Kyle Busch Blends New Maturity, Constant Talent Into NASCAR Hot Streak
Kyle Busch will be the first to admit that he has plenty of self-belief when it comes to competing in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
“I've got plenty of confidence,” Busch said. “I'll drive her off in there until I see God and not lift. That's not a problem.”
Busch proved that last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway by smashing the track record to win the pole, then winning both the Nationwide Series and Cup race on the superfast 1.5-mile oval.
Busch’s latest weekend sweep at Texas Motor Speedway placed him in elite company as the driver with the most sweeps in NASCAR history. He battled with his older brother, Kurt, to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Friday night and then came back to beat race leader Martin Truex Jr. out of the pits on the last stop to win the Cup race Saturday night.
At 27, it was Busch’s 26th career Cup win, which ties him with Fred Lorenzen for 23rd on the all-time victory list.
Although it was his first career Cup win at Texas, it was his ninth all-time win at the 1.5-mile oval counting all three divisions – Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide and Cup.
It was Busch’s second win this season after winning last month at Fontana, which makes him the hottest driver heading to Kansas Speedway for the 400-mile race Sunday.
And he accomplished all of this in his 300th career Cup start.
“Dave Rogers (crew chief) just mentioned this is my 300th start, so not a bad way to celebrate it, of course, sitting on the pole with a new track record and going to victory lane,” Busch said. “Man, it wouldn't be possible without such a great team, led by Dave Rogers, and everybody back at the shop that does such a great job working our stuff, building our cars and making it to where we've had really good equipment. And I say that the expense that Joe Gibbs (team owner) put in out of his own pocket this offseason to build us some really cool cars, we appreciate.
“But tonight it was all about staying up front, keeping it clean, and running as hard as we could. This was a fast race, man. I'm telling you. There was a lot of speed out there and being able to carry a lot of speed throughout the turns and down the straightaways tonight throughout the whole race. I mean, I ran 100 percent much of the race. So it was a tough day there for a little bit, getting loose, trying to slide around, trying to find grip, being able to move to the middle or move to the top.”
So Busch was able to experience the best that racing has to offer at the same venue where he had the biggest character-building moment of his career.
It came in November 2011 when he was in the NASCAR Camping World Truck race and was involved in some hard racing with longtime veteran and nemesis Ron Hornaday Jr. Busch had an issue with his fellow driver and lost his head during a caution period but intentionally crashing Hornaday and putting him into the wall, ending any chance Hornaday had at the championship.
NASCAR parked Busch for the race and suspended him from competing in the Nationwide Series and Cup races for the remainder of the weekend.
It was the low point of his career and one where Busch had to decide what kind of driver he was going to become and more importantly, what kind of person he would be from that point forward.
Rather than fly home to North Carolina and watch the race on TV, Busch took his punishment like a man. He stayed at Texas Motor Speedway and made walked down the pit area in street clothes before climbing on top of the team’s pit box to watch his replacement driver, Michael McDowell, drive his No. 18 Toyota in the 500-mile race.
It was a humbling experience for Busch, but it also provided his moment of clarity.
In 2012, Busch was a far different driver as he tried to find the fine line between his daring style and racing his competitors fairly and cleanly. He missed the mark to some degree by missing the 12-driver lineup that made up the Chase for the Championship.
This year, Busch seems to have found the proper mix of racing talent and keeping it clean with his success. He credits some of that to Joe Gibbs Racing’s first sponsor, Norm Miller of Interstate Batteries, a company that is based in the Dallas area.
“Norm is just a huge supporter of mine, personally, as well as professionally,” Busch said. “It means so much to have a guy like that on your side. He's been one of the best people that I've been able to talk to the last few seasons, especially with Joe as well, too.
“A couple years ago I had an issue here, and Norm stepped up to the plate to help us finish out the season. He's one of the best characters that we've got around. It's a lot of fun to be able to put him in Victory Lane here in Texas. We tried. We only get one shot a year because they split it between Interstate and M&M'S here. But it's been so much fun to keep trying but yet to finally pull it out and do it here tonight. He's jacked up, dude. You ought to talk to the guy. He's fun.
“I had an issue in a truck race, and unfortunately got suspended for the weekend. Then M&M'S pulled their sponsorship for the final two races of the year, and Interstate Batteries stepped up. Norm wasn't going to let that car go the rest of the year without colors on it, so he put his on it. It takes true character, and obviously, he's outrageously dependable. That's right. Write that down.”
Prior to becoming a full-time NASCAR team owner, Gibbs was the head coach of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. Three of his teams won the Super Bowl.
As an NFL head coach, Gibbs often helped his players deal with personal adversity, so he was well prepared to help Busch get through his troubles at Texas in 2011.
“I think back to last year at the end of the year, Kyle probably had some of the most bitter disappointments, I think, that's happened to us in 22 years,” Gibbs said. “We missed the Chase. We had Watkins Glen won, go to the last lap and get in somebody else's oil. We had some issues mechanically during the year that cost us. I think last year at the end of the year, Kyle really handled all of those things about as good as you could handle them. I think it showed real maturity, and I think that kind of set the course for this year, really. Dave and him went through some real tough things, and they have I think they have some of the most frank conversations, and they'll both get fired up and get after each other. But I think that's all part of sports.
