Into the Great Unknown

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Aug. 13, 2020) – Of the 40 drivers set to compete in the Inaugural NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 325 Sunday on the Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway road course, there’s only one driver in the field who has competed this season on the 3.57-mile layout – Kyle Busch.

While Busch, driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), indeed competed on the Daytona road course in 2020, it was a completely different kind of car and race as he drove the a GTD-class Lexus RC F GT3 sportscar for AIM Vasser Sullivan in January’s Rolex 24. 

While the defending Cup Series champion has some experience on Daytona’s road course layout, his team does not. Cup Series teams won’t even be able to get any track time ahead of Sunday’s race. So it will largely be a guessing game for all the teams in NASCAR’s top series as they will not see a lap on the course at race pace before the green flag waves. In addition to the unknowns, NASCAR has added a chicane at the exit of the superspeedway oval’s turn four to help slow speeds as cars approach the infield portion of the course, a wrinkle Busch did not get to test during his Rolex 24 stint in January. 

Busch will add another road-course start to his resume this weekend and he could also join some elite company as a road-racing ace in NASCAR’s top series. The SNICKERS driver’s four road-course wins tie him with retired drivers David Pearson and Mark Martin on the all-time Cup Series road-course wins list. That’s some pretty good company, already. But with a fifth road-course win, Busch could tie Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Dan Gurney on the list at five. There is a bit of distance to the top two spots on the all-time road-course wins list, of course, when it comes to catching Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who have nine and eight career road-course wins, respectively. 

Busch scored his fourth career Cup Series road-course win in June 2015 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, and he heads to Daytona with 11 top-five finishes and 19-top-10s at the traditional road-course stops on the schedule with 32 combined starts at Sonoma, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway “roval.”

So as Busch prepares for some road racing this weekend, he would like to accomplish a few things – including another tally in the win column for SNICKERS colors while also adding to the record books as one of NASCAR’s best road-course racers. Busch will head to the great unknown this weekend in hopes of showing his Rolex 24 experience from January may give him a leg up on the competition, who will be taking their best guesses on how to get to victory lane on Sunday. 

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

How much will the change in layout with the additional of the chicane make a difference from what you experienced in the Rolex 24 earlier this year?

“I think the whole allure of that place – getting up on the high-banked turns of Daytona in (turns) one and two and then the chicane and bus stop through the backstretch and getting back on the high banks in (turns) three and four – is unlike any other road course ever, anywhere. No other road course we can race on has banking like that. The allure of the speedway, I felt like, was always the main banking in one and two and three and four and the tri-oval back to the turn one entrance. The speed you carried from bus stop to the turn one entrance really lended itself to drafting and making moves with the draft and air. So now, with us having the chicane, that’s certainly not going to be the case for anyone familiar with the Daytona road course and the Rolex 24. It’s one section that has changed, but it will change the whole complexion of the track, in my opinion."

Does just the recent experience in Rolex, which no other Cup driver has this year, give you an advantage? 

“I think anytime you’re able to go to a racetrack and gain some experience, run some laps, obviously it helps with the visual, the pickup points, how the corners transition and so on, it helps. There’s definitely – I hope, anyway – there’s a little added advantage there. The big difference is the cars I drove in the GTD class, they’re very technologically advanced with the brakes and traction control, so a lot of things you can really attack with those cars, plus a lot of downforce, and they’re lighter. Our cars are going to be heavier with more power and less braking ability, so everything is going to be opposite. It’s going to be like driving a 1960s Cadillac around the track compared to the Rolex 24 car I raced. Certainly, though, if you can learn from the driving technique it took to drive that car and apply it to the Cup car, then you’ll get up to speed relatively quicker than some of the other guys, probably.”

How do you rate yourself as a road-course racer?  

