HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – In the face of bitter disappointment, one might be able to take comfort in the old saying, “For every problem there is an opportunity.”
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Doublemint® Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is certainly disappointed since he now faces the next 10-race stretch of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule without being part of the 12-driver Chase for the Championship. Even tougher to take is the fact he and the Doublemint team missed the Chase by a mere three points after a disappointing 16th-place finish in last Saturday night’s 26th and final race of Sprint Cup’s regular season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
But, for their part, Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers and the entire No. 18 team have decided that, despite not making the Chase, there are three key opportunities that lie ahead before the checkered flag waves at the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It all starts with Sunday’s Geico 400 Sprint Cup event at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
With the pressure of competing in the Chase off their shoulders, Busch and Rogers will first focus on something former JGR teammate Tony Stewart accomplished after he just missed the Chase in 2006. Stewart and the No. 20 team for JGR brought home three wins to go along with five top-five finishes over the final 10 races.
Secondly, Busch & Company will do its part to provide as much information as possible to help teammate Denny Hamlin and his crew chief, Darian Grubb, and the entire No. 11 team for JGR in their bid for the championship. That’s what good teammates do.
Finally, Busch, the Las Vegas native, will hope to not only glean as much information as possible for his compatriots on the No. 11 squad, but also gain some ever-important momentum to carry into the 2013 season and their next opportunity to win a championship.
While his chance for a championship has ended for 2012, it doesn’t mean Busch won’t be focused on something he loves to do more than anything else – winning. Getting himself and the No. 18 team to victory lane is certainly where he feels they belong, starting Sunday at Chicagoland.
What are your overall thoughts heading back to Chicagoland on Sunday? “We’ve got to turn a corner here a little bit on our mile-and-a-half stuff. Chicago, in particular, hasn’t been great to us the past three years. I’m looking forward to Chicago with our Doublemint Camry this weekend. I like going there. I think we’ve got a great team and we’ve got a great leader with Dave Rogers (crew chief) and I’m sure we’ll be working hard to try to win and we can take chances that others can’t because of the situation we’re in for the rest of the year.”
How do you feel about how you’ve run at Chicagoland in recent years? “At Chicago, we ran really well there in ’08 and, unfortunately, ’09,’10 and ’11 were kind of a struggle, although we ran better last year and got bit on the fuel-mileage game there at the end. But we are racing in the day there again this year, which is different than the few years prior to last year. I like going to Chicago. It’s been a really good track for us in the Truck and Nationwide Series and we’ve got to get our Cup stuff a little bit better there. We had a decent car at Kansas this year and Charlotte, too, some of those places that are kind of the same as Chicago.”
Do you feel everyone works well as a team at Joe Gibbs Racing? “Any time your company is able to win, I feel like you have some significance to that. Whether Denny (Hamlin) followed some of our notes during the weekend or, whether he’s just being able to win in the equipment, sort of solidifies your thoughts that, ‘Hey, this stuff is pretty good. We’re not slouches.’ Denny has done a phenomenal job this year. I feel like our roles have reversed a little bit from last year, when we had four wins and we were kind of the guys each and every week and saying, ‘Why isn’t the 11 running a little better?’ I think, this year, it has kind of been the other way around. Denny has four wins and now he’s kind of like, ‘Why hasn’t the 18 run a little bit better?’ We’ve been fast, at times. We just haven’t quite had all of the luck go our way. We’ll do everything we can to help Denny and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) with the information we have and hope that helps those guys win a championship.”
Where does the 2008 Sprint Cup win at Chicagoland rank in terms of special wins for you, knowing how you made a spectacular move on the outside to win? “Winning both races at Chicago that year, it was just a great weekend. It was special, but there have been several special wins the last few years. It was a special year in 2008, since we won at Atlanta, Daytona and Infineon. And winning at home in (Las) Vegas, and on my birthday in Richmond, were also great races that year. But winning Chicago in 2008 and beating Jimmie (Johnson) was definitely neat. Ultimately, I have a lot of respect for him, Jeff Gordon, and anybody in this sport since it’s so competitive. To go out and beat guys like that, it’s something pretty special and I really cherished that, for sure.”