NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams spend more than two months during the offseason preparing for the season-opening and most prestigious race, the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Despite all that preparation by the more than 43 Sprint Cup drivers, followed by 12-plus days spent in Daytona by those that go the distance, only one driver-and-team combination emerges victorious from the big race on the 2.5-mile superspeedway oval. It’s typically the driver and team that found the perfect blend of help from others on race day and a hefty dose of racing luck in the ultimate battle of restrictor-plate, big-pack competition. And that victorious driver and team is the only one that gets to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy in racing’s most famous victory lane.
For Kyle Busch and the entire No. 18 M&M’s Toyota team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), there’s Daytona, and then there’s the rest of the season. After Sunday’s 55th Daytona 500, the grueling, 36-race marathon-like schedule heads out West to the second race of the 2012 season – Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.
Busch started the year on a high note by notching a win in his Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying race Feb. 21 at Daytona. But while challenging for the lead on lap 151 of Sunday’s 200-lap Daytona 500, his engine let go and he was sent to the garage early. While bitterly disappointed, Busch and the M&M’s team know there isn’t any time to sulk as the long season commences.
As they now head to the mile oval in Phoenix, Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers and the rest of the M&M’s team are comforted in knowing their fate is much more in their own hands. Handling and driver skill have much more to do with a team’s success at Phoenix than Daytona. The mile oval will be first real test of their new 2013 Toyota Camry, as NASCAR has moved to a new sixth-generation racecar (Gen-6) for all of its makes.
The Las Vegas native will hope to equal and better both February and November Phoenix performances in 2012, when he led 289 of the 631 total laps available to him. Circumstances at the end of both races kept him from Phoenix’s victory lane, where Busch paid his one and only visit during just his second Sprint Cup start there in November 2005.
In 16 Sprint Cup starts at the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has one win and 10 top-10 finishes, including four in a row in 2007 and 2008, and he won the pole for the spring 2006 race and the race last November.
This weekend, Phoenix marks the beginning of the rest of the season and the M&M’s team is already focused on gaining the wins and consistency it will need over the next 25 races in hopes of again joining the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.