And on that list for the talented 25-year-old driver would be Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., where he’ll take to the mile oval for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500k, the penultimate race on theNASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule for 2010.
Located just 300 miles to the south and east of his desert hometown of Las Vegas, the desert setting of Phoenix has been a favorite place to wheel a racecar long before Busch joined the Sprint Cup ranks. And the results have certainly shown, starting with a solid eighth-place finish in his very first outing there in the spring of 2005, followed by just his second career Sprint Cup victory in his very next start there in the fall race that year. Coincidentally enough, his first Sprint Cup win came just 10 races prior in another desert-like setting – Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
In 11 Sprint Cup starts at the “Diamond in the Desert” – as the Phoenix track is widely known – Busch has seven top-10 finishes, including four in a row from the spring 2007 through fall 2008 events, and he won the pole in the spring 2006 race.
Add to that four NASCAR Nationwide Series victories, eight top-10 finishes and three poles in all in 10 Nationwide starts, and a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in the fall of 2007, and it’s no wonder Busch relishes every opportunity to compete at his desert home away from home. With numbers like that, who wouldn’t?
Now, with just two races remaining on the Sprint Cup calendar and the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship far out of reach, Busch sees this weekend’s 500-kilometer race as his first of two chances to finish off the season in victory lane. But while his own title hopes are nonexistent as he trails Chase leader Denny Hamlin – who happens to be his JGR teammate – by 339 points, Busch is also motivated by the fact he can still play in role in determining the outcome of this year’s points battle by helping Hamlin whenever the opportunity presents itself.
All of that, within reason, of course. Considering his familiarity with the quirky mile oval at Phoenix, and his knowledge of a few tricks to turning a fast lap there, Busch, along with his crew chief Dave Rogers, will work more closely than ever with Hamlin and his crew chief, Mike Ford, in qualifying and race preparation to help Hamlin’s efforts to increase his lead over four-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who stands second, 33 points behind.
Once the green flag falls, however, it’ll be every man for himself – to a certain degree. If a victory for Busch doesn’t look to be a certainty, then he’ll be more than happy to lend a hand in the interests of helping a cause of a much higher order – a championship for Denny Hamlin.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What does it take to be successful at Phoenix? “You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but being a day race and being hot and slick, it makes it that much more interesting.”
Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix? “I like Phoenix. Phoenix is fun. I’ve run well there in the Trucks. I’ve won there. I’ve won there in the Nationwide, as well as in the Cup Series, so it’s a place I like going to and have had good results at. We ran really well there in the spring. We probably had a really good shot at winning the race, and then there, toward the end, we had pit strategy not go our way.”
In addition to two Nationwide Series wins at Phoenix, you also won in your second Sprint Cup start at the mile oval. What does it take to be successful at Phoenix? “Phoenix is a 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. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different corners at Phoenix. 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 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 a 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.”
Which of the top three championship contenders will you support in the final three races? “Well, I think we saw that at Martinsville. I raced the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) as hard as I could because I knew that if I could get a spot in front of him, then obviously that would help the points scenario for not only myself, but of course for the 11 (Denny Hamlin), as well, who was leading at the time.”
What is acceptable and what is unacceptable as far as what you can do to help Denny Hamlin? “I think in the instance at Talladega, dropping back and going to get him when he was a half of a lap behind, that was going to be pretty unacceptable. If both of us got a lap down, then we were both going to be a lap down trying to fight for the ‘Lucky Dog’ and that would’ve been defeating the purpose of going to get him. I think we played it smart and did what we should’ve done and just let it play out. Any other week, we do as much as we can back and forth. We talk quite a bit. Our crew chiefs work together really well. The communication is there, so that’s all you can really do.”
Do you help each other before the green flag drops? “Oh yeah, for sure. There are going to be times in which you’ll be racing each other and you can probably cut him a little bit more of a break, or coming down toward the end of the race, doing the same thing, just kind of giving him (Denny Hamlin) more of a break. If it’s a position between the two of us, if it’s not for the win, then it really doesn’t matter.”
KYLE BUSCH’S PHOENIX SPRINT CUP PERFORMANCE PROFILE
|2010||4/10||×Subway Fresh Fit 600k||17||8||Running, 378/378||113||$138,631|
|2009||4/18||Subway Fresh Fit 500k||2||17||Running, 312/312||0||$117,023|
|11/15||Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500k||7||12||Running, 312/312||0||$121,798|
|2008||4/12||Subway Fresh Fit 500k||6||10||Running, 312/312||0||$95,925|
|11/9||×Checker Auto Parts 500k||14||8||Running, 313/313||0||$96,300|
|2007||4/21||Subway Fresh Fit 500k||24||7||Running, 312/312||0||$97,875|
|11/11||Checker Auto Parts 500k||38||8||Running, 312/312||0||$99,475|
|2006||4/22||Subway Fresh 500k||1||36||Running, 259/312||7||$84,425|
|11/12||Checker Auto Parts 500k||9||38||Running, 291/312||0||$79,625|
|2005||4/23||Subway Fresh 500k||27||8||Running, 312/312||8||$92,050|
|11/13||Checker Auto Parts 500k||15||1||Running, 312/312||63||$199,225|
× Race length extended due to green-white-checker finish.
Chassis No. 286:
This chassis will make its second-ever start in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500k at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. In its first start last month at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Busch started sixth and led a race-high 217 laps before settling for a solid second-place finish.
- True Speed Communication for Mars SnackFoods, US/Joe Gibbs Racing, Press Release