HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Kyle Busch has been moving on up on several lists these days, winning three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in July and four of the last six. And things get even better for the Las Vegas native as the Sprint Cup Series is headed to another of Busch’s best tracks this weekend – the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
If the driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) were to grab another checkered flag in Sunday’s 355k at the Glen, he could join some elite company as a road racing ace in NASCAR’s top series. Currently, Busch is tied with David Pearson and Mark Martin with four Sprint Cup road-course wins apiece. That’s some pretty good company, already. But with a fifth road course win, he could tie Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Dan Gurney on the road-course win list. Some big names, to say the least. Busch will no doubt have to contend this weekend with the all-time leaders in road course wins as Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart currently top the road-course victories list with nine and seven apiece, respectively.
Busch scored his fourth career Sprint Cup road course win in June at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, and he heads to Watkins Glen with an impressive eight top-10 finishes in his 10 career starts at The Glen, which includes two victories. Add an average finish of 11.3, along with his 188 laps led, and Busch’s record is quite dazzling at the site of Sunday’s 355-kilometer race.
After Busch’s inaugural Sprint Cup victory at The Glen in 2008, he nearly won for the second time on the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course in his 2011 and 2012 visits there before breaking through again in 2013 with another victory in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes Region. A third victory Sunday at The Glen would continue to solidify Busch and the M&M’S Crispy team as the favorite each time the series comes to town.
Most recently, the M&M’S Crispy team came agonizingly close to its fourth consecutive win last Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, but an empty gas tank while leading on the final lap kept Busch from joining some elite company in the NASCAR record books.
Along with chasing records, Busch and the M&M’S Crispy team are also closing in on a spot in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. With five races remaining before the Chase field is set, Busch has closed to within 13 points of 30th-place David Gilliland. Busch has two requirements to make this year’s NASCAR playoffs – a race win, which he has already accomplished multiple times, and a top-30 position in the driver standings.
So as Busch heads to Upstate New York for some road racing this weekend, he’ll hope to add his name to the records books, and also continue fighting his way into this year’s 16-team Chase field.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You’ve had some success at Watkins Glen. What makes Watkins Glen challenging, and why is it so much different than racing at Sonoma, where you won earlier this year?
“I like going to Watkins Glen. It’s a road course, but it’s kind of a high-speed road course. The difference in the two road courses, you think of Sonoma as like a Martinsville-type road course and you would think of Watkins Glen like a 2-mile oval, like a California- or Michigan-type road course. Watkins Glen has some speed and has some wide-open spaces a little bit, but there is still a lot great racing that happens there since you are able to out-brake people getting into the corners, or having a better run through the bus stop, or maybe getting by someone in the carousel. It’s a fun place to race. I really like Watkins Glen and I hope that we can have another solid run there with our M&M’S Crispy Camry and get ourselves up into the top-30.”
Would you like to see more road-course races on the Sprint Cup schedule?
“I wouldn’t mind more road-course races in the schedule. I think you have four restrictor-plate races, and you’ve got one speedway race in the Chase, so why not make it four road-course races in the season and perhaps one road course race in the Chase. That seems pretty even to me. At the same time, it’s easier said than done if you are NASCAR because you don’t know where you would be able to take away some races to add more road courses, but also add a track that has good enough weather later in the year to run there.”
It’s been an incredible run, already, since you returned from injury. What are your simple joys in life during this time?
“First of all, I think I’d say my son (Brexton Busch). I think being able to have him come along and join us in this world through all of the things that we had to go through in order to conceive him, that was a challenge but, yet, it’s certainly well worth it in the end. He’s the joy of our lives right now. He was already up this morning laughing and he was smiling and just playing all morning long. So, he’s a really good baby. Just the other day – not last night but the night before – he’s 2 months old and he (slept) from 9 to 7, so I can’t ask for anything better than that. He’s an awesome dude. Past that, of course, my wife (Samantha Busch). Just being able to have the both of them to be able to travel the road with me every week, we’re blessed to have that opportunity to have our motorhome and to be here and share all of that together. That’s really fun, so we’re not separated, or a situation where (Brexton) is not allowed to go, or whatever. It’s good that we’re together.”
What is the most fun part of a lap at Watkins Glen?
“To me, going through turn one and up through the esses is pretty cool and a lot of fun. It’s challenging, yet, a lot of fun. As you come down the front straightaway, it’s a downhill braking zone, so you feel like you don’t have to brake as soon as you need to, but you need to in order to get slowed down for turn one. You try to stay out and get a good, hard cut to the right for turn one and accelerate out of there as quickly as you can to get set up for the esses. (You) stay wide on the left and then turn into the right-hander in (turn) two – smooth. You’re getting out of the gas but not using too much brake, just rolling off in there. As the car gets in there and loads, it actually takes a really big set because that’s when you start going back uphill. So the car will load up and that’s when you get back in the gas really wide open. And then you have to turn back to the left and be able to roll back out of it just enough to make the car bend. And then you’re back wide open again to the right-side guardrail and just keeping it tight through the right-hander that we call turn five.”
What is the most challenging part of a lap at Watkins Glen?
“I’d say the most challenging thing is the culmination of the inner loop and the carousel. All of that together is a lot harder to figure out how to make speed through there than just going through there traditionally. That’s an area of the racetrack a lot of guys really try to abuse. They’ll get off on the right side, get off on the left side and throw dirt up on the racetrack and then it just makes for a real mess.”
What does it take to be successful at Watkins Glen?
“At Watkins Glen, the biggest thing is pit strategy. Obviously, you’ve got to pick and choose when you’re going to pit and stick to your plan. Whether or not we can still do it on two stops I’m unsure of because Sonoma turned into a three-stop race for us all because the new fuel mileage is a little bit off from where we were last year. At Watkins Glen, though, you definitely have to be good at being able to carry speed, obviously, through the esses and down the long backstretch. That seems to be the key part of the racetrack.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine