It was a record-setting 29th day of 110-plus degree weather in Phoenix, but not even the oppressive heat could deter local NASCAR fans from lining up for their chance to meet talented Nextel Cup driver Kyle Busch.
Busch made a pit stop in Phoenix on Wednesday en route to this weekend’s Cup race in Fontana, Calif. He was a cool customer inside a local area restaurant, cordially signing autographs, posing for photos and chatting with members of the media in advance of the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway this fall. Busch won at PIR in November of 2005 and is looking forward to returning here with a shot at the title.
That Busch held his own in the midst of record temperatures should come as no surprise; the young man knows something about setting records himself. At age 19, he became the youngest driver ever to sit on the pole in a Cup race, and at age 20, he became the youngest winner in the series. Now, at age 22, Busch has four Cup wins to go along with eight victories in the Busch Series and four in the Craftsman Truck Series. Currently, he sits eighth in Nextel Cup points, a near-lock for the Chase and in contention for his first career points title.
Frontstretch Senior Writer Becca Gladden spoke with Kyle about last weekend’s Bristol race, the Car of Tomorrow, and his relationship with the fans, among other topics:
Becca Gladden, Frontstretch: The pit-road commitment line penalty you received in last week’s Busch race at Bristol has been a hot topic all week. How hard was it for you to maintain your focus and drive back up through the field under those circumstances?
Kyle Busch: It was pretty hard. When we were going and running under caution there, they really never said anything, and then we got the one to go and they told us to go to the back because we ran over the commitment line. There was really no time to veto their decision or to argue with them at all and try to set it straight. We were coming to the green, so we just had to drop to the back. You know, you have to obey NASCAR because it’s their series and it’s what they need to do, and you can’t just not abide by their rules. So we went to the back. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if they had looked at the situation first and tried to fix it, or at least run another lap of caution where we could have come in and gotten tires. (But) we just went straight to the back, and restarted there and passed a couple of cars, and luckily we had a caution in about 10 laps or so where we were able to come back in and get to pit road, get four tires and then restart in the back once again. I think in 24 laps or something like that we picked up 23 spots, so it was a pretty quick battle there at the end.
Gladden: NASCAR later acknowledged their mistake in assessing the penalty. Did their apology help at all?
Busch: No, because it was a win that got taken away. You know, I’m not taking home the hardware, and that’s what I’m here to do is try to win races. We’ve had enough of a battle on our hands trying to win races in the Busch Series this year, with lugnuts falling off and wrecking cars and speeding on pit road or whatever it’s been, so to just get one taken away from us like that was pretty hard.
Gladden: Do you think this incident will result in some positive changes in the future for calls like this?
Busch: I hope so. I think that NASCAR can resolve it. They can put a specific camera on the commitment line and make sure that everybody is good. At some tracks, there’s no way you can miss it. There’s a cone out there and you’re either on one side of the cone or the other side of the cone. Bristol and Martinsville are the only two tracks where it is kind of confusing, because they say you only have to touch it with your left side tire, and that’s what they claim that I did… which I didn’t do. So you really have to make sure that you’re paying attention to that.
Gladden: Speaking of Bristol, the fans were really divided in their opinions about last weekend’s race, although the drivers seemed to love it. What is your take on the new Bristol?
Busch: I think the fans didn’t like it because there wasn’t as much beatin’ and bangin’ and spinning people out. I think that has a lot to do with the car. We can bump each other a lot more and not spin each other out, and the cars are pretty good in the respect of being able to beat on each other. And, of course, the racetrack was plenty wide and we didn’t have to run into each other. You could go from the bottom all the way to the top and race around each other instead of into each other. So that was a big deal, too – but that’s just not typical Bristol and what everybody is used to.
Gladden: You won the first ever CoT race at Bristol in the spring, but you were rather outspoken about your dislike for the car. Have you changed your feelings about the CoT?
Busch: It’s a work in progress. We’re trying to make it better. We’re trying to work on it. It hasn’t been that great quite yet, but it’s becoming something that’s more familiar for us racing it more every week.
Gladden: How does it feel to be returning to Fontana this weekend, where you won your first Cup race?
Busch: It feels pretty good. It’s a place where I’ve had success. I’ve won a pole and a race there, so it’s a pretty good race for me, just being able to get back out there and race in California again. I think we’ve got a pretty good racecar, the same car we had at Michigan, so it should be good for us. If we start the race, I believe that puts us in the Chase, so we’ll be able to go out for a win and not have to worry about points.
Gladden: As it stands now, you and Kurt Busch might both be in the Chase. Do you think that will add another level of interest, with two brothers competing for the title?
Busch: No, I don’t think so. I mean, we’re just another two competitors along with the other 10. Last year, he wasn’t able to make it unfortunately, and I was in it, so this will be my second year in a row. Kurt is a champion, so he’s been there and done that and he’s been able to battle and win the thing the first year the Chase came out. It’s definitely a unique deal, but I’m looking forward to the challenges.
Gladden: Do you anticipate maybe getting a different reaction from the fans toward you personally once you’re driving for Joe Gibbs Racing next year instead of Hendrick Motorsports?
Busch: Not really. I think the fans have had their reaction of who I am already, I guess, and hopefully we can try to change that a little bit with showing exactly who I am. I’ve done a pretty good job of showing them the wrong person, so I don’t blame them. But maybe we can turn that around some.
Gladden: Lastly, talk a little bit about the Kyle Busch Foundation which you recently started.
Busch: We announced it in Charlotte at Lowe’s Motor Speedway the weekend we were out there for the races. It’s up and running right now and we are accepting donations. We are in the process of working with two homes right now, the St. John’s Home in Berlin, Mich. and the Concord Children’s Home. We help out children who are in unfortunate circumstances where they are put in residential homes. We have been helping out with those (two) so far, and we’ve been looking to develop more relationships with others across the country and do more for them.
Editor’s Note: The website for Kyle’s foundation is www.KyleBuschFoundation.org.