While the expectation for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is to run up front and challenge for wins each week in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, there are particular tracks where Busch excels more than others.
One of those places happens to be Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the site of Sunday’s Cup Series Auto Club 400. The Las Vegas native and his Interstate Batteries team will be shooting for his fourth career win at the track located approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles this weekend.
In fact, Busch is near the top of several statistical categories at the 2-mile oval behind only seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Busch’s average finish of 10.1 is second to Johnson’s 6.9. Busch’s 611 laps led ranks second to Johnson’s 880. Busch’s 3,382 laps spent running in the top-15 at Fontana is also second only to Johnson’s 3,826. Busch’s 935 quality passes tops Johnson’s 874.
Busch will pilot the colors of Interstate Batteries at Fontana for the first of six Cup Series races this season. The founding partner of JGR, Interstate Batteries has been powering the championship-winning organization for more than 25 years and is the “Official Battery of Joe Gibbs Racing.”
Busch is coming off a strong start to the season and also a strong showing during NASCAR’s western swing with back-to-back second-place finishes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway near Phoenix. Last weekend at Phoenix, he led twice for a race-high 128 laps before the car fell off the jack on the final pit stop, likely foiling his chance at victory. With the season heading in the right direction, Busch, who’s now second in the standings behind Kevin Harvick, hopes to take that momentum to Southern California this weekend and bring home his first victory of the season.
After winning back-to-back races at Fontana in 2013 and 2014 – both in dramatic fashion – Busch is looking to add another win to his impressive record at the 2-mile oval. He scored his maiden victory there in September 2005 and overall has rattled off eight top-five finishes and 13 top-10s during his career. The 2015 Cup Series champion also has six Xfinity Series wins at Fontana – October 2008, February 2009 and 2010, October 2010, March 2011 and 2013 –which included a weekend sweep in 2013.
So as Busch and the No. 18 Toyota team head back to Southern California to finish off the final race of 2018’s NASCAR Goes West swing, they will look to bring home their first win of the season at a place where they’ve been, as Interstate Batteries says, “Outrageously Dependable.”
|KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:|
|How special were the 2013 and 2014 wins at Auto Club Speedway?
“The finishes of both of those races were pretty exciting. Of course, I won both, so that makes it even better for me. The track is just down the road from Toyota Racing Development (TRD) headquarters and our wins there were the first two Cup wins for them at their hometown track. We had the best car there all day in 2013 but we ended up getting some late cautions and had to make some hard decisions on whether to stay out on old tires or lose our track position. We ended up getting passed by Joey (Logano) and Denny (Hamlin) and thought they had the race won. They got caught up racing each other and I was coming, even if they didn’t end up wrecking. I was digging on the high side and they got together. I hated it for Denny since that was really a tough circumstance for him. It was a crazy finish, one that I won’t forget for a while, and I’m sure the fans won’t forget any time soon, either. In 2014, it was sort of the opposite. We really didn’t have the best car, but we got a chance at them with fresh tires and we were able to hold of Kyle Larson. So, I’m hoping we can get our Interstate Batteries Camry back to victory lane there.”
What does it take to be successful at Fontana?
“It’s a fast racetrack and you just have to be able carry a lot of speed through the corners. You’re in the corner for a long time but, the more speed you carry through the turn, the better it makes your straightaways. It’s a big, fast racetrack and I’m hoping we can get Interstate Batteries back to victory lane there. We’ve been able to that for them a couple of times before.”
Are you concerned about the strength of Kevin Harvick and his team this early in the season?
“They’re certainly good. They have kind of picked up right where they left off and we beat them at Homestead. They’ve been right there each and every week, so far. You’ve gone to three of arguably his best racetracks these past three weeks. They got the job done where they needed to. Ask me again in August, but not next week.”
How has Auto Club Speedway changed over the last several years, going from a relatively new track to a place that has a lot more character and racing grooves?
“That place is tough. It’s really a hard racetrack to get ahold of, now, especially when it’s hot and the sun is out. There are two completely different types of racing when you run the top versus the bottom groove. You can run from the top to the bottom but, when you run the bottom, you really feel like you’re puttering around the racetrack. You feel like you aren’t making up any time on the bottom. But when you are running the top groove, you feel like you’re getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top.”
What do you remember about that night in 2005 when you captured your first Cup Series win at Fontana?
“We ran in the top-five all day long but we really didn’t think we had a winning car. When we got the lead a few times throughout the race, we just pulled away and led by quite a bit. It was really cool to have a really dominant racecar. I remember having to drive the car really loose. That was the loosest I think I’ve ever driven a racecar that was still moving forward. It was crazy because I came over the radio and told the guys I couldn’t believe how loose I have to drive the car. But it was fast. All of my wins there have been a little different, but memorable at the same time.”