It’s very rare that Kyle Busch leaves a racetrack pleased with a second-place finish.
But, that’s exactly what happened to Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), following last June’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
In fact, not only did the Las Vegas native bring home his best Pocono last June, he also started from the pole – his first at Pocono – and was beaten across the finish line only by teammate and Pocono master Denny Hamlin, who has four wins and seven career top-five finishes to his credit there.
By simply taking a look at the talented 26-year-old’s record at the 2.5-mile triangle, it’s easy to figure out why the runner-up finish was a satisfying day for the winner of 97 overall races among NASCAR’s top three series’. Busch had made it no secret that Pocono has given him fits, as he has only three top-10 finishes in 12 previous starts there, along with six finishes of 22nd-place or worse.
But even more satisfying for the Las Vegas native to would be to score his first career NASCAR victory at Pocono. Of the 29 tracks that will host NASCAR’s top three divisions in 2011, Busch has competed at every circuit but one (Elkhart Lake, Wis.) and has won at 24 of them. There are only three current Sprint Cup venues – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Pocono, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway – where Busch has not scored a victory in any of NASCAR’s top three series’ and he’d certainly like nothing more than to cross another track off the list this weekend.
So as the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains for Sunday’s 5-Hour Energy 500, Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers, and the entire M&M’s team will look to take the very same approach that yielded a second-place finish one year ago, but finally reach Pocono victory lane for the first time.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How proud were you of the second-place finish in Pocono last June, given your previous record there?
“Really proud. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and my guys gave me a great racecar. Our M&M’s Camry was good. We kept messing with it all day, trying to make it a little bit better. I think it’s just the driver here who can make up so much with lap time. Denny (Hamlin, teammate) has that place figured out. I did the best I could. If you were grading me, I went from about an F at knowing how to get around here to about an A, and an A didn’t get it done with Denny being so good there. But I was very satisfied with how we ran there, knowing how tough it’s been for me there in the past.”
Pocono is the most unique track on the circuit with three distinct corners. What’s the most difficult part of the track for you?
“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest. Turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down. We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside, and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway.”
Since the track is unique, where is the best place to make a pass at Pocono?
“Most of your passing is going to be done probably through turn one and off of turn one and getting into turn two, if somebody can get a good run off of turn two, get back up high and get in line to get on that patch getting into turn three. Besides that, in turn one, we just can’t get the cars to turn down there because there’s so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a ‘buck-40’ (140). Turn two is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you’ve got to maneuver through the tunnel turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”
Do you have to change your approach late in a race with what happened at the end of the race in Charlotte and some of these long green flag runs at the end of races like we saw this past weekend?
“No. Everything in this sport is circumstantial anyway. If there’s a caution, there’s a caution. If there’s no caution, you just keep racing. From what I understand, I wasn’t there and I didn’t see it -- there was a bunch up on the restart at Charlotte and there were a few cars that kind of got banged up and one spun or something like that and they didn’t throw a caution. From what I understand, all of the cars kept rolling. They never really stopped. They didn’t hit anything. There wasn’t a big wreck or nothing like that. To me, I thought NASCAR did fine in what they did. Last weekend, there are times you end up having a long green flag run at the end, sometimes you come out on the good side, and sometimes you don’t. It’s all circumstance.”
Are you safely in the Chase now with two wins?
“Not really. There are an awful lot of good guys that are scattered through 11th to 20th. There are a few good teams that are there, and you don’t know. They can rattle off some wins right in a row -- for instance, I think Juan (Pabo Montoya) is one of those guys. He can win Sonoma and win Watkins Glen and boom, there’s a guy that’s already seated himself. He could even win at an oval-type track. I know Kansas -- I think -- has been good for him and Chicago has been good for him, even though Chicago is the first Chase race. These are those typical race tracks. (David) Reutimann -- same thing. Reutimann can really rattle off a win here. He won Chicago and he won Charlotte so he knows how to do these places. Keselowski getting his first win last weekend is an example of that too. Like I said, because of the good cars that are in 11th through 20th in points, it won’t be surprising to see a few of those guys get some wins.”
How many wins do driver’s need to be secure in the Chase?
“I think two (wins) is okay, three is safe. Yeah, that’s what I said before. I said three is definitely going to be safe and four is going to be safe.”
TSC/Kyle Busch PR