|Looking for second Talladega win (Getty)|
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. But, with only three other top-15 finishes and three Talladega outings that ended in an accident for Busch, the talented 25-year-old knows the winner of Sunday’s 499-mile race will need to have a strong car and be lucky in order to survive the seemingly inevitable multicar accident if he is to find victory again at NASCAR’s longest track.
And as if the challenges of the past weren’t enough for teams to navigate, a completely new style of restrictor-plate racing was introduced at this year’s season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway as a new front bumper replaced what was an important but fragile front splitter on Sprint Cup Series cars this year. With that front-end design change came a whole new phenomenon of racing at the restrictor-plate tracks. Until this year, the typical race at Daytona and Talladega would feature lengthy lines of cars that would bunch together, mere inches apart. But the new look to restrictor-plate racing, as seen at Daytona, involves cars running in pairs, almost as if the rear of the lead car is connected to the front bumper of the car following.
It’s a style of racing no driver or team has seen before. And everyone, including Busch and the M&M’s Pretzel team, look to learn more as the two-car draft evolves, and how it might be different this weekend at Talladega than it was in February at Daytona. Furthermore, unlike most everywhere else on the Sprint Cup circuit, the competitors know their fate depends on other drivers, oftentimes not even their teammates, if they want to find success in this new style of restrictor-plate racing.
If Busch has learned anything at the restrictor-plate tracks, it’s that you have to be good to be lucky. He knows he has great equipment underneath him, thanks to the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota provided to him by JGR. He also knows he’ll need to slice and dice, and find the right draft partner to help him land on the right number, which first means surviving Talladega, and second, having a chance at repeating his lone triumph there from three years ago.
KYLE BUSCH QUOTES:
What are your thoughts going into Talladega this weekend? “It’s going to be a crapshoot. You have no idea what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. For us, what do we worry about going there? We just worry about surviving and trying to survive with our M&M’s Pretzel Camry. Right now, with the way that we saw the race play out in Daytona, we’re expecting the same thing – NASCAR is expecting the same thing and that’s why we had the restrictor-plate change, already. They’re being a little bit proactive in that, and allowing us to get some testing done – some dyno testing with the smaller plate so we can be ready for that aspect. I expect speeds to be higher because we’ll be pushing all the way around. Other than that, it’s just Talladega.”
|Busch expecting the same thing from Daytona (Getty)|
Who is your favorite drafting partner at Talladega? “I don’t know, since things were so different at Daytona. I’ve drafted well with a lot of people over the past, but I would say (Juan Pablo) Montoya helped me win the race I won at Talladega a couple of years ago. Jimmie (Johnson) is always pretty good to draft with. My brother (Kurt Busch), as well, but many more than that. It just all depends on which other cars end up working well with your car. Aside from out teammates, we had about another 10 guys who we thought would work with us in our radio at Daytona, so I’ll expect we will figure out what other car works well with our car during practice and during the first part of the race.”
Does being a former race winner at Talladega offer you any sort of advantage over the competition? “It doesn’t matter at all. It’s such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from.”
What does it mean to be up toward the lead in points this early in the season? “It is early, but we’re excited about it. We feel like it’s a great opportunity to be up front and have some good results. Unfortunately, our engine failure at Las Vegas kind of set us back a little bit. We’ve been able to rebound nicely and get back up to the points lead and we’re not too far back headed into this weekend. I feel good with where we’re at. I feel really good with where the cars are at. I think that’s the most important thing. If we can keep building upon this momentum and our recent success, then we can keep that going all year, hopefully.”
|Busch is using his 8th-place Daytona chassis (Getty)|
BUSCH NOTES OF INTEREST
· The Aaron’s 499 will mark Busch’s 230th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and his 13th Sprint Cup start at Talladega.
· Busch has career totals of 20 wins, seven poles, 70 top-fives, 108 top-10s and 6,153 laps led in 229 career Sprint Cup races. His most recent Sprint Cup win came four races ago at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. His last pole came 30 races ago at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
· Busch has one win, no poles, one top-five and two top-10 finishes and has led a total of 131 laps in 12 career Sprint Cup starts at Talladega. His average finish is 23.3 at the 2.66-mile oval.
· In addition to his 131 Sprint Cup laps led at Talladega, Busch has led 74 laps in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and 33 laps in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Talladega.
· Both of Busch’s restrictor-plate wins came during the 2008 season, his first with Joe Gibbs Racing. In the four Sprint Cup restrictor-plate races contested in 2008 (February and July at Daytona, April and October at Talladega), Busch notched an impressive two wins and three top-fives while leading a total of 149 laps. However, in the nine restrictor-plate races contested in 2009, 2010, and thus far in 2011, Busch’s best finish of eighth came in this past February’s Daytona 500.
· Busch is now just 117 laps shy of the 20,000 career laps-led mark across NASCAR’s top three series. He currently sits at 19,883 career laps led among all three series. Additionally, by leading 151 laps three weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Busch became the 30th driver to surpass 6,000 laps led in the Sprint Cup Series and sits at 6,002 laps led. Busch is closing in on three active drivers in career Sprint Cup laps led, including Jeff Burton (6,396), his brother Kurt Busch (6,479), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6,740).
· In the seven Sprint Cup races held thus far in 2011, Busch leads the Sprint Cup Series in 10 statistical categories:
ÿ Best average running position (9.144)
ÿ Fastest driver late in a run (6.5 rank)
ÿ Fastest in laps run (210 or 10.8 percent)
ÿ Best driver rating (114.3)
ÿ Most laps led (481 or 20.7 percent)
ÿ Most miles led (493.48)
ÿ Most laps in the top-15 (1,966 laps or 84.7 percent)
ÿ Fastest driver early in a run (3.8 rank)
ÿ Best green-flag speed (3.33 rank)
ÿ Second-highest percentage of laps run on the lead lap (90.52 percent or 2,101 laps of 2,321 laps
ÿ Sixth-fastest driver on restarts (15.143 rank)
ÿ Fastest speed in traffic (8.857 rank)
· Streaking: With his Sprint Cup win last month at Bristol, Busch has now won at least one Sprint Cup race for seven consecutive seasons (2005-2011). This is the Las Vegas native’s seventh year as a full-time Sprint Cup competitor.
- TRUE SPEED COMMUNICATIONS PR