“When I think about it, it's like in football, the coach and the quarterback. You can have some sparks, but it's neat to see the way they've handled all of that this year to get off to the kind of start the way we have right now. I just told Kyle, whatever you're doing, keep doing it. We don't want to change anything right now.”
Busch missed the Chase last year because he didn’t win enough. Through seven races this season, Busch is third in points, just 18 behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Both have two victories to lead the Cup series in wins.
“Well, if it was for getting two wins last year, we would have made the Chase,” Busch said. “That's what our year is all about. You have to be able to execute through the first 26 and get yourself a playoff spot and be able to go battle with the rest of the guys to be able to win a championship.
“Right now, obviously, winning two races so far this year, you'd say that's a lock. But anything can happen. We've still got some work to do to get better at some of the tracks that we did struggle at last year, and we know that. One is coming up next week, so that's going to be a battle for us just making sure we've got a good-handling car and one that I can drive and push hard and make speed because that asphalt is pretty new there.
“But with last year's frustrations and everything and coming down to that race in Richmond, we didn't execute that as we needed to. But we learned from that one. We put that in the memory bank, and we talked about it a lot. Through the last 10 weeks, I felt like we did a lot of things right, and there were probably a couple things we could have done even better yet.
“We learned from those things, and Dave and I talked a lot through those weeks and through the offseason. So what do we need to do to better execute the end of these races to put ourselves in a position to win and close them out.”
This season, Busch has six wins in 13 starts between Cup and Nationwide. His diversity in the two series may be one of the reasons for his success.
By winning in the Nationwide race, it appears to help his mental attitude and focus for the Cup race.
But another big reason is returning to JGR for the Nationwide Series after he tried to make Kyle Busch Motorsports a Nationwide contender last season on his own.
“A lot of things are different, but for some reason, man, I'm telling you, I don't know what it was, but there was a funk last year,” Busch said. “My wife could tell you just that. We tried so hard to change the things that we were doing. But there was a stretch there where we thought, finally OK, things are headed in the right direction. We had four top-fives in a row. We head to Charlotte and boom right after that, three DNFs in a row. It's like: ‘Oh, my gosh. Here we go.’ Then you'd have a good run, and two bad runs, then a good run and a bad run. You could never make up that ground that you kept losing with the bad races.
“So, you know, running the KBM stuff last year, a start-up team, was tough in the beginning. We were a little slow, but we made a lot of strides throughout the year. I thought we were very competitive at the end of the season. We could have won four or five races; it's just every scenario worked itself against me, even on the Cup side, too. Dave and I had, I don't know, what, six, six of the last 10 races we had a legitimate shot to win, and look what happens. Stupid stuff that's out of your control sometimes.
“I'm glad the monkey is off our back. We're riding a wave right now that's 30-feet tall and ready to keep riding.”
The only waves Busch will find at Kansas are the rolling waves of wheat and grain that are beginning their growth cycle.
After turning the fastest speeds ever on a 1.5-mile oval at Texas, the challenge continues for Busch and the Cup Series drivers at the newly-repaved Kansas Speedway.
“I'm looking forward to it,” Busch said. “I thought we were running decent there last year. We were eighth or ninth. Actually, I was leading, and I spun myself out while I was leading so, that was dumb. So hopefully we have a good car like that this time around. I don't make a mistake like that.
“But Kansas is newly repaved. It's got a winter on it now, so we'll see how that changes things. But I still expect it to be fast. It's a place that you want to run well at because it is a Chase race. So we've got to develop our notes in Kansas next weekend, and fortunately I've got a really good teammate in Matt Kenseth. He and I have been working really well this year. I haven't mentioned him at all tonight, but his team and our team have been really, really good with one another. Unfortunately, Denny Hamlin is not with us right now at this point where we're not being able to use the 11 car's notes much because we're kind of driver of the week over there. But it feels really good to have good chemistry between all three.”
With 300 starts and 24 wins and just 27 years old, the best is just beginning for Busch, who could rack up some impressive career numbers.
“Unfortunately, there is a guy named Jimmie Johnson out there that has absolutely murdered the stat book for the rest of us,” Busch said. “It's great for who I am and what I've done and been able to accomplish in this sport, and I'm thankful for that. And I've got a lot to be thankful for and a lot of people to be thankful to.
“Of course you always wish your stats were a little bit better. I'd love to say that I've had 50 wins by now or something like that. But you take everything with a grain of salt as best you can, and we'll continue to work hard. Hopefully we can continue to increase that number for many years to come.”
While the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starting lineup has plenty of stars, there are an elite few who drive with a fearless style and passion that cause people to buy tickets to see in person. Busch is one of those drivers, and if he keeps this pace up, he could join the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as a winner at the Brickyard.
Although he has yet to win a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Busch could change that this July. At least he is off to a very good start.
And, he is always worth the price of admission to see.