun Racing. But instead of hanging their heads, Ratcliff and his team rolled up their collective sleeves and went to work. Ratcliff attended those three races even while his No. 18 team's hauler remained parked at the shop's base in Huntersville, N.C. It was all in an effort to shorten the learning curve once Ratcliff reunited with Busch at Texas. The move certainly paid off, as the duo's Texas win marked the first ever for Ratcliff's No. 18 team.

Now, Ratcliff and the team have plenty of reasons to smile leading into Friday night's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 Nationwide Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.

In addition to having led 471 of the 1,266 laps (37.2 percent) run this season in Nationwide Series competition, Busch also happens to be the most recent Nationwide Series race winner at Phoenix. His record at the

desert mile also includes three top-10 finishes, along with two pole positions in five career races.

Riding the wave of momentum from their first win at Texas, the Interstate Batteries team will hope to continue smiling with Kyle this weekend in the Valley of the Sun.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at Phoenix

It's been such a difficult year on the Nationwide Series side. How does it feel to finally get a win after being close so many times this year?

"It's been so tough this year, partly because of bad luck and partly because of a mistake that I made. We've been snake-bitten way too much. All of these guys work so, so hard on these things and I've torn a couple of them up. I'm really thankful for the fans that hung in there with me since it had been such a frustrating start in the Nationwide Series. I'm so happy for Jason Ratcliff and the rest of the guys on the No. 18 team on getting their first win. Jason made some great calls last week and helped give me an awesome car. But now that we've got one, I'm hoping there's plenty more where that came from. This team is certainly capable of winning more races this season."

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. 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. 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 race at Phoenix last fall. What does it take to be successful there, and what is it going to take to back up your win from last November?

"Phoenix is pretty neat place. For some reason, I've always run well there. I don't know if it's that I'm comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast or what. The coolest thing about Phoenix is that 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 good there depends on how well you can turn in the center of turns one and two, and 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. It's really dependent on how I like the car set up so I'm able to make a good lap time. There are plenty of tricks to that place that you need to know to be successful."

Jason Ratcliff, Crew Chief of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Joe Gibbs Racing Team

The whole No. 18 team has been close to winning so many times before. What does the Texas win mean for you and the team?

"We'd been close before, and we knew we had the equipment and the drivers to get it done. I knew a win was just around the corner. It just seemed like every time we got close, then something would happen. When the other teams at Joe Gibbs Racing are bringing trophies home, it puts a little bit of pressure on you. To finally get that first win for the No. 18 Nationwide Toyota finally confirms to everyone that we are good enough to win races, which was something we already knew. Now, we can move forward and take away that question of, 'When we are going to get our first win?' and start focusing that energy on something else. That accomplishment really takes the edge off and allows us to be even better going forward."

You've worked with some great race car drivers over the years. Is Kyle Busch the most talented driver you've worked with?

"I think so. What have we done without him all these years? I've worked with some awesome race car drivers and won races with them, so the caliber of drivers I've worked with has been very good. What makes Kyle so special is when he doesn't feel like he has a car to win the race, he's out their running competitive anyway. He makes us all look smarter because he's able to compensate when the car isn't where it needs to be. Where he separates himself from other drivers is his will to find a way to win races when the car isn't perfect."

-credit: jgr

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Drivers Tony Stewart , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing