Sprint Cup Week One was feast and famine for Kyle Busch, who is looking for a significantly improved season after missing the 2012 Chase.
Busch had a promising Daytona Speedweeks, winning his Budweiser Duel qualifying race and running near the front much of the way in the Daytona 500 before a sour engine took him out of the race with 50 laps to go.
Engine trouble at Daytona brought back bad memories of the same sort of issues that plagued Busch last season, but the positives from the season’s opening weeks have the Joe Gibbs Racing team ready to challenge on the first part of the western swing this weekend in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
“I’m glad to go back to a race track where drivers matter and car handling matters,” Busch said. “I ran really well at Phoenix in both races last year, but I chose the wrong lane on the restart last November and ended up third. I think we led something like 230 laps, and it was devastating to be that dominant and not come home with the trophy. 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. We’re hoping we can get our M848ff8if9a6fb627facGGcdbcce6M’s Camry into victory lane there, finally, and dig our way out of the hole that the Daytona issue put us in.”
Busch was 34th at Daytona, leaving him 31st in Sprint Cup points one race into the year.
Busch continues the long 36-race grind toward what would be his first Cup championship this weekend.
“I’m not here to make a check,” he said. “I’m here to work hard, and I’m here to win and bring home trophies, and championships are what my ultimate dream is. I don’t know whether it’s the Lord upstairs just making me wait, or what.
“Even if I did win one championship, I’m not done, I’m not leaving – I still want to win more. You still have that same hunger and drive to get as many as you can. It just plays out as it does sometimes. Sometimes it’s your year and sometimes it’s not your year. You can kind of see it as it progresses into week 22, 23, 24 throughout a season on whose year, exactly, it’s going to be.”
The relatively flat one-mile oval at Phoenix offers totally different challenges when compared to the 2.5-mile, high-banked Daytona track, where teams spent two weeks trying to hook up the new Gen-6 cars to the surface.
“The last couple of races there were a little bit different than what we all expected,” Busch said of PIR. “The way the race played out and the way the groove kind of widened out a little bit, it made it a bit racy. We expect some of that there this time, but, hopefully, the conditions are a little cooler so we can lay more rubber down and we can spread the groove out more and make for an even better race.
“It seemed like you could run guys down, but it was a little hard to pass where, on the old surface, you could at least get guys to get a little loose or whatever or start losing grip in their tires and start fading. Now, it’s just you running the same time all the time. It’s hard to get going.”
Busch owns one win and three top fives at Phoenix.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.