September 24, 2008
KYLE BUSCH: Nothing Left To Lose
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 24, 2008) – The late singer Janis Joplin is best remembered for belting out some of the most memorable lyrics in her day. Among the most renown was this revelation: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), last Sunday’s 43rd-place finish due to engine failure in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway dealt a stunning blow to his 2008 championship hopes.
So, with seemingly nothing left to lose as the series heads to the third of 10 stops in the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup, this Sunday’s Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City leaves Busch and the No. 18 team with just one thing on their minds – victory lane.
The result at Dover was another stroke of bad luck for Busch, who entered the Chase atop in the standings but has now finished outside the top-30 in each of its first two races. Two weeks ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Busch finished 34th after having early race problems with a sway bar.
But as he and his M&M’s team proved during the first 26 races of the season, the 23-year-old’s talents, paired with a team that has nothing to lose, can be a scary combination.
And if there was ever a venue that rewarded a gambling driver and team, it’s Kansas Speedway. The past two winners – Tony Stewart in 2006 and Greg Biffle in 2007 – gambled on fuel mileage and came out victorious. In addition, Busch came out a winner at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., a sister track to Kansas, with his breathtaking last-lap pass of Jimmie Johnson during a two-lap green-white-checker shootout in July.
While Busch may need his fellow Chase contenders to have some bad luck of their own to help him get back in the hunt, the Chase has proven over time that anything can happen. In 2006, Jimmie Johnson trailed by 165 points with seven races to go but rallied to win the championship, overcoming the largest deficit in the history of the Chase through its first four years. In 1992, before the Chase came into existence, Alan Kulwicki made up a 278-point deficit with just six races remaining to become the 1992 series champion to record the greatest comeback of all time.
While Busch and Co. now sit in 12th-place, 210 points behind Chase leader Carl Edwards, the pressure is off Busch as he changes roles from favorite to spoiler. He knows full well a win at Kansas would be the sweetest way for the M&M’s team to prove they’re not out of the picture. Let the chips fall where they may.KYLE BUSCH: Driver, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry at Kansas Speedway
Since it’s been such a tough start to the Chase for you, what will be your focus, starting at Kansas, for the rest of the season?
“I think it goes without saying that Dover was really disappointing. But at this point, we just need to go out and win races and get back to doing what we’ve been doing all year long. There’s really no sense in looking at the points right now. Lots of things can happen between now and Homestead (Fla.). This M&M’s team has never quit all year long and we’re not going to start now. We’re going into these last eight races with absolutely nothing to lose. There’s no pressure, really. Every week, when we unload at the track, we’ll be looking for nothing else but a win.”You were leading the points at the Chicagoland race and took a chance to win. Now that you aren’t worrying about the points as much, will it be easier to make a gutsy move late in the race instead of being conservative?
“For sure. I’m sure I will think about making a bonzai move if I’m in that situation again. But I’d also be smart about it, too. You never want to take anybody out, but I’ve also never been one to not give it a shot if I have a chance to win. But even if I did slip up, or something like that, the worst we probably would’ve ended up with that day was fourth or fifth, hopefully not wrecking it, but just getting loose and losing some spots.”You won earlier this year at Chicagoland Speedway, a sister track to Kansas Speedway. Does that give you confidence leading into this weekend?
“It does a little bit. We ran well at Chicago, and Kansas is a similar track. The difference is that Kansas is a little bit narrower than Chicago. We’re bringing back the same car we had at Chicago, so I know we’re hoping to have the same result. The only thing that can help fix the disappointment of the last couple of weeks will be to win.”The Kansas race has been won on fuel mileage the last two years. What have you learned about saving fuel? Is it a matter of saving it, or just being in a position where you can gamble at the end of the race?
“It’s probably just a matter of either being in a position to gamble more times than not. When you are trying to conserve fuel, it is pretty much all on luck. You try to roll out of the gas early and be smooth getting back to it. You will probably save a drop here or there, but nothing that is going to make a big difference. I think four times in my career I have tried, but I didn’t make it on three of them. It depends on the scenario. If you are short by three laps with 60 laps to go and you go green the rest of the way, if you start saving, you will go for it. But if you are short five laps, if there is no other way but to stop, you might as well come in early and then go for it.”Even though you’ve won eight races so far, does the Chicagoland win stick out in your mind more than the others?
“Yes and no. The Atlanta win was a big one for us, getting Steve (Addington) his first win and getting the No. 18 back to victory lane. But as far as the way we did it, Chicagoland was pretty awesome. I pretty much had given up by that point, figuring he had the race won. But another caution came out and we were able to bunch up for that final restart. Jimmie (Johnson) was going to bring us down slow. I remember this from my short track days, when somebody was in your mirror and you creep up on them. You stop and they’ll go up on you. Well, I just went. I pushed Jimmie to go and was, like, ‘Let’s go man, here we go.’ That was the saving grace right there. It was a good restart. I got on his rear bumper and pulled to his outside with one (to go) and figured he would protect the bottom as he did on the frontstretch, and I had some momentum and got to his outside on (turn) three and was able to complete the pass through (turn) four and made it to the finish line first.”You seem to be one of the better drivers on restarts this year. Where did you learn to be so good on restarts?
“I don’t think anybody’s really labeled me as the king of restarts, yet. That’s always going to be (Ron) Hornaday. As far as being able to learn that, it comes from my dad and teaching us the ropes of restarts back in the day, racing Legends cars, Late Models, all that stuff, and deciding different things with how to restart every time and doing different things with gear ratios. With every race, I have a better sense and knowledge that I’m hoping will stick with me throughout my career.”