HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – The state of Kentucky, long known as the home to big-time horse racing, has produced many winning thoroughbreds throughout the years.
Even though neither hails from Kentucky, look no further than Kyle Busch and his crew chief Dave Rogers as two people who have a similar winning history at the state’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racetrack – Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
Despite the fact that Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky will be just the third Sprint Cup race ever held in the Bluegrass State, the statistics for Busch and Rogers in Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races at the 1.5-mile oval speak for themselves.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 Doublemint® Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has been quite the top-notch thoroughbred in the state widely known for its world-class horse-racing industry. Busch has notched victories at Kentucky in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck. Add his 2003 ARCA series win at Kentucky and Busch has been victorious in four racing divisions and has made quite a Kentucky home of his own in the Bluegrass State’s second-most-famous victory lane.
Busch proved his worth in the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky in 2011, when he led six times for a race-high 125 laps to be the historic first winner in NASCAR’s top series in the state.
But Busch’s winning history at Kentucky started way back at the ripe age of 18, when he dominated the 2003 ARCA race there while competing for Hendrick Motorsports. He led a race-high 91 laps en route to the victory.
He returned to the Bluegrass State the following year and found victory lane again, this time in his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at the 1.5-mile oval. In all, Busch has one win, three top-fives, and has led 311 laps in five Nationwide Series starts there.
He also won the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race to give him three top-10 finishes and 117 laps led in three Truck Series starts at the speedway.
In addition to Busch’s stellar career statistics at Kentucky, his crew chief Dave Rogers sports a record that is equally as impressive as his current driver. While Rogers’ bio lists his hometown as Marshfield, Vt., the 39-year-old crew chief absolutely owned Kentucky Speedway in 2008 and 2009 while calling the shots for JGR’s No. 20 Nationwide Series team and driver Joey Logano. In their two Nationwide Series starts together at Kentucky, Logano and Rogers won both races from the pole and led a total of 96 laps. The 2008 victory was not only the first of many for the tandem of Rogers and Logano, it was also Logano’s first career Nationwide Series win in just his third start in the series, and just one month after the young driver celebrated his 18th birthday.
This weekend’s event will mark the second of four races in 2013 that Doublemint will serve as primary sponsor for Busch. The iconic chewing gum brand’s mint paint scheme will also adorn Busch’s No. 18 Toyota at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in August, along with the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., in September.
When Busch takes the green flag for Saturday night’s 400-mile race in his Doublemint colors, he’ll go to the whip once again in hopes of adding to his already stellar record in a multitude of stock-car divisions at the 1.5-mile racetrack. After all, there’s certainly something special about being able to call yourself the top thoroughbred at Kentucky.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What do you enjoy about running races in all three NASCAR divisions, like at Kentucky this weekend? “It’s a lot of on-track time. On Thursday, we practice all day, and then there’s the truck race that night. It’s a busy schedule and you are running back and forth between garages and it’s typically hot there in Kentucky. The biggest thing you get to work on, and enjoy, is essentially the on-track time and getting to figure out the bumps there, and you get extra track time to figure out if you need to get through them better or if you need to get your guys to give you a better setup to get through the bumps. I have three divisions worth of chances, and three crew chiefs who have different mindsets that, by the time I get to Saturday, I have a feel for what I need to win the Cup race with our Doublemint Camry.”
You’ve had a lot of success at Kentucky. Can you put your finger on why you have been so good there in all divisions? “I can’t, actually, but I can remember going there for the first time back in 2003 and it was my second-ever ARCA race and first time on a 1.5-mile oval. It was a big deal and it was a fast racetrack and I ended up winning that weekend. I had to do some maneuvering around Frank Kimmel to win. It wasn’t easy. But since then, going there in Nationwide and being fast there every time, and going back to race when Sprint Cup didn’t have a date, yet, just getting your feet wet for when that opportunity came when Sprint Cup did go there. When we went with the Cup car, we were fast right when we unloaded. Dave Rogers was my crew chief and he had won there several times as a Nationwide crew chief prior to that and had a lot of notes to understand what it took to get around Kentucky, and we ended up winning the first Cup race there.”
Is it more challenging to only go to Kentucky once a year? “I think it makes it more challenging. You’ve definitely got to go through your notes and find the things that made you good there and watch the film – no different than a football player studying film to see what he can do to be better. For me, you do some of those same things. Kentucky is a racetrack where we used to only go once with the Nationwide Series cars, anyway, so I was kind of used to that. I ran the Truck, the Nationwide car and the Cup car, so I got a lot more experience on the racetrack through the weekend. Then, during the first Cup race weekend, I saw that some of that may have paid off for us. I’m hoping it pays off running all three again this weekend.”
How does it feel to know you’ll always be the Inaugural Sprint Cup winner at Kentucky for the rest of your career? “I think it’s cool. You look at some of the new venues we’ve been to over the years and Jeff Gordon got to win a number of inaugural races, like the Brickyard, Fontana, and Kansas. He was always the guy who was known to figure out places the fastest, but we were able to be the ones to do that at Kentucky. There aren’t many opportunities these days to go to a new venue, so for us being able to win the first race there was extra special.”
What was the key to finding the right setup to win two years ago at Kentucky? “I think the biggest thing was just all the on-track time we had to get ready. At the same time, we unloaded so close to what we ended up racing, we were able to try a whole lot of things in-between. My experience there, along with Dave’s (Rogers, crew chief) experience there, made a huge difference to where we weren’t far off when we unloaded, and it helped us try a bunch of stuff during testing and then practice. The biggest thing that helped us was the open test day on Thursday, with Truck Series activities going on, as well. There was a lot of track time we had that week and, when you come to a new venue, that’s very valuable. Physically, on Thursday of that weekend, it was hot. It’s hot in Kentucky in June, so it was no cakewalk. I remember after I won the Truck race that night, I was pretty worn out. The cool part about it is, Saturday you can rest a bit and get your body where you need it to be. We ran up front the entire night and didn’t have to fight back in traffic, so the car handled really well.”
-Joe Gibbs Racing PR