HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina – While the expectation for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is to run up front and challenge for wins each week in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, there are particular tracks where Busch excels more others.
One of those places happens to be Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the site of Sunday’s Cup Series Auto Club 400. The Las Vegas native and his Interstate Batteries team will be shooting for his fourth career win at the track located approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles this weekend.
Busch will pilot the colors of Interstate Batteries at Fontana for the first of six Cup Series races this season. The founding partner of JGR, Interstate Batteries has been powering the championship-winning organization for more than 25 years and is the “Official Battery of Joe Gibbs Racing.” This year, the iconic brand is celebrating its 65th anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, special 65th anniversary branding will be featured in each of the paint schemes JGR will race during the 2017 NASCAR season.
While Busch started the season with three disappointing finishes, he got back on track last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway by putting on a dominating performance. He led twice for a race-high 114 laps before a late-race caution foiled his chance at victory. With the season heading back in the right direction, Busch hopes to take that momentum to Southern California this weekend.
After winning back-to-back races at Fontana in 2013 and 2014 – both in dramatic fashion – the 2015 Cup Series champion is looking to add another win to his impressive record at the 2-mile oval. He scored his maiden victory there in September 2005 and overall has rattled off eight top-five finishes and 13 top-10s during his career. Busch also has six Xfinity Series wins at Fontana – October 2008, February 2009 and 2010, October 2010, March 2011 and 2013 –which included a weekend sweep in 2013.
Looking back on his most recent Cup Series wins there, Busch led a race-high 125 laps at Fontana in 2013 and brought home the checkered flag in dramatic fashion as he slid to the outside of the dueling Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin coming off turn four on the final lap. He followed that up in 2014 with another Fontana win despite the fact he was not nearly as dominant, leading just five laps. However, known as one of the premiere Cup drivers when it comes to restarts, Busch showed the field why that day. He restarted fourth late in the race and held off a hard-charging Kyle Larson to bring home his second Fontana win in a row.
So as Busch and the Interstate Batteries team head back to Southern California to finish off the final race of 2017’s West Coast swing, Busch will look to bring home his first win of the season at a place where he’s charged to the front many times before.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How special were the 2013 and 2014 wins at Auto Club Speedway?
“The finishes of both of those races were pretty exciting. Of course, I won both so that makes it even better for me. The track is just down the road from Toyota Racing Development (TRD) headquarters and our wins there were the first two Cup wins for them at their hometown track. We had the best car there all day in 2013 but we ended up getting some late cautions and had to make some hard decisions on whether to stay out on old tires or lose our track position. We ended up getting passed by Joey (Logano) and Denny (Hamlin) and thought they had the race won. They got caught up racing each other and I was coming, even if they didn’t end up wrecking. I was digging on the high side and they got together. I hated it for Denny since that was really a tough circumstance for him. It was a crazy finish, one that I won’t forget for a while, and I’m sure the fans won’t forget any time soon, either. In 2014, it was sort of the opposite. We really didn’t have the best car, but we got a chance at them with fresh tires and we were able to hold of Kyle Larson. So, I’m hoping we can get our Interstate Batteries Camry back to victory lane there.”
What does it take to be successful at Fontana?
“It’s a fast racetrack and you just have to be able carry a lot of speed through the corners. You’re in the corner for a long time but, the more speed you carry through the turn, the better it makes your straightaways. It’s a big, fast racetrack and I’m hoping we can get Interstate Batteries its first win during the 65th anniversary celebration this year.”
How has Auto Club Speedway changed over the last several years, going from a new track to a place that has a lot more character and racing grooves?
“That place is tough. It’s really a hard racetrack to get ahold of, now, especially when it’s hot and the sun is out. There are two completely different types of racing when you run the top versus the bottom groove. You can run from the top to the bottom but, when you run the bottom, you really feel like you’re puttering around the racetrack. You feel like you aren’t making up any time on the bottom. But when you are running the top groove, you feel like you’re getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top.”
What do you remember about that night in 2005 when you captured your first Cup Series win at Fontana?
“We ran in the top-five all day long but we really didn’t think we had a winning car. When we got the lead a few times throughout the race, we just pulled away and led by quite a bit. It was really cool to have a really dominant racecar. I remember having to drive the car really loose. That was the loosest I think I’ve ever driven a racecar that was still moving forward. It was crazy because I came over the radio and told the guys I couldn’t believe how loose I have to drive the car. But it was fast. All of my wins there have been a little different, but memorable at the same time.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine