It is perhaps odd that the best Indianapolis finish scored by Kyle Busch, acknowledged as a top NASCAR wheelman, is fourth.
Busch made that run in 2007. In seven races at the Brickyard, Busch has been mostly quiet, leading a total of only 39 laps.
Beyond the prestige of winning one of NASCAR’s biggest races, there would be no year better than this one for Busch to break through the Indy bricks. Battered by a string of recent mechanical difficulties, he sits 13th in Sprint Cup points and currently holds the second and last wild-card entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
A win Sunday would solidify his wild-card standing. And it would give Joe Gibbs Racing another notch in the belt at Indy. JGR has won the 400 three times – twice with Tony Stewart and once with Bobby Labonte.
“Coach, being as successful as he has been there with Tony, and him being a big name from Indiana, wanting to win there, being a Hoosier, himself, that’s cool,” Busch said. “I’m sure it was big for those guys. Bobby (Labonte) winning the year he won the championship for Joe Gibbs Racing at that race track was cool, with Jimmy Makar and all those guys.
“I’m just wishing one day I can put my name on that list by getting a win at that track and trying to run up front. You always want to win the big races. You want to win the Brickyard 400, the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 – some of those big races – before your career is over.”
The landscape of Indy makes the track unlike any other, Busch said.
“It’s very tight down the straightaways,” he said. “You roll through (turns) one and two, and there are people on the inside, there are people on the outside, there are people in the grass, just sitting along the back straightaway on the inside. You’ve got the golf course there, and fans sitting on the hills underneath the trees.
“You start back up into turn three, with the grandstands going around (turns) three and four, and then down the frontstretch and, again, there are two tunnels. There’s a tunnel at the (turns) one and two side, and on the (turns) three and four side. There’s a center road that runs all the way through and then, coming down the frontstretch again, looking on both sides of you, you’ve got the pit road, which is really narrow and really tight, and the grandstands on the inside and the outside. So, you’re going down a ‘V’ of just people – a sea of people. Coming to the Pagoda and the media center, the way it is, and of course the scoring pylon being as tall as it is, you come down there and, if you’re leading the race, sometimes you can’t see that high, so you’re kind of wondering who is second and third, or who is behind you. It stinks when you’re running in the back because you can see yourself (car number) right there.”
Busch said succeeding at Indy means making a car work within a narrow range.
“Indianapolis is probably one of the trickiest places we go to on the schedule – Pocono being one, Darlington being one, Indy being another,” he said. “It’s so hard to find a particular line that really, really works for you or really works for your car because the groove is so narrow. It’s plenty wide for one or one-and-a-half cars, but, the line you run around there, you vary six inches and it feels so different.
“You really have to be particular in hitting your marks and getting your car set up. The way it changes throughout the weekend, going from practice, when there’s not much rubber on the race track, and then to the race, with a lot of rubber on the race track – the trajectory of the corners changes. How wide do you enter the corner? How long do you stay out? How sharp do you turn down?”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.