“I think I’m pretty decent. I didn’t start out as good. A couple other guys picked up quicker than I did in my career, like Chase Elliott for instance, he’s a really good road racer right out of the gate. It took me a couple of years to kind of get going with it. I enjoy it. I like road racing. But it’s very hit or miss for me, sometimes. I can go to Watkins Glen and run top-three every single time, no problem. But when we go to Sonoma, it’s very hit or miss for us, for some reason. I can run top-three there one year and go back next year and be 10th. Same with the ‘roval,’ we just haven’t figured it out as a team and for me as a driver like the other places.”

 With your experience from January, do you consider yourself a favorite for Sunday?

“Obviously, I’d certainly like to think so, but with the way 2020 has gone I have absolutely no confidence to tell you that we’re going in there and winning. We want to win, of course, and that’s going to be the goal. Would love to get our SNICKERS car in victory lane, get that first win of the season and help us keep up the momentum from Michigan and carry that into the playoffs in a few weeks.” 

Is road-course racing something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on?

“It’s definitely something you have to work on. With rule changes and tire changes, it’s something you work on every year. There’s always change that you have to work on to be competitive. When I was a kid back in Las Vegas in Legends cars, that’s where I was able to learn about shifting and turning left and turning right. I had the natural instincts for it and won a couple of championships in the winter series we had out there. We actually went to Sonoma back then and ran the national championship races two years in a row and finished third both times, so I had a little bit of experience on road courses as I came up through the ranks.”

How challenging is it to race on a road course when you don’t do that on a regular basis? 

“It’s different, for sure. There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do. The neat thing about road racing is just being able to have – it’s like – a vacation weekend. You just go out there and have fun and do the best you can and you’ll either do really well or you’ll do really badly and you just go on to the next one. We don’t have a lot of testing for it and you try to pick up on it but, with respect to who you’re racing, you can expect to race a little bit of a different crowd. Looking forward to heading down there with our SNICKERS Camry and try to have a little fun and hope we can stay out of trouble and have a shot to win at the end of the day.”

Notes of Interest:

  • The Go Bowling 235 will mark Kyle Busch’s 557th career NASCAR Cup Series start in the inaugural race on the Daytona road course.
  • Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 210 top-five finishes, 308 top-10s and 17,641 laps led in 556 career Cup Series racesHis most recent Cup Series win came in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, resulting in his second Cup Series championship. Busch’s most recent pole, the 32nd of his career, came in November at Phoenix Raceway.
  • While the location is familiar for this Sunday’s race at Daytona, the 14-turn, 3.57-mile road-course layout will be brand new to the 40 competitors. Busch has a strong record at each of the other road-course venues the series normally competes on –notably Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Combined, Busch has four wins at the venues, along with 11 top-five finishes and 19-top 10s.
  • 2020 Rolex 24 Experience: Busch competed in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 for AIM Vasser Sullivan (AVS) during January’s Rolex 24 in the GTD class. Jack Hawksworth was the primary driver in the No. 14 with Parker Chase and Michael de Quesada rounding out the four-driver team.
  • Prep Time: In preparation for the Rolex 24 at the start of the year, Busch spent several hours in the TRD simulator driving the Daytona road course with assistance from Hawksworth, who performed baseline runs. Busch attempted to match Hawksworth’s tire tracks on the simulator to learn braking zones and techniques for navigating the road course behind the wheel of the Lexus RC F GT3. However, the Lexus RC F GT3 features very different technology and braking capability, and it weighs much less than the SNICKERS Toyota Camry that Busch will drive Sunday.
  • 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 Cup Series 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.
  • 56 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Homestead in November, the 56th points-paying win of his career, Busch passed NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace for sole possession of ninth place on the all-time win list in NASCAR’s top series. Next up on the list for Busch is eighth-place Dale Earnhardt, who had 76 wins during his Hall of Fame career. With his 40th Cup Series victory at Bristol in August 2017, Busch became the fourth-youngest driver to reach 40 Cup Series wins at 32 years, 109 days, behind only Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Herb Thomas.