Racing with the rainbow in the valley of the sun for Kyle Busch

Skittles Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing

Racing with the rainbow in the valley of the sun for Kyle Busch

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 entered, followed by 12-plus days spent in Daytona by those who 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.

Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

For Kyle Busch and the entire No. 18 Skittles Toyota team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), there’s Daytona, and then there’s the rest of the season. After Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500, the grueling, 36-race marathon-like schedule heads out West to the second race of the 2014 season – Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.

After a 15-year break, the “Rainbow” will be making its return to the Sprint Cup ranks as the colorful Skittles paint scheme will adorn Busch’s No. 18 Toyota on the Phoenix mile oval. The Skittles brand made its NASCAR debut in 1998 in partnership with MB2 Motorsports on the No. 36 Pontiac for driver Derrike Cope. In 1999, driver Ernie Irvan took the wheel of the Skittles No. 36 Pontiac and went on to take the top starting spot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As they now head to Phoenix, Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers and the rest of the Skittles 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 tricky mile oval will be first real test of several offseason rule changes designed to change the handling characteristics of the cars and provide more passing and side-by-side racing.

Furthermore, the Sprint Cup Series will unveil new qualifying rules this weekend designed to provide teams with multiple chances to run a fast lap, adding excitement to qualifying day by giving it race-day-like atmosphere.

In 18 Sprint Cup starts at the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has one win and 11 top-10 finishes, including four in a row in 2007 and 2008, and he won the pole for the spring 2006 race.

So as the series heads out to the “Valley of the Sun”, Busch will hope the offseason changes, along with the debut of the “Rainbow” with JGR, will lead to a colorful celebration in victory lane Sunday afternoon at Phoenix.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:

How do you feel about heading to Phoenix this week after an up-and-down Speedweeks?

“I’m glad to go back to a racetrack where drivers matter and car handling matters. I ran really well at Phoenix in both races two years ago, but we struggled there as an organization last fall. I think the guys at JGR have worked really hard to make sure we turn that around, so I’m looking forward to getting back there, for sure. The best way to get over the disappointment of the Daytona 500 is to get back in the car and have another chance at winning the next one. I wish the race was today, to be honest. I’m ready to have the Skittles colors on our car this weekend. I know it would mean a lot to get the rainbow into victory lane on Sunday.”

Will you see drivers getting in each other’s way with the new qualifying format?

“You may or you may not, but 30 minutes for everybody to be able to get out there and kind of get a clean lap, I think, is enough time. Realistically, you’re not going to make multiple runs in one session – I just don’t see that happening with the way tires are at most places. But Phoenix is one place you will see more than just one lap. Phoenix or Kansas or Michigan – places like that where the pavement is still new and laps on tires actually make you go faster. I think you’ll see it get crazy at those places.”

If you win one of the first five races, will it change how the others are approached with the new Chase rules in place?

“I don’t know that it would really change a whole lot for the rest of the year. I think it gives you an opportunity where it relieves a little bit of pressure because you can say, ‘OK, we’re locked in the Chase, so now we don’t have to try so hard and put ourselves in bad situations or whatever when it comes to trying to make the Chase.’ Like I said, there are more spots now than ever to make the Chase. There are going to be guys who make the Chase with no wins, although we hope we’re not one of those guys. It’s just going to play itself all the way down to Richmond on who’s in, who’s not and what all happens. The flip side of that is you can win a race early on in the season and the pressure comes off and you can go on and you can win six or seven because you’re just going out of the box. You’re trying crazy stuff and seeing if you can’t steal some wins, I should say, versus earning them, I guess.”

How much will the new ride-height rules impact teams?

“It’s affected us enough where we’ve been testing an awful lot this offseason, already, trying to figure things out and trying to come up with what’s going to be best. Is running the old way going to be best? Is running a new way or running something entirely different going to be good? What is it? That’s been the story of what we’ve been working on. We’ve been to Nashville twice. We have had a few other short-track tests, as well, and then I’m sure we’ll have another short-track test before Martinsville. Nashville is going to get a lot of business this year, I have a feeling.”

What does it take to be successful at Phoenix?

“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but heading there with our Skittles Toyota Camry without any testing there will be interesting to see how the race plays out.”

In addition to three Nationwide Series wins at Phoenix, you also won in your second Sprint Cup start at the mile oval. Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix?

“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave. For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different corners at Phoenix.”

-TSC-

shares
comments
Ryan Newman and Richard Childress Racing Phoenix preview

Previous article

Ryan Newman and Richard Childress Racing Phoenix preview

Next article

Ambrose Proud to Carry The International Flag for NASCAR

Ambrose Proud to Carry The International Flag for NASCAR
Load comments
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Prime

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organization - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR Cup
Aug 31, 2021
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021
Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption Prime

Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a chance of redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Effectively replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith...

NASCAR Cup
Feb 11, 2021
Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon Prime

Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon

In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Roger Penske reveals the inner drive that has made him not only a hugely successful team owner and businessman but also the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Dec 28, 2020
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Prime

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future…

NASCAR Cup
Nov 18, 2020