HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – If Kyle Busch was to take home the checkered flag in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International for the second consecutive year, he knows not only will he have to top the 42 other competitors Sunday afternoon, but recent history shows he’ll have to best two fellow racers in particular – Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski.
A quick look into the last three races at Watkins Glen is quite telling as to why the trio will be the favorites this weekend at The Glen. In those three events, Busch, Ambrose and Keselowski have combined to lead a whopping 240 of a possible 270 laps, with Ambrose taking home wins in 2011 and 2012, and Busch winning the aforementioned 2013 edition. Moreover, Keselowski finished third in 2011 behind Ambrose and Busch and in the runner-up spot the last two races there.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), beat Keselowski one year ago in the 355k at The Glen, as he notched his second win at the legendary road course, in dramatic fashion, no less. In all, Busch has an impressive seven top-10 finishes in his eight career starts at The Glen. Add an average finish of 8.1 along with his 188 laps led and Busch’s record is quite dazzling at the site of Sunday’s 355-kilometer race.
But while he is the defending Sprint Cup winner there, Busch won’t soon forget the two previous races that got away from him as he battled for the win against a familiar cast of characters, to no one’s surprise.
After Busch’s inaugural Sprint Cup victory at The Glen in 2008, he came agonizingly close to his second win on the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course in his 2011 and 2012 visits there. In 2011, after leading three times for a race-high 49 laps, Busch found himself in a three-wide situation on a late restart with Keselowski and eventual race-winner Ambrose. Busch was forced to fall back and had to settle for a second-place finish after an otherwise dominant day by the M&M’s team.
In 2012, Busch again found himself in the lead as the white flag flew. But oil on the racetrack slowed him dramatically on the last lap as, again, it was Keselowski and Ambrose who closed in on him entering turn two. Keselowski made contact with Busch, sending him spinning. Busch recovered to finish seventh, but it was another bitter pill to swallow with yet another Watkins Glen victory within reach.
Busch’s 2013 Watkins Glen victory served as redemption, of sorts, after coming agonizingly close in 2011 and 2012. A third victory at The Glen would continue to solidify Busch and the M&M’s team as the favorite each time the series visits New York’s Fingers Lakes region, and Busch knows he’ll likely have to deal with Ambrose and Keselowski, yet again, to secure another Glen win.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What is it that makes you so successful at road courses?
“It’s just time – getting better at road racing. For me, at the beginning I wasn’t excellent at it. I felt like I was OK, but I’ve gotten better at it over time. Just understanding the dynamic of the car a little bit more and what you can do with it, how much you can throw it into the corners and throw it around through the corners and all of that stuff. It just kind of takes time to figure all of that out. Watkins Glen is one of my better tracks and we were fortunate enough to finish it off there last season with a win. I’m hoping this time we can lead laps like we have in the past and get another trophy there with our M&M’s Camry.”
What is the most fun part of a lap at Watkins Glen?
“To me, going through turn one and up through the esses is pretty cool and a lot of fun. It’s challenging, yet, a lot of fun. As you come down the front straightaway, it’s a downhill braking zone, so you feel like you don’t have to brake as soon as you need to, but you need to in order to get slowed down for turn one. You try to stay out and get a good, hard cut to the right for turn one and accelerate out of there as quickly as you can to get set up for the esses. (You) stay wide on the left and then turn into the right-hander in (turn) two – smooth. You’re getting out of the gas but not using too much brake, just rolling off in there. As the car gets in there and loads, it actually takes a really big set because that’s when you start going back uphill. So the car will load up and that’s when you get back in the gas really wide open. And then you have to turn back to the left and be able to roll back out of it just enough to make the car bend. And then you’re back wide open again to the right-side guardrail and just keeping it tight through the right-hander that we call turn five.”
Are you looking forward to returning to Watkins Glen?
“I love Watkins Glen. I enjoy the road courses – both of them – but more so Watkins Glen. I just have a better feel for that place, whatever it is that allows me to do so well there, and so I’m excited about getting to Watkins Glen and hopefully being able to get that monkey off our back in that Nationwide Series there and bring home a trophy. I’ve not won at that place in Nationwide, yet. And, to carry on our Cup success there that we’ve had over the last few years and sweep the weekend.”
What is the most challenging part of a lap at Watkins Glen?
“I’d say the most challenging thing is the culmination of the inner loop and the carousel. All of that together is a lot harder to figure out how to make speed through there than just going through there traditionally. That’s an area of the racetrack a lot of guys really try to abuse. They’ll get off on the right side, get off on the left side and throw dirt up on the racetrack and then it just makes for a real mess.”
What does it take to be successful at Watkins Glen?
“At Watkins Glen, the biggest thing is pit strategy. Obviously, you’ve got to pick and choose when you’re going to pit and stick to your plan. Whether or not we can still do it on two stops I’m unsure of because Sonoma turned into a three-stop race for us all because the new fuel mileage is a little bit off from where we were last year. At Watkins Glen, though, you definitely have to be good at being able to carry speed, obviously, through the esses and down the long backstretch. That seems to be the key part of the racetrack.”
Will we continue to see the same action on the road courses that we’ve been accustomed to over the last few years?
“I think you will. Yeah, you’ll see a little bit of it, especially on restarts and stuff like that. Watkins Glen is a place where we get a little bit more spread out throughout the run. Certainly, there are some areas where some guys can make some moves. Like, getting into turn one, you can outbrake somebody really good. Getting into the bus stop, you can outbrake somebody pretty good there, too. It’s like Marcos (Ambrose) did to me in 2009 in the Nationwide Series, and he and Brad (Keselowski) did to me in the Cup race there in 2012. If you outbrake somebody getting in there and you both are already on so much edge, one of you is going to have to give. If you’re that guy on the inside, you’re going to run into the guy on your left and you’re going to put him off into the island, there, in the grass. You’ve got to be conscious of that. That’s why I got out of the way and stopped when I had my problem there.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine