Homestead: Kyle Busch preview

KYLE BUSCH Designs on a Nationwide Three-Peat for Joe Gibbs Racing HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 16, 2010) -- Back-to-back series championships may not necessarily elevate a racing team to dynasty status, but a strong case can be made if the number ...

Homestead: Kyle Busch preview

Designs on a Nationwide Three-Peat for Joe Gibbs Racing

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 16, 2010) -- Back-to-back series championships may not necessarily elevate a racing team to dynasty status, but a strong case can be made if the number reaches three in a row.

Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Z-Line Designs/BJ's Wholesale Club Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) are one race away from clinching JGR's third consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series owner's championship as they head to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Saturday's season-ending Ford 300.

After an all-time Nationwide Series-record 12 victories among its 21 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes through the season's first 34 events, the No. 18 JGR Toyota heads to Homestead with a 41-point lead in the owner's championship over the second-place No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge of Penske Racing. Brad Keselowski, who drives the No. 22 Dodge full-time, clinched the driver's title two weekends ago at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, but Busch and JGR are looking for a three-peat in the owner's race on the 1.5-mile oval on Saturday.

To clinch the title, Busch needs to simply finish fifth or better -- sixth or better if he leads at least one lap, seventh or better if he leads the most laps. The way the past three seasons have been going, odds are certainly in the No. 18 team's favor. In the 28 Nationwide events Busch has driven so far this year, he has finished in the top-five 75 percent of the time (21 of 28 races), and he has shattered the series single-season win record of 10 that he shared with Sam Ard by visiting victory lane 12 times in 2010. In terms of laps led, Busch has been at the point for almost 40 percent of all the Nationwide Series laps he's contested (2,076 of 5,337) this season.

All of that considered, don't count on Busch to simply cruise around in conservative fashion come Saturday afternoon, trying the safe route to the championship. A year ago this weekend, he arrived at the Homestead finale with a 190-point lead in both the driver and owner championship and both titles all but clinched as he only needed to fire his engine and start the race to be crowned champion. But he and the No. 18 Z-Line Designs team put the ultimate exclamation point on its driver-owner title as Busch led a race-high 73 of 200 laps en route to his ninth race win of 2009. While Busch drove the full Nationwide Series schedule last season, he yielded the driver seat to Brad Coleman at six of this season's events.

In 2008, it was JGR's No. 20 Toyota team that clinched the company's first-ever Nationwide Series owner's championship at Homestead. With youngster Joey Logano sharing the driving duties with Busch and fellow veterans Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, the No. 20 JGR Toyota came to Homestead with a 28-point lead in the owner's championship over the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of driver's champion Clint Bowyer and an 84-point lead over the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Carl Edwards. Logano's solid 10th-place finish in that Homestead race was good enough to clinch the title despite Edwards' race win and Bowyer's fifth-place finish.

A third consecutive Nationwide Series owner's title would make JGR only the second team ever to accomplish the feat. Bill Baumgardner won consecutive series championships from 1995 through 1997 with drivers Johnny Benson (1995) and Randy LaJoie (1996-97).

Consequently but not necessarily coincidentally, Busch can have something to do with three remaining NASCAR championships to be decided at Homestead this weekend. His own first-year Kyle Busch Motorsports team has a 120-point lead in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner's championship standings. And in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finale, his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin has a 15-point lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship standings over four-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Count on Busch to drive with a vengeance in Friday's Truck Series race, and be the ultimate teammate to Hamlin in Sunday's Ford 400.

But, sandwiched in-between, he'll be doing everything he can to elevate JGR's Nationwide Series program to dynasty status.

Kyle Busch, Driver, No. 18 Z-Line Designs / BJ's Wholesale Club NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:

With the Nationwide Series owner's championship on the line, is it safe to say you are looking forward to racing this weekend at Homestead?

"That track hasn't been great to me. Last year was good. I've run well there in the Truck Series. I won the Nationwide race there last year, and I was running second with a few laps to go and got in the fence and finished eighth (in the Sprint Cup car). Homestead is a fun racetrack. It's really challenging because, the way the race changes from the beginning to the end from daytime to nighttime, and with the way your car changes from beginning to the end of your runs. You run the bottom, then you go to the top. You're always moving around, you're always thinking. It's a cool racetrack. The sun is going to play havoc on our eyes getting down into turn one during the race. All in all, I'm looking forward to it and, hopefully, there's another two NASCAR championships to celebrate down there for myself with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series, as well as with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the Nationwide Series -- both owner's titles -- and then, hopefully, helping JGR celebrate the driver-owner (Sprint Cup) championship with Denny Hamlin."

You won your first race of any kind at Homestead last year in the Nationwide Series. Is that important -- to finish off the season strong?

"It meant a lot to win that race last season because it just capped off our season. I didn't even think about it until much later -- that it was my first win there. Carl (Edwards) fought us really hard, but with Jim and Monica Sexton and everyone with Z-Line Designs there rooting us on, I couldn't have found a better way to finish off my first NASCAR championship. That was a really special day and I hope we can do the same this weekend and bring JGR its third straight owner's points title."

This will be the last race for this particular type of racecar as the new Nationwide car takes over full-time in 2011? Do you have a lot of memories of these types of cars?

"For sure. These cars have always been fun to drive, but even more than the cars, in general, it's the cars that JGR has built for me. I'm not even sure of the exact number, but it's so fun to drive racecars that are that good, and we've won so many races together with this car. There are a few particular chassis, in particular, that we've won a lot of races with. It's really amazing, if you think about it. I know Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and all of these guys will get to work as soon as Homestead is done so we can hopefully have that same kind of success with the new car starting next year. I'm looking forward to it."

Jason Ratcliff, Crew Chief, No. 18 Z-Line Designs / BJ's Wholesale Club NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry:

What has this year meant to you as a crew chief, with another championship at stake, with the single-season win record, and everything that's happened, so far, in 2010?

"For me, really, the last three seasons have been incredible. We set our goals pretty high every year and we've exceeded them, for the most part. Coming into this season, we knew it was going to be a good one. One of our goals always is to win the championship, and to have the opportunity to do that with both Kyle (Busch) and Brad (Coleman), I think it would be great. We're going to try to do at Homestead like we did at the first 34 races, and that is to win. The win record, that's huge. We fell a little bit short after Kyle was able to tie it in 2008, which was incredible. It was something we wanted to shoot for again this year. I knew it would be close, but we came out of the box a lot stronger than I even expected at the first of the year, and we jumped out to eight or nine wins pretty quickly. We were hoping for 11 wins. Now, we're at 12. So, it's just great. It's more than we ever could have imagined, and to be a part of it, it's a dream come true for me."

Are you happy with the way the team responded this year after coming off the driver championship last year and knowing that wasn't going to be a possibility this year with Kyle not driving all of the races like he did last year?

"We knew that last year was our year and we were able to do what we did. Obviously, for Kyle to focus on the Sprint Cup deal this year, the guys were awesome about that. They knew there were going to be six or seven races where we weren't going to have him in the car this year, and they were going to have to really shift their focus on what it was going to take to get the best finish we can with Brad Coleman. In all areas, everybody was going to have to do something a little bit different because, obviously, what Brad wants is different than what Kyle wants. You don't really change your expectations but, at the same time, going out there and doing the best we can with Brad, everybody pulled together as a group and accomplished a lot. At the end of the day, we had several sixth-place finishes, and we had opportunities to run better than that. We even had opportunities to win a couple of times with Brad. It was unfortunate that it didn't work out, but these guys worked just as hard as they did last year and the year prior and I'm really proud of what they've done."

As the Nationwide Series moves to the new-style car full-time in 2011, how much are you going to miss this current car?

"Tremendously. Nobody wants to be a pessimist, but human nature leads you to resist change, especially when things are going well with what you've got. It's not that I'm not looking forward to it because I like a challenge. I thought we came out of the box pretty decent with the new car at Daytona. Michigan was terrible across the board for what our expectations are as a race team. We got better at Richmond. We got better at Charlotte. So, I think we'll be really good next year. We've really got our eye on the ball and we really know which way we're going, now. But I'm going to miss this car. We've worked hard to get it where it's at. Actually, there are people out there who are really looking forward to the new car because the Gibbs guys get to not use this one, anymore. I think those guys are really catching us fast with the new car. From that standpoint, I'm really looking forward to the new car because it gives us an opportunity to jump out there and try to be creative and find an advantage again and give those guys something to chase. We'll go out and do the best we can with it."

Do you have a favorite among your stable of current-style chassis?

"Throughout the years, it's changed. (Chassis No.) 1861 has been really good for everybody who's sat in it. That's just been a good racecar. And it's not like the car is in the same condition it was two years ago when it was winning races. It's been demolished and we keep rebuilding it. Any other car that gets wrecked like it's been wrecked so many times, we would just chop it up and throw it away. But this one, we just keep fixing it because it just keeps winning races. Is it coincidence? I don't know, but it definitely has a good history. Actually, I've got a couple of favorites. The car we ran at Texas (1888) is one of my favorites. It's a car we built last year. We won the fall race at Texas with it. It's the car we'll be taking to Homestead. It's one of my favorites, as well. It depends on the racetrack. (Chassis) 1861, in its time, was the best intermediate car. I think we've improved our intermediate cars, so now I'm taking 1861 to places like Dover, where you still need aero, but you just need a good driving machine. It's the car we took to Bristol and got our 10th win (of the season) with. It's still a workhorse and it'll be the backup car for Homestead. So, just in case something stupid happens, we'll get the old gold piece out."

What are the challenges when it comes to setting up for Homestead, being that it's an odd 1.5-mile racetrack with its long straightaways and big corners?

"Man, it's so different. Through the years, we'd try to take the same setup from this track or that track -- from Texas or Kansas, or is it more like Chicago? What is it? It's not like any of them. It seems like it takes something a little bit different than all of those tracks. But I think, throughout the season, you can learn something from all of those tracks and apply it to Homestead. And that's kind of what we've done throughout the years. We've just learned, with the new track configuration, what you can do at Homestead to make it better and what you can't do. It's not Texas. It's not Chicago. It's not Kansas or California. The way the driver has to drive the racetrack and the way the car loads up in the corners is very unique compared to any other track. But, I think we got a grasp on it and I think we're taking the best car for that track with the tire that Goodyear is bringing."

-source: jgr

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