HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – While Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 is only the fourth-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in the history of Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kyle Busch and his crew chief Dave Rogers have a winning pedigree at the 1.5-mile oval that dates back much further than 2011’s inaugural Sprint Cup race near the “Horse Racing Capital of America.”
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has quite the record at the racing facility that sits some 65 miles up the road from Louisville’s Churchill Downs, a legendary racing facility where horsepower of a different kind is showcased.
Busch has notched victories at Kentucky Speedway in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck. Add his 2003 ARCA series win at Kentucky and Busch has been victorious in four racing divisions and has made quite a Kentucky home of his own in Kentucky’s second-most-famous victory lane.
In the inaugural Sprint Cup event at Kentucky in 2011, Busch proved his worth when he led six times for a race-high 125 laps to be the historic first winner in NASCAR’s top series in the state.
But Busch’s winning history at Kentucky started way back at the ripe age of 18, when he dominated the 2003 ARCA race there while competing for Hendrick Motorsports. He led a race-high 91 laps en route to the victory.
He returned to the Bluegrass State the following year and found victory lane again, this time in his Nationwide Series debut at the 1.5-mile oval. In all, Busch has one win, four top-fives, and has led 385 laps in six Nationwide Series starts there. He also won the 2011 Truck Series race to give him four top-10 finishes and 219 laps led in four Truck Series starts at the speedway.
In addition to Busch’s stellar career statistics at Kentucky, his crew chief Dave Rogers sports a record that is equally as impressive as his current driver. While Rogers’ bio lists his hometown as Marshfield, Vermont, the 40-year-old crew chief absolutely owned Kentucky Speedway in 2008 and 2009 while calling the shots for JGR’s No. 20 Nationwide Series team and former JGR driver Joey Logano. In their two Nationwide Series starts together at Kentucky, Logano and Rogers won both races from the pole and led a total of 96 laps. The 2008 victory was not only the first of many for the tandem of Rogers and Logano, it was also Logano’s first career Nationwide Series win in just his third start in the series, and just one month after the young driver celebrated his 18th birthday.
So as the Sprint Cup Series makes just its fourth appearance near the longtime home of horse racing in America, Busch, Rogers and the M&M’s team looks to be in prime position to use their winning pedigree in hopes of adding to his already stellar record in a multitude of stock-car divisions at the 1.5-mile racetrack.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What do you enjoy about running races in all three NASCAR divisions, like at Kentucky this weekend?
“It’s a lot of on-track time. On Thursday, we practice all day, and then there’s the Truck Series race that night. It’s a busy schedule and you are running back and forth between garages and it’s typically hot there in Kentucky. The biggest thing you get to work on, and enjoy, is essentially the on-track time and getting to figure out the bumps there, and you get extra track time to figure out if you need to get through them better or if you need to get your guys to give you a better setup to get through the bumps. I have three divisions’ worth of chances, and three crew chiefs who have different mindsets that, by the time I get to Saturday, I have a feel for what I need to win the Cup race with our M&M’s Camry.”
How does it feel to know you’ll always be the Inaugural Sprint Cup winner at Kentucky for the rest of your career?
“I think it’s cool. You look at some of the new venues we’ve been to over the years and Jeff Gordon got to win a number of inaugural races, like the Brickyard, Fontana, and Kansas. He was always the guy who was known to figure out places the fastest, but we were able to be the ones to do that at Kentucky. There aren’t many opportunities these days to go to a new venue, so for us being able to win the first race there was extra special.”
Does your success at Kentucky factor into running all three races?
“No, it doesn’t really factor in – we’re just here for all three and I’ve got sponsors for all three so I’m going to run all three. I like running there at Kentucky. Why I run well there, I don’t know. It’s an interesting racetrack and it’s certainly challenging and tough and it brings out the better drivers. Like I said before, you have to have a good-handling racecar around there on the bumps, but you can de-tune the speed of your racecar to get over the bumps better and slow your car down, which is not very good. You have to find the happy medium of that and I think Dave Rogers (crew chief) does a really good job of being able to help me with that, as well as just being able to keep the speed in the car.”
Is Kentucky a special place for you?
“I love Kentucky. It was special there in 2011 when we were able to win the first Cup race there. I look forward to going back there every year. It’s a pretty challenging racetrack. It’s a place that lends itself to different kinds of setups because it’s so rough. Fast lap times at Kentucky come from momentum. The place is so round that there’s not a ton of banking compared to some other 1.5-milers. It’s all about how round the corners are and just being able to maintain corner speed and stay on the gas.”
What are the bumps like on the racetrack?
“The place certainly has a lot of character. It really depends on what your setup is in your race vehicle. You can help the bumps out, but you can also slow your car down by doing the same thing. You really have a fine balance there that you have to work on in making sure that you can get over the bumps well enough, but yet keep your car fast. It’s a trade back and forth there a little bit.”
How do you prepare for a triple weekend?
“It essentially starts throughout the whole week – you have to stay hydrated. You’re not just going to all of a sudden pick up your hydration on Thursday or Friday – your first practice day or what-not. That’s the biggest thing is just trying to keep the amount of fluid in you so when you do sweat you’re not just drained. That’s sort of the biggest thing that I fight is just being able to make sure that I’m well enough hydrated there. Years ago, when I was a young’un, when I was first running in the Nationwide Series for my first race – 300 miles, I was worn out. This hurts. Then I started running the 500-mile Cup races and I was worn out. Then you start running the doubles and you’re worn out, and then you start running the triples and you’re worn out. The more and more you start doing that stuff, your body becomes used to it and now you’re not worn out anymore. I could run a 500-mile Cup race by itself, like last weekend at Sonoma, and feel fine and ready to go. Or I could run a triple at Bristol or somewhere and then I get out and I’m fine. Your body gets used to it and it just goes from there. From doing it for this long for so many years, it’s just repetitive and you’re used to it.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine