Published April 17, 2013
It's Kyle Busch's world once again in NASCAR and everybody else is just sharing track space with him. Until this weekend at Kansas, of course.
Then everyone gets to see just how far Busch has really come in the last 17 months.
Busch won both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races in Texas last weekend, his second sweep this season, in a huge comeback at the site of his 2011 NASCAR suspension for deliberately wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in a Truck Series race.
Now he carries all that momentum into Kansas, his worst track on the circuit. Busch is winless at Kansas in 11 career starts, has only two top-10 finishes and wrecked there during Chase for the Sprint Cup championship races in 2007 and 2010. He also crashed last season.
Still, Busch just picked up his first career win at Texas Motor Speedway and he wants to do the same at Kansas, where his average finish is 21st and is one of only six active tracks where he's yet to win a Cup race.
"It's not that you might not like a track or might not like a race ... it's just a matter of trying to figure it out," Busch said. "Once you kind of get it figured out or get the right situations kind of lined up, you can have a shot. I look at (Kansas) a lot like Michigan. That's a place where I struggled for a long time, but we finally were able to break through there for a win two years ago."
In years past, Busch has dreaded going to Kansas. Not this year.
A year after grabbing just one win across all three NASCAR national series, Busch is red hot again. He's got two wins in Cup and has won four of the six Nationwide races. He's also got five top-five finishes in both series.
Running well cures all driver ailments, so Busch's mood is obviously considerably better of late. But team owner Joe Gibbs said Busch's maturity has been better for quite some time.
"I think back to last year at the end of the year, Kyle probably had some of the most bitter disappointments, I think, that's happened to us in 22 years," Gibbs said. "We missed the Chase. We had Watkins Glen won, go to the last lap and get in somebody else's oil. We had some issues mechanically during the year that cost us.
"I think last year at the end of the year, Kyle really handled all of those things about as good as you could handle them. I think it showed real maturity, and I think that kind of set the course for this year."
So he heads into Kansas with an open mind and last year's race — when he was leading before he spun on the new track surface — fresh in his memory.
"I'm looking forward to Kansas with the roll that we're on," he said. "I thought we were running decent there last year ... so, hopefully, we have a good car like that this time around and I don't make a mistake like that. But, you know, Kansas is newly repaved. It's got a winter on it, now, so we'll see how that changes things. But I still expect it to be fast."
NO SOPHMORE SLUMP: With so many questions about a potential "sophomore slump," Courtney Force couldn't help but worry about this season.
"It was getting in my head after doing all these interviews, everyone is going, 'Going into your second year, you think you're going to have a sophomore slump?'" she said. "Wait, I didn't know about that. I hope not."
So far, so good for Force, who heads into this weekend's NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord leading the Funny Car standings. She won the season-opener at Pomona and used a runner-up finish two weeks ago in Las Vegas to move to the top of the standings.
"It's definitely a good feeling to come out and be in the points lead only the fourth race in," she said. "I'm definitely working twice as hard because I think we've got a good team, I think we have a lot of potential."
Her next challenge is at zMax with its unique four-lane configuration, which Force embraced after her first visit last season.
"I love that it's different," she said. "Although it's going to be nerve-racking because there's so much going on, so many other cars, lanes to focus on, the Christmas tree to really kind of relearn at this track."
And she has the added job this weekend of counseling her sister Brittany, a Top Fuel rookie experiencing her first trip to Four-Wide Nationals.
"I keep talking to Brittany about it going in," she said. "It's a little bit overwhelming for a driver. So I'm a little nervous for her. There's so much excitement. There's so much horsepower. It's so much louder at this racetrack with four lanes. It's still kind of cool she's been able to come to me for advice, and I've been able to talk to her. I try not to shove it down her throat and throw a bunch of advice at her because I know how overwhelming it can be the first year out."
RALLYCROSS OPENER: The 2013 Global Rallycross season opens Sunday at the X-Games in Brazil, the first of nine events on this year's schedule.
But this weekend's field features drivers from nearly every major form of motorsports, including 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, and NASCAR drivers Scott Speed, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Steve Arpin. They'll join 2011 Global Rallycross and two-time Formula Drift Champion Tanner Foust and 10-time X-Games gold medalist Travis Pastrana in Sunday's race.
"I believe this will be the most competitive and action packed season in the young history of Global Rallycross," said Colin Dyne, chairman of Global Rallycross. "We have an excellent group of skilled and diversified drivers from most forms of motorsport racing and tremendous support from the manufacturers and our sponsors. This is an extremely exciting form of racing and we look forward to a great race at the season opener in Brazil."
Entering its fourth season, Global Rallycross combines circuit racing, off-road racing and rally competition in production-based, small cars. Drivers progress through a series of heat races to advance into a final race, where winner takes all. Dyne recently announced that synthetic oil and lubricant manufacturer Royal Purple will be a primary sponsor for the 2013 season.
"The rallycross deal is really exciting," said Rice. "It's a stadium format, it's something that's totally different and I really have always liked new challenges. I think the more diverse you are, the better driver you become."
AN OPEN LETTER: With the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity Race part of the IndyCar weekend, Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon took it upon themselves to offer this year's field some "unsolicited" advice.
Although the field includes defending race winner Adam Carolla, celebrities Wanda Sykes, Michelle Rodriguez, Jesse Metcalfe, Jenna Elfman and Rutledge Wood might want to pay attention to the words offered by the drivers with six combined IndyCar championships between them.
"Think you can just put on a fire suit and slide into a race car for 10 adrenaline-pumping laps just like that? Not so fast," they wrote. "Most of you haven't logged time in the seat of an Indy car going 230 mph, so we've come up with a few pointers to get you race-ready. Except you, Rodriguez — we were pretty impressed by your skills in "The Fast and the Furious." Feel free to skip this. The rest of you, read every word."
Among the recommendations:
— Wear comfortable, casual clothes under your driving suit. Heels (yes, even sneaker wedges) would be tricky; we say go with closed-toe shoes.
— Do some leg presses. And by some, we mean a lot. Braking and steering a race car — the two biggest sustained functions during a race — is like doing leg reps while a hyper Rottweiler plays tug-of-war with your pant leg. You have to keep up the workout despite the crazy turbulence.
— Practice your breathing. When you're experiencing high g-forces, it can be really hard to breathe. It's a total-body workout, both mentally and physically.
— Enjoy your time in the driver's seat, but don't overdo it! Stay safe and have fun.
— If you win, just go ahead and pour the whole bottle of milk right over your head. Feels phenomenal, looks really cool.