HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – While Kyle Busch is often a force to be reckoned with on the ovals on which the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competes, he feels some of the most fun he has on a racetrack all season long is on the series’ two road courses.
For that very reason, Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is looking forward to having fun turning left and right as the Sprint Cup Series visits scenic Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350k.
Busch has made it known that he thoroughly enjoys the change of pace that road-course racing has to offer outside of the other 34 points-paying Sprint Cup events that take place on ovals. The seventh-year JGR driver who already has a Sprint Cup win to his credit this season, also hopes the fun of the 10-turn, 1.99-mile Sonoma layout spills over into a Sunday-afternoon victory celebration.
Before 2008, nobody even thought to mention Busch as a threat to win either of Sprint Cup’s annual road-course events at Sonoma and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. But that all changed shortly after his arrival at JGR at the start of 2008 as Busch dominated the road-course scene that year, leading 130 of the 202 road-course laps run and capturing victories at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Similar to NASCAR regulars like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, who are known to be strong on the road courses, Busch quickly established himself in 2008 as a routine road-course contender and has been in the hunt on road courses ever since. Most recently, Busch led 29 laps while bringing home his second win at Watkins Glen last August.
So, as the Sprint Cup Series heads to its annual stop in Northern California’s Wine Country, Busch already knows Sunday will be “Funday.” The big question, however: Will he be able to have even more fun by repeating his Sonoma win from 2008 and continuing to be the recognized as the most recent winner on a road course by backing up his Watkins Glen win from last summer?
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Pretzel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How intense have the road-course races become?
“I think, ever since double-file restarts came about, aggression at Sonoma has gone up a lot. You have these cautions that come late in the going and cautions breed cautions – especially on a road course and especially with double-file restarts. It just seems to be out of control there. You’re trying to take everything you can get and all the positions you can because it’s coming down to crunch time. It’s a place where, for me, it’s been fun to race. I’ve won there and I’ve also had some disappointing runs there and I’ve had some mistakes there – some wheel-hop issues and things. For me, it’s a place where you’re turning right and turning left and being at a road course is kind of like an off weekend, so you try to enjoy it the best you can and hope we can stay on course and get a good finish with our M&M’s Pretzel Camry.”
How challenging is it to race against road-course specialists who you might not race against on a regular basis?
“It’s different, for sure. There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do. The neat thing about road racing is just being able to have – it’s like – a vacation weekend. You just go out there and have fun and do the best you can and you’ll either do really well or you’ll do really badly and you just go on to the next one. We do have some testing for it and you try to pick up on it but, with respect to who you’re racing, you can expect to race a little bit of a different crowd. (Marcos) Ambrose has been really good, of course, so we’ve been racing him more and more on the ovals, too. Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon), who have been a lot better at the road courses, so now you race against them, you race against Tony Stewart, and really my brother (Kurt Busch) and Clint (Bowyer) have been good there the last few years, as well. A lot of the guys who race well at both, you race against every week.”
Do you enjoy road-course racing?
“The road courses are fun. For me, I enjoy it. It’s pretty cool to go out there and race the road courses. You get to turn right, turn left and everything, so it’s fun. Sonoma is more technical just because there are more turns and it’s a little bit slower. You have to concentrate on getting off the corner a little bit and have good forward bite. Sonoma, in our M&M’s Pretzel Toyota, is going to be fun, going out there and seeing what these cars have this year. It will be a fun race, though. I always look forward to going up there and challenging the road course.”
Is it important in your career to have a road-course wins on your resume?
“I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s great to be able to have wins at all types of facilities. I think, in ’08 when I won the road-course races, I also won the road-course (NASCAR Nationwide Series) race in Mexico. That was a big road-course year for me, for some reason. I just clicked at all of them. We’ve run top-five and top-10 since, but haven’t quite been the car to beat at Sonoma, but we have the last three years at Watkins Glen. Sonoma is much different than the Glen. I’ve mastered that one much more than where we are going this weekend. I enjoy that type of racing and I’d like to get back to it, and it’s cool, the opportunity that comes at Sonoma.”
What’s your favorite part of racing at Sonoma?
“The elevation changes can make it a lot of fun but, in the beginning, I was lost at Sonoma, to be honest with you. I raced Legends cars and other road courses five years ago and learned the technique and stuff of shifting and braking and all that, and then got to the Cup cars and they’re so different. I was just lost. I give a lot of that credit to testing with Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) a lot of times and learning a lot from those guys when I was at Hendrick and working with them years ago. And, of course, more of that expertise goes to Max Papis, who was our test driver at Hendrick, and learning stuff from him and reading reports that he did and picking up on it, following guys like Boris Said and Robby Gordon, the guys who also helped me when I was coming up to the Cup Series.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine