Kyle Busch may always look forward to making the trip back to his hometown of Las Vegas for a race, but perhaps no driver was happier to leave Las Vegas Motor Speedway than Busch this past weekend.
The driver of the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing qualified on the front row last Friday at Las Vegas, but a Saturday practice accident forced the No. 18 team to a backup car and to the back of the starting grid for Sunday’s 400-mile race. And Busch’s fortunes didn’t turn out much better on race day as he brushed the wall and couldn’t overcome handling woes en route to a disappointing 23rd-place finish.
With the bright lights of the Vegas Strip and a disappointing weekend in his rearview mirror, the talented 26-year-old sees good things on the horizon ahead of him, and he can best describe it all in just three simple words: It’s Bristol, Baby.
Why such a good feeling about this Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500? There just might not be another active driver who’s better at getting around the .533-mile high-banked bullring known as Bristol Motor Speedway than Busch.
He’s won five Sprint Cup races at Bristol, including four out of the last six. And Busch is still relatively fresh off his most successful weekend ever in northeast Tennessee’s Thunder Valley, when he wielded a broom in Bristol’s victory lane after sweeping the entire NASCAR slate of races in August 2010 and again last March.
While Busch is on quite a roll at Bristol, it’s interesting to note he didn’t immediately take to the place. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But Busch’s record in his last 11 starts at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile has been nothing short of amazing. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Sprint Cup win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, since then, nobody has been better at the concrete short track than Busch. He has added four more wins, five top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the last nine NASCAR races contested on the current surface.
Those numbers are certainly impressive, and Busch’s most notable Bristol feat occurred in August 2010, when he became the first driver in history to win all three of NASCAR’s national touring series events in the same weekend. He won the Wednesday-night Camping World Truck Series race, then the Friday-night Nationwide race, and he topped it all off by wheeling his No. 18 Toyota to victory and into the history books in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race. Busch led four times for a race-high 282 laps in the latter event, bringing his weekend total to 514 laps led out of a possible 956.
Busch followed that weekend sweep by backing it up when the series returned to Bristol last March. He won the Saturday Nationwide event and his impressive fifth Sprint Cup race at the track the following day.
It’s a safe bet that Busch and the No. 18 team will again have brooms at the ready as they prepare for the possibility of emerging from the World’s Fastest Half-Mile this weekend with another armful of trophies.
Busch took some time to answer a few questions in advance of Sunday’s race.
What makes you so good at Bristol Motor Speedway?
I’m not exactly sure what makes me so good at Bristol. I’ve just had a lot of success there, but I’ve also had some misfortune there, too. Ever since I got through my rookie year, I’ve just taken a liking to the place. Of course, I’ve been able to get some help from my brother (Kurt). He’s always been really, really good there. But, when they changed the track to this current surface, I just really took to it right away. I really liked it and I’ve been fast there, but also I’ve had great racecars from Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s just a fun racetrack no matter what series I’m running there. You really have to be on your game because you make one mistake, or someone else makes one mistake like what happened in the fall Nationwide Series race there in 2009 when a car with a flat tire came down the track and essentially ended our day that’s it. Hopefully, we can keep that good luck going there in the Sprint Cup Series with our Doublemint Toyota.
What is your most memorable experience at Bristol?
The one that stands out the most for me is August 2010 being able to do the sweep. We won the Truck race on Wednesday night, backed it up with the Nationwide race Friday and took home the Cup race on Saturday night.
Is it the racetrack, in particular, that allows you to be so successful at Bristol, of late?
We kind of upset the apple cart last fall we just didn’t have a very good weekend there. With the Truck race, we kind of got crashed out. The Nationwide race, I barely beat Joey (Logano), which was good we won. Then the Cup race, we just made so many changes to the car based on how the Nationwide car ran that it threw us for a loop.
I like going to Bristol. It’s always fun. What set in there to allow me to run as well as I do? I’ve got no idea. It just kind of clicked. I think I missed a little bit of some of that stuff last fall, just not having the car set up right and trying too many different things that we’re not quite used to. We ventured from the path a little bit and it seems like, when you can get a good setup somewhere, you ought to stick with it and try to just fine-tune on it a little bit instead of saying, “This isn’t working this time or it’s not working on this tire.” The track, most of the time, will influence how your setup should be, not the tire.
What is the most challenging aspect of Bristol?
I think the most challenging aspect of Bristol is just how difficult it is to transition through from the straightaways to the corners, back to the straightaways and have your car set up in order to do all that. Sometimes you can be really loose getting in, or you can be really tight in the middle you just seem to never be able to get a good-flowing car that works well there. Drivers have to do a lot of manipulation with the racetrack with their car in order to try to make the best of it.
How have you figured out the best way to get around Bristol Motor Speedway?
It has just kind of really worked well together. It’s a fun place that you go to that you like going to. You enjoy the race around there. We grew up at the Bullring (in Las Vegas) and stuff like that. Maybe not as banked as Bristol is, but I love going and racing at Winchester (Indiana) and at Slinger (Wisconsin), Salem (Indiana)---those are all really high-banked racetracks that are a half-mile in distance, or a quarter. They’re really fun to race around and you kind of get a great feel for racing in a bowl.
You go down the straightaway and you slam it into the corners and you mash the gas and you kind of sling right back out of the corners. It’s a lot of fun to do that. It’s kind of an art. Some guys are really good at it, and some find a knack that makes them really good at it and makes it seem easy. I remember, last spring we were horrible there. You can definitely snap that string pretty quickly.
Do you have to adjust your driving style at Bristol Motor Speedway ever since they resurfaced the track?
My driving style changed at Bristol a lot. Bristol used to be a track where you could charge the corners a little bit and get it right in and down to the bottom of the track. You kind of would go through the middle of the corner and then slingshot out on the exits. Now, it’s just so smooth that you’re easy in, you’re kind of easy through the center, and easy off. The track is a little slower than I think it was because they reduced some banking in order to put sort of the progressive banking into it to make the outside groove better for the fans.
What makes Bristol Motor Speedway so unique and a place that fans love?
Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit. All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins, and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 43 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time.