Bringing Home a ‘Major’ Win
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – While any win on the PGA Tour is a huge accomplishment, there are four major championships golfers shoot for each season that are more special than the rest. They are professional golf’s Grand Slam, which is made up of the Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship – aka British Open – and the PGA Championship.
While NASCAR doesn’t necessarily have four distinct “major” championships, there are four races during NASCAR’s regular season that are particularly coveted by drivers and teams, although some might argue which would be the exact four. It starts with the biggest one of them all, the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February, also known as the Great American Race. It continues in April with the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and, finally, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in late-July.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has one of those major wins on his resume –the Southern 500 at Darlington in 2008. But now, Busch has his sights set on a particularly long-awaited Sprint Cup win Sunday at Charlotte. At the traditional Memorial Day-weekend Coca-Cola 600, which also happens to be NASCAR’s longest event, Busch has 12 top-10 finishes in his last 16 starts at the 1.5-mile oval, making him feel his team is closer than ever to hoisting his first trophy there.
The Coca-Cola 600 would be special because the event is at what Busch often says is his favorite racetrack. He has come close to winning a Sprint Cup event at Charlotte, but he’s yet to carry home a coveted Sprint Cup trophy from the track that is home to a majority of the NASCAR teams and is just around the corner from where Busch now lives in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Ever since his childhood in Las Vegas, some of Busch’s favorite race-watching memories came during Charlotte’s traditional Coca-Cola 600 and All-Star Race during the month of May. He dreamed that one day he, too, could be the one hoisting the trophy at one of stock car racing’s most hallowed grounds.
In his 20 previous Sprint Cup starts at Charlotte over the past 10-plus seasons, Busch has managed to enjoy plenty of success on the oval nicknamed the “Beast of the Southeast,” with nine top-five finishes to go with his 12 top-10s there. In addition to solid Sprint Cup finishes, Busch has captured eight NASCAR Nationwide Series wins – May 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010, October 2008 and 2009, and both May and October 2013. He also has six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins – 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014.
So, will this be the weekend that Busch finally adds a “major” to his trophy case with a long-awaited Charlotte win? Winning NASCAR’s longest race on Sunday would then get Busch halfway to achieving NASCAR’s version of a career grand slam.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are the challenges of racing at Charlotte?
“I think the biggest challenge about Charlotte is how much the track changes from practice. You practice all during the day and then you go into night racing. You’ve got to know what kind of adjustments to make to your car and how well you can race at night. Typically, you go back to your night notes. For us, we’ve run well there in the past and like going there. It’s a fun place to race and adds to the excitement of spending some time at home.”
You have been able to win at 17 of the 23 racetracks where the Sprint Cup Series competes so, beyond wanting to win the Coca-Cola 600, would simply winning at Charlotte also be a feather in your cap?
“Winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is my favorite track, would be really special since I’ve been able to win there in other series and have been close a lot in the Cup car. It seems like the month of May at Charlotte just doesn’t like me too much. We got to win in the Truck race there last weekend, so I’m hoping we can change that. There are plenty of other tracks where we also need to win, but there’s no doubt Charlotte and the Coke 600 would be big.”
You’ve always said that Charlotte is your favorite track. Is there any particular reason why?
“Charlotte is my favorite racetrack for a lot of reasons. Just growing up watching races on TV, I loved watching the All-Star Race under the lights and the 600 with all the sparks flying and all the guys going after hard-fought, hard-racing wins. The Nationwide Series has been good to me there. The Truck Series has been pretty good to me there, too. But a Cup Series win has eluded me there. We’re definitely getting closer than I was back when I first started racing at Charlotte. I think I have something like 12 top-10 finishes in my last 16 races there going into this weekend, so I hope my luck is turning around a bit and I can finally get that Sprint Cup win with our M&M’s Camry. We’ve been very close at times in recent years. I wish we wouldn’t have wrecked in the All-Star Race last weekend, but we had a good car and there are a lot of encouraging things we learned from last weekend that we’ll have to apply this weekend at Charlotte.”
Does Sunday’s 600-mile race feel different than other events?
“It depends on what kind of car you have. I’ve been in races in the 600-mile race where it’s felt really easy and short, and I’ve been in races where it’s been a long, drawn-out, knock ’em, sock ’em kind of day. Hopefully, Dave Rogers (crew chief) and the guys can bring a really good M&M’s Camry for me this weekend and it will be a smooth race for us. I like running the 600 miles. I think it brings a new aspect to our sport – its longevity. People will say, ‘It’s too long. It’s boring. Whatever.’ Well, you know, it’s a part of the product and the history that we’ve had on Memorial Day weekend for a long time, that you run that extra hundred miles. And car preparation goes into that. Will your car make it? Will your engine last? Are the drivers able to be competitive throughout the whole race? You’ll have fatigue, sometimes, even at a 500-mile race. So, if you don’t show signs of weakness, you should be pretty good.”
If you’re saving your car for the end of the race, is it a struggle for you not to pass during the earlier stages of the long, 600-mile event?
“Yeah, you want to race those guys who are around you all of the time. You think to yourself, ‘There’s a car in front of me. I want to pass that guy.’ That’s what’s in your blood to do. Sometimes, you’ve just got to back off a little bit and kind of let the race play out. You’ve got to get to the end of the final pit stop. Once you get to the final pit stop, then the race is on. That’s kind of the way it works out. Charlotte can suck you in and it can suck you in pretty easily – into the wall, I mean.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine