KYLE BUSCH QUICKLY ACQUIRES A LIKING FOR THE OXFORD 250 by Mike Twist
Cup Star Enters July's Race as Teammmate to Mike Rowe
Many of the racers who compete in July’s TD Banknorth 250 grew up in the race’s shadows.
“I never heard of the race until my brother [2004 Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch] went up there to run the race a few years ago,” said Busch. “He had a good time and told everyone about it. Bill Ryan with the speedway called Kurt last year to come back. Kurt couldn’t do it, so he asked if I could. I said yes and went up there and gave it a shot. I had a great run and really enjoyed working with SP2 Motorsports and everybody over there. I had a great time and decided to give it one more shot to try and win it this time.”
Busch will drive for one of the hottest teams in all of American Super Late Model racing now, the SP2 Motorsports operation owned by Steve Perry and Scott Pullen that has won races from North Carolina to Canada in the last 12 months with Mike Rowe behind the wheel. Having Rowe, who has won 150 features in his career at Oxford, as a tutor was a major asset to Busch last year.
Kyle Busch will be trading his Cup Monte Carlo (Top - NASCAR Photo) for a Super Late Model (Bottom - Justin St. Louis / 51 Photo) come July.
“Mike Rowe was a great help,” said Busch. “He made the learning curve that much less and he helped me out a lot. He was able to give me some great advice on the racetrack and what line to run, what to look for and how to set up my car. He also told me what to look for with certain drivers and how to pass them. He gave me a lot of good tools before the race even started.”
“Kyle is very coach-able and talented,” said Rowe. “I took him around the track in a pickup truck before his first test session last year, and by the middle of the afternoon he was turning some of the fastest Pro Stock times of the season. I always say if I can’t win the race, I want my son Ben to win it, but I think Kyle has to be the favorite going in this year.”
Last year, Kyle Busch (R) and Matt Kenseth (L) both ran strong at the 250. (51 Photo)
Ben Rowe was nine years old when his father Mike won his first of three (to date) 250s in 1984. Cassius Clark witnessed his father come close to winning the race on several occasions. Gary Drew’s father ran the first three 250s that were held in the mid 1970’s. Alan Wilson watched the race for years as a competitor in the support classes at Oxford before stepping up to the big show. Ricky Craven remembers that the greatest race he ever watched from the stands was the 1980 Oxford 250. Countless other competitors from Johnny Clark to Alan Tardiff also have childhood memories of sitting in the stands before finally getting their chance in what is known as one of the most prestigious short track races in the country.
Kyle Busch does not have such a long history with the event. He grew up in Las Vegas and never even heard of the race on the West Coast, but now he’s making up for lost time. Busch finished sixth in the 250 as a rookie in 2005 and recently put together a plan to return to the event again this year.
Even though he races against the best of the best in Nextel Cup, Busch knows that winning against such a strong field at the 250 won’t be easy.
“I know Mike and Benji and the Clarks – Johnny and Cassius. Those guys were all fast. There were some other guys who I remember their car numbers. The #91, that orange and blue car [Canadian Patrick Leperle]. He was fast. I was running with him a lot. I’m sure that all of those guys are going to be there this year. We’re looking forward to running with them again.”
There were a few other eye-opening things about last year’s race that Busch remembers. The first was learning a new way around the track. During the 250, Busch was running much noticeably lower on the track to get around. Other drivers said that it wouldn’t work. That he couldn’t get carry enough momentum down there. Busch however, had one of the fastest cars in the race and never altered his line. In fact, he credits his way around the track with a lot of his speed.
“It definitely did [make us faster],” said Busch. “We tested up there and I was working with my crew guys. They told me that I was running too low down the straightaways and that I needed to let it drift out a little bit. I told them that the way that I saw this place was that whoever could run the fastest along the bottom had an advantage. Nobody would be able to pass you at all. That is how it turned out.”
Busch also learned about the Oxford 250 heat races, where a blind draw determines the starting line-ups and nearly as many cars go home than qualify. In his first heat race, Busch finished behind Cassius Clark and Patrick Leperle. In his consi, Busch was able to earn a starting spot after riding in the tire tracks of Donnie Whitten for most of the event.
“There was a guy in front of me leading the [consolation] race and he was a half a second slower than what I could run in practice,” said Busch. “It’s difficult to pass on the outside until you get into the feature. With everyone on fresh tires in the heat races and only 20 laps to get to the front, that’s not enough time. You need for the tires to fall off and work on the long runs in the race, but that doesn’t happen in the heat races.”
Since Busch has so much fun wheeling a Super Late
Busch has another tie to the short track world. The #51 Billy Ballew Truck team that he drives for on occasion, and won with at LMS last month, is headed up by winning SLM and SES car owner Richie Wauters. (NASCAR Photo)
Model, is there a possibility that you might see him field an entry in PASS South or any other tour for a young driver or even himself on occasion? After all, Busch is aligned with a 16-year-old high school sophomore who runs a Super Late Model at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway currently.
“I help out a kid right now in Las Vegas, Alex Haase, he’s running a Super Late Model now,” said Busch. “But, I haven’t really thought of putting my own team together at this point though. I really don’t have the funding to do so quite yet. I’ve been building a new house and working on that. So I’m trying to get that going. Maybe on down the road I will. I haven’t given it much thought, but that option is definitely there.”
So for now, Busch will stay content as a short track hired gun who is aiming for a big win on July 30th at Oxford. He’s not just there to make an appearance after all, he’s there to win.
“That’s fair to say,” said Busch. “We had a great racecar last year and had a lot of fun with it. We almost won the race and that would have been awesome being my first time there. But I had a problem on a pit stop and that was just one of those deals that happened. I’m looking forward to coming back up there and hopefully putting another strong run up there and trying to win it this time.”
Busch was a fan favorite at last year's 250. (51 Photo)