Driving Miss Daisy?
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 25, 2018) – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway this weekend for its annual fall stop at the North Carolina track.
However, for the first time, competitors won’t be competing solely on Charlotte’s fast, 1.5-mile oval. Instead, they’ll be competing on its 2.28-mile, 17-turn “roval” layout which combines parts of the oval with a new infield road course portion of the track.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to the new layout and the first cutoff race of the 2018 Cup Series playoffs with a huge sense of relief. His win Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway automatically advanced Busch and his team to the playoffs’ Round of 12 that starts at Dover (Del.) International Speedway next week. Busch is one of four championship-contending drivers with the luxury of racing this weekend with nothing to lose. The others are Brad Keselowski, winner of this month’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway playoff opener, Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick, who will lock in his position in the Round of 12 by simply starting the race Sunday.
To demonstrate the stark contrast between racing on Charlotte’s lightning fast 1.5-mile oval with average speeds around 190 mph, and the 2.28-mile roval layout with average speeds of around 105 mph, Busch jokingly described what he believes will be the most successful approach to winning Sunday’s race – “Just drive Miss Daisy.”
What does Busch mean by that? “If I’m ever up on the wheel and balls to the wall, I’m going to end up crashed, especially at the roval knowing how treacherous that place is – I’m going to get myself in trouble,” he said.
With the pressure off for the time being, Busch can focus on his own pace around the slippery road-course portions through the Charlotte infield, an approach that should garner success despite the unknown nature of this first time event. Busch is hoping he can equal the feat he accomplished the last time he raced at Charlotte in May, albeit on the 1.5-mile oval, when he brought home his first career points-paying win in Charlotte by winning the Coca-Cola 600, one of the crown jewels on NASCAR’s top series.
While this weekend’s Charlotte layout is a first for the series, Busch has established himself as one of the top road-course racers on the Cup Series circuit. If the 2015 Cup Series champion was to grab another checkered flag in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400, he could join some elite company as a road-racing ace in NASCAR’s top series.
Busch is tied with David Pearson and Mark Martin with four Cup Series road-course wins apiece. That’s some pretty good company, already. But with a fifth road-course win, he could tie Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Dan Gurney on the road-course win list. There is a bit of distance to the top two spots on the all-time road-course wins list, however, as second-place Jeff Gordon has seven wins and leader Tony Stewart has nine. Busch scored top-five finishes at the first two road-course races this season at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International with finishes of fifth and third, respectively.
So as Busch heads into the unknown of the Charlotte roval with the pressure off this weekend, he’ll look to channel his inner “Driving Miss Daisy” in an effort to cap the opening playoff round with his second consecutive win.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
As much pressure as there is in the playoffs, and as much emotion as you put into everything, how much does winning at Richmond make this weekend easier for you?
“It certainly means a huge relief. It also would have been a relief even if we would not have won that race but still been ahead by 60 or whatever points of the guys who were on the cutoff. We would have been fine, as well. We could have gone into the roval and raced our way however we wanted to race. Either way you look at it, if you were a guy who was in the bottom, if we would have had trouble in the first playoff race more than we did, and if we would have had trouble again at Richmond and been kind of at the cutoff line, then obviously it would make for a very, very stressful week and a stressful roval. But, right now, it feels pretty good. We can go in there with no worries and try to go and race our own race and see what we can get out of there and maybe we can get our M&M’S Camry to victory lane.”
Will you be able to drive the roval differently because you don’t need to win?
“I think so. You want to win. I think you can drive it differently because you can go force the issue sometimes and try to get a win or get a good finish versus just kind of having to be stressed about it the whole day and on your toes about it the whole day and worrisome.”
How did testing go at the roval?
“I actually got a couple tests – the first test went really well and the second test went really bad. I did crash, and then the third test went really good, again. I ran a different layout every time I went there. So I think the biggest thing is just the unknown of what it’s going to be like, but it’s the same for everybody.”
What do you foresee as the most difficult part of the track to figure out at the roval?
“I think the hardest part is just trying to understand the different dynamics between the slow sections in the infield portion of the track versus the high-speed and high-banked portion of the oval track. You are slipping on every corner, there’s not a corner where you aren’t necessarily feeling really good about. It’s going to be a technical challenge all the way around.”
Is survival the biggest key to having success at the roval this weekend?
“I think the biggest thing is to get some track position. If you are out front, hopefully you can lead everything, but you know there’s going to be some strategy that comes into play with people pitting at different times and things of that regard. You just have to make sure you are on top of your game the whole time and making sure you do what you need to do and focus on your own race, not necessarily what the guys around you are doing. I know Adam (Stevens, crew chief) will make some good calls and hopefully we can get out front and stay there with our M&M’S Camry.”
How do you feel the schedule changes will add to the playoffs?
“I think it’s absolutely going to add to the playoffs. I think any time you can mix it up and change it up, it’s just a new dynamic and everybody just has to get used to it. With some new racetracks here in the playoffs, it’s definitely going to be different than what we’ve seen in years past. The contenders might not necessarily be any different, but definitely who is going to win some of these races is somewhat of an unknown, no more so than this weekend.”
Is it all about winning the opening race in the rounds?
“You strive to go out there and win every single time you’re on the racetrack but, if you put yourself in a bad spot or try or push too hard or something like that and you get yourself out of whack and crashed or something like that, obviously that’s going to be way worse for you so you have to be mindful of those situations and you have to pick and choose your battles. We were fortunate to get the win at Richmond last weekend, but you also don’t want to put yourself in a bad spot, either. Just happy we got a win and we can approach this weekend solely on doing what we need to do to win the race on Sunday and not worry about points.”
Notes of Interest:
- The Bank of America Roval 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 491st career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start. While Busch has 29 NASCAR Cup Series point-paying starts at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway 1.5-mile oval, Sunday is the inaugural race on the 2.28-mile, 17-turn “roval” road-course layout.
- Busch has career totals of 50 wins, 30 poles, 179 top-five finishes, 264 top-10s and 15,590 laps led in 490 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came last weekend at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came at the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte in May.
- 'Rovaling': While the location is familiar for this weekend’s race in Charlotte, the roval layout will be brand new to the 40 competitors Sunday. Busch has a strong record at each of the other two road-course venues on the Cup Series circuit –Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Combined, Busch has four wins at the two road-course venues, along with 10 top-five finishes and 18-top 10s.
- Road-Course Ringer: The Las Vegas native burst onto the road-course scene in 2008 as a constant threat to win as he captured all three NASCAR road-course races he entered that year. Busch started by taking home his first career NASCAR road-course win in the Xfinity Series race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, leading twice for a total of 22 laps. He followed it up by capturing both Sprint Cup road-course events that year at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, leading 78 and 52 laps, respectively, for a total of 130 laps led in the two races. More recently, Busch led 29 laps en route to the Sprint Cup win at Watkins Glen in August 2013, and led 17 laps en route to his second Sonoma win last June.
- Locked Into Round of 12: Busch’s win Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway automatically advanced him into the playoffs’ Round of 12, which starts Oct. 7 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Busch will look for the Charlotte roval win to add playoff points to his series-high 55.