HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Just because the site of last weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway is nicknamed “The Last Great Colosseum,” it doesn’t mean Kyle Busch doesn’t have his eyes purely on the conquest of the next venue and trophy – and a spot in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
This weekend’s arena? That would be Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.
Busch will be supported by the efforts of Joe Gibbs Racing’s founding sponsor, whose Conquest 18 social media campaign can be followed via Facebook (www.facebook/interstatebatteries), Twitter (@InterstateBatts) and Instagram (@InterstateBatts) all with the hashtag #Conquest18.
The driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry will be looking to score back-to-back wins at Fontana and, in the process, surpass 10,000 laps led in his relatively short Sprint Cup career. Busch sits just 67 laps from reaching the 10,000-laps-led mark, which would make him just the 15th driver in the history of NASCAR’s top series to accomplish the feat. With the new “win and you’re in the Chase format,” Busch knows winning the battle Sunday would set him up for another championship run in September.
Last year at Fontana, Busch led a race-high 125 laps 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. The win was one of four Sprint Cup victories for Busch in 2013, two of which were in Interstate Batteries colors at Fontana and in Interstate’s backyard at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
With two wins to his name there, Busch’s Sprint Cup record at Fontana is impressive. Since scoring his maiden victory there in September 2005, he has rattled off 11 top-10 finishes in 16 races. Busch also has six Nationwide Series wins – October 2008, February 2009 and 2010, October 2010, March 2011 and March 2013 – at the 2-mile oval, which included a weekend sweep last March.
The last time Busch reached a major milestone was last April at Texas, where he captured the win in his 300th Sprint Cup start. Will this be the weekend during which the Las Vegas native reaches the 10,000-laps-led milestone while also bringing home the hardware? This first of six races for Interstate Batteries could bring with it a landmark achievement as Conquest 18 aims for the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What does it mean to be close to reaching 10,000 laps led in the Sprint Cup Series?
“It’s pretty neat anytime we’re able to set records, break records – however you want to say it. It’s always fun. It just means you’re accomplishing things in the sport, various things in the sport. There are a lot of things I want to accomplish still that I haven’t. Whatever things come along that way, that we’re able to accomplish, is awesome, it’s fun, it’s great. It means you are a namesake in the sport and that hopefully things continue to go down that path. Whether it stops at 10,000 or not, I doubt it will, so hopefully we just keep going.”
Even though you earned your first Sprint Cup victory at Fontana in 2005, how special was last year’s win there?
“Last year was special for a lot of reasons. It’s always great to be able to get Norm (Miller, Chairman) and everyone at Interstate Batteries a win. Their dealers and distributors love to be in victory lane as much as I do. But, on top of that, the track is just down the road from Toyota Racing Development (TRD) headquarters and our win there last year was the first Sprint Cup win for them at their hometown track. Being able to celebrate that with Toyota was very special, to say the least. Then, just how the race was won was crazy, too. We had the best car there all day 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 anytime soon, either.”
Were the new aero rules the cause of the up-and-down performance by Joe Gibbs Racing at Las Vegas, and do you expect it to improve this weekend at Fontana?
“I don’t think it’s anything to do with the aero rules. I think it’s just to do with the new ride-height rules. The box used to be so big and now it’s way bigger. It just allows more opportunity for teams to experiment and to come up with different things that make their cars go fast. I don’t discount the time and effort and everything that my guys put in at the race shop, and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and all the work that they do, but there are teams out there right now that have worked a little smarter than us and figured it out a little earlier than us. But if now is the time to struggle a little bit, it’s certainly earlier in the season, it’s an OK time to do that. You do need to pick business up by at least week 10 or so and get yourself rolling.”
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?
“It always seems to be a really good race there. It’s a really fun racetrack. It’s widened out and it’s become where you can race all over it and, with the race being as long as it is, you need to take a lot of time working through traffic and being able to have a good car and all that. But sometimes 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 Sprint Cup 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.”
- Krista K. Massey
Former Group Vice President, Director of Sponsorships and Event Marketing
SunTrust Banks, Inc.