NEW ENGLAND TRIP INCLUDES OXFORD TEST FOR KYLE BUSCH by Mike Twist
Cup Star Wins at New Hampshire on Sunday, Tests for TD Banknorth 250 on Monday
Today’s NASCAR Nextel Cup driver has a lot to do. There are test sessions, sponsor appearances, TV and radio shows and, oh yeah, 36 races a year. Some drivers, like Kyle Busch, also have Busch Series rides to hold down as well. So when a typical Cup driver makes an occasional short track appearance, you might expect them to take a backseat to everything else.
teammate to race winner Mike Rowe in a car out of the SP2 Motorsports stable.
The pairing of Busch, Rowe and the SP2 team has been a lasting one. With Busch Series commitments at Gateway on the night before the 250 and older brother Kurt’s wedding earlier that week, Kyle Busch wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to return to the 250 this year. SP2 kept his seat warm. They turned down opportunities to align with other Cup drivers in the hopes that Busch would be able to come back. They also turned into Kyle Busch races when racing races themselves. Meanwhile, Busch had no doubts as to which team he wanted to drive for in the 250.
“We can win this race and that is why I’m with these guys,” said Busch. “They are a great group of guys. I’m fortunate enough that they got the car ready for this test. They were actually in the shop working on it and listening to the race on the radio. It’s good to have their support behind you.”
Kyle Busch is interviewed by Speed51.com's Mike Twist during a break in the Oxford test. (Oxford Plain Speedway/ Butch Lenberg Photo)
And while the team was listening on the radio to Busch winning at NHIS, Mike Rowe took time out of his schedule to show up at the big track as a fan. Considering that Rowe has raced against hundreds, and maybe thousands, of different drivers through the years, that’s pretty impressive.
“We were sure cheering him on yesterday,” said Rowe. “We were just afraid that he would run out of gas. He does a good job for a young fellow. It’s neat that we worked with him last year and now we’re doing it again this year.”
Busch will be driving the same car that Rowe won the 250 with last season. It still sported the #24 on it for the test, but will get a new black body and a number five on its roof and doors this week.
On Sunday, Kyle Busch was winning at New Hampshire in a Cup car, as Mike Rowe cheered him on. (NASCAR Photo)
But Kyle Busch is not a typical Cup driver and the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway is not a typical short track race. That is why, approximately 16 hours after winning the Nextel Cup race at New Hampshire International Speedway, Busch rolled into the gates of Oxford on Monday to test in preparation for the big race there later this month.
Busch missed the chance to celebrate his Cup win by living it up and going out on the town - and he couldn’t have been happier.
“It wasn’t a late night for me,” said Busch. “I stayed up there in the motorhome and went to sleep, while everyone else went home. I’m sure they partied pretty hard on the plane. But this is not too bad of a deal. I enjoy racing. That’s what I’m all about. I’m serious about this stuff. I don’t just want to get in a car and mosey around. I want to win this thing.”
Busch finished sixth in last year’s 250 driving as a
“This is the car that won last year,” said Busch. “The car that I ran is going to be the back-up. It doesn’t matter to me which one I drive because all of their racecars are fast. Mike’s been winning races with this car right here, Mike’s been winning races in his new car, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Now, we’ll reskin the car and get his #5 on it,” said Rowe. “He’ll have a good car.”
Rowe will have a strong mount as well. His primary car for the 250 is a one-race old Distance chassis that Jeff Taylor drove in the PASS North season opener at Oxford.
Getting used to the car was one thing, getting reacquainted with the track was another, but Busch was more than up to that task on Monday.
SP2’s Brian Burgess has worked with both Mike Rowe and his son Ben. Between those two drivers, there are five 250 victories. Even with all of that experience though, Busch might actually be a little bit better in a test situation.
“I think he’s better a little bit as far as breaking the corner down,” said Burgess.
”He can tell us exactly where the car needs some help. I’m very impressed. He’s such a young guy and he still gives excellent feedback.”
On Tuesday, Busch was testing at Oxford with the car that won Mike Rowe the 250 last year. (51 Photo)
The 21-year-old dissected the track with ease.
“This track is flat and very round,” said Busch. “There’s not much straightaway. It’s hard to get the car to handle perfectly. It’s hard to get around this place because there are so many things that you need to get right to have the car handle well. The biggest thing is to try and the car to roll off the center, but also go good down the straightaway so you can pass people.”
“There’s no real Cup Series track that this place is like. Maybe North Wilkesboro from years ago, but nothing that I’ve run on is like this.”
North Wilkesboro hosted its final race when Busch was only 11-years-old, but just like the Days of Thunder movie character Cole Trickle, the young driver has seen plenty of the place on television.
“I’ve never even seen the place, I just watch TV. ESPN
– the coverage is excellent,” said Busch while slipping
in a line from the 1990 motion picture.
Busch has a few reasons why he is looking forward to racing at Oxford. The first involves the race fans and remembering his roots.
“The coolest thing is to be able to come back and see the fans and appreciate what they do,” said Busch. “They come out to Oxford Plains Speedway and tracks all over the county every Saturday night. They love their short track racing and spend their money to get in the gates and buy hot dogs, sodas and beers and watch
Busch (L) talks with Oxford Plains Speedway owner Bill Ryan (R). (51 Photo)
some good racing. It’s good for Cup drivers, Busch drivers or any big-name racers to go out and put on a good show when they can. The Slinger Nationals in Wisconsin are this week and you see that there too.”
The second, and possibly even more motivating reason, is the chance to win one of the biggest short track races in the country.
“It didn’t take much at all for me to decide to come back. Bill [Ryan] and the staff treated me excellent here last year. I had a great time with this team. We had a great race and I enjoyed it. I had one of the fastest cars out here and I knew that we’d have a car to win it this year. If I struggled along in 15th or 18th all day, you might not see me here this year. But SP2 Motorsports has their act together. I’m fortunate to be associated with these guys.
“I had a very fast racecar here last year. We led a lot of laps and probably had the dominant car. We probably could have won the race, but we had a pit stop issue. We got a lugnut stuck in the [brake] caliper, which bent a bracket, so our car wasn’t handling correctly at the end of the race.”
Busch feels that he learned more in last years race than he ever could in practice or testing, but he also knows those any track time is beneficial.
The team was very satisfied with the test session.
“Things went pretty well,” said SP2 co-owner Steve Perry. “Last year, it was crucial to test for his first appearance at Oxford. This year, it is important because he won’t be here on Saturday to practice. We needed to get him back and comfortable around here. It might take him a few laps on Sunday to get comfortable again, but now at least we have the car somewhat adjusted to what he would like in the race.”
“It’s working excellent,” said Burgess. “Kyle gives us a lot of feedback and suggestions for the car. I think it has gone excellent.”
Win, lose or draw the TD Banknorth 250 might not be the final race of the season in an SP2 Super Late Model for Busch. The team is already trying to talk him into running the November 25th Mason-Dixon Meltdown PASS South event at South Boston Speedway – and Busch is considering it.
“I think that I learned more in the race last year than in all of the practices,” said Busch. “If you can get your car to work down low, that’s what you need. Nobody will be able to pass you.”
“It’s very hot right now. Whether or not it will be like that at race time, we have yet to see. We’ve already picked up 3/10th of a second in just three runs. If we can keep going at that rate and get it to where it needs to be, we’ll be happy.
“Today, I’m concentrating on making my car the best and not worrying about how fast anyone else was when they tested or raced here last. I need to get my car right so that I can make moves to pass and get up front in the race.”
“We have the big race at the end of the year at South Boston,”
said Perry. “He’s done, Cup’s done, Busch is done and Trucks are done. So it would be a good opportunity to put him in a second car down there. We’d gladly do it and it’s all around him. We’ll have the equipment, so if he’s available, we’ll put him in it.”
“They’ve been working me pretty hard about doing that,” said Busch. “I’m not sure about it because that’s Thanksgiving weekend. But never say never. I might be there. I won’t tell you if I’ll be driving or not. We’ll have to see how it goes.”
But first there is the 250 and by the end of the evening on July 30th, Busch hopes to have his name in the record book alongside of both Rowes as one of the race winners.
Speed51.com will have continuing coverage of the TD Banknorth 250 leading up to, during and after the event. Stay tuned.
Busch is interviewed for a Portland, Maine TV station. (51 Photo)