HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina – As a winner of 37 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, which are included in his 139 top-five finishes and 204 top-10s, as well as the leader of 11,661 laps in 407 career starts, it’s safe to say 31-year-old Kyle Busch has earned his stripes in his 12th full season competing in NASCAR’s top circuit.
So it’s only fitting the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) will don a unique green-and-white-striped livery for Saturday night’s traditional midsummer Coke Zero 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Not only has Busch notched three wins thus far this season, he has solidly cemented himself as the one of the premiere drivers of the sport as his improbable comeback in 2015 yielded his first Sprint Cup championship.
Interstate Batteries’ colors are already in the win column in 2016 via Busch’s victory in April at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, right in the backyard of Interstate Batteries’ corporate offices as the company and JGR celebrate their 25th year together in NASCAR. Busch and the No. 18 team look to add another victory Saturday night at Daytona, where they head with a little momentum on their side as they come off a strong seventh-place finish at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. It’s been a much-needed step in the right direction as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship playoffs get closer by the week.
Busch is certainly no stranger to victory lane in the Coke Zero 400, having won the July 2008 race behind the wheel of – yes – the Interstate Batteries Toyota. The Las Vegas native has fared much better in his summer races at Daytona during his career as the track is much more slick thanks to Florida’s July heat. He has four top-five finishes in his nine July starts at Daytona.
With all of that on his side, Busch hopes sporting the unique color scheme helps his cause in this restrictor-plate style of racing, where a driver not only has to be good, but must have good fortune to go along with it. He would like nothing more than to start July in the best way possible – by bringing the Interstate Batteries green-and-white-striped paint scheme to victory lane Saturday night. Even though Busch has earned his stripes already, it doesn’t mean he isn’t as hungry as ever for another victory.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Is Daytona still a special racetrack for you?
“Daytona is cool – a lot more in February than in the summer just because it is the Daytona 500 versus the Coke Zero 400. For us, you still want to win everywhere you go, every single week. To win at Daytona is always cool. It’s definitely special. It’s the birthplace of NASCAR – the superspeedway aspect of it. I definitely love going there. It’s hot, it’s slick, and you can make the most out of yourself as a driver and what you’ve got in the car. We won there in 2008 and I’m hoping we can get a win with our Interstate Batteries Camry this weekend.”
As you head to the third restrictor-plate race of the year this weekend, how do you assess your performances on those tracks?
“On the plus side, we’ve qualified better on the plate tracks the last couple of years, and that’s because of a lot of hard work by everyone at JGR and by TRD (Toyota Racing Development) in getting us the stuff we need to do better in qualifying at plate tracks. Our plate stuff in the draft has always been good, and we’ve had good cars both races this year. We were able to get top-three finishes at Daytona in February and at Talladega in May, so that’s encouraging that we’ve been able to stay out of the big wreck at both restrictor-plate races this season. There is so much that you just aren’t in control of and you have to find good fortune, somehow.”
After four bad finishes in a row, was it nice to get a solid finish last week at Sonoma as you head to Daytona this week?
“Everyone knows I’m not big on moral victories, but we just needed to get a solid finish last week and get back pointed in the right direction and we were able to do that. At the same time, we are headed to Daytona and anything could happen there. Even if you do everything right, you can get collected in a wreck and ruin your day. After Daytona, though, we have some solid tracks coming up for us. It’s where we really excelled last summer, so I’m hoping we can get hot here during the summer again and get some momentum heading into the Chase this fall.”
What are some of the better safety improvements you’ve seen in the last year?
“I think, of course, the things Daytona has done with the SAFER Barrier along the whole outside and inside of the racetrack. There are too many different areas on these racing surfaces where we can get out of control and crash into things. We’ve seen that over the years – I think most notably maybe Mark Martin at Michigan a couple years ago, getting caught on that inside pit wall. We tend to find about anywhere to hit, so it’s just a matter of trying to protect ourselves as well as the race fans and our crew members as best as possible.”
It’s taken a number of years to earn your stripes. How have you changed entering your 12th season in NASCAR?
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long in my career at all. Yet, when you look back at life outside of racing, you think, ‘OK, I was 18 when I came in here – holy crap a lot of things have gone on and changed over 12 years.’ It certainly seems like a whole different world, not only for me in it, but just a whole different world in general. I don’t think we had Facebook or Twitter back when I started. You could actually go out and not have somebody Tweet about it. So much has changed since then with not only social media, but just in my career. The past year has been eventful, to say the least, but I feel like I’m stronger because of it. It’s been neat to win one of the crown jewel races at Indy last year, an then also be able to win my first Sprint Cup championship. Hopefully I can cross a few more goals off the list in the coming years and be fortunate enough to win more championships. I know I have the team and people around me that are capable of helping us do that.”
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