Kyle Busch rolls with changes ahead of Daytona 500
4x4 off-road safari. Egypt. Sinai desert
With the Daytona 500 just around the corner, what’s on Kyle Busch’s mind?
Rather a lot, it turns out.
He’s just signed a new contract with Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s preparing to work with a new teammate in Matt Kenseth. And then there are all of those Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and Late Model teams to manage.
And to top that off, he needs to figure out how to turn around last year’s miserable luck to secure himself a spot in the Chase — or, more ideally, the Sprint Cup.
Fortunately for Rowdy, there are plenty of changes afoot that could play very well into his hands.
One key element is that he feels the engine reliability issues that plagued him in 2012 have been addressed — and that luck played a larger role in their impact than anything else.
“Unfortunately, we had some problems last year,” Busch recalls. “I broke three in a row and then had another problem at Loudon when I was running second to Denny Hamlin. Those guys (at Toyota) have worked over the off-season to try to make sure those problems don’t arise again.
“I think Toyota on the whole had nine or 10 engine failures, but then we looked at the Hendrick guys and they had 14. Most of those, though, were practice or qualifying where they were able to change them out for the race.
“You’ve also got to have a little thing called luck on your side, which I think I entirely missed out on last year.”
One of the most significant changes the entire grid will face is adapting to the new Gen 6 car. With less downforce on offer at the restrictor plate tracks, Busch expects a steep learning curve, especially heading into the first race at Daytona.
“We saw during Daytona testing that it’s a little bit harder to pass,” he says. “We got two lanes of traffic going, and a couple of guys were ill handling and they really couldn’t move.
“I wanted to shoot through the middle and go up the aisle but they were sideways through the corners, so you get next to somebody and they spin out, and then you’re wrecked, too.”
Later in the season at the unrestricted tracks, though, drivers and teams will face the opposite challenge, as Busch learned at the pre-season test at Charlotte.
“We were running speeds quicker than the track record in race trim,” he remarks. “I think Goodyear’s sweating bullets a little bit on making tires that will live for us running 40 laps, 50 laps at a time that fast and that hard on them.”
The younger Busch brother feels he’s in prime position to capitalize on the fresh start the Gen 6 car will bring.
“I’d like to say that I’m a quick study,” he observes. “I like having things thrown at you because then you are able to adapt to it faster than some other guys might be able to.
“I think most notably we look at the 2008 season, the first full season that we ran with the (Car of Tomorrow). Carl (Edwards) won nine races; I won eight.
“I think (we) were able to just manhandle the thing and drive it harder than anybody else, and their set-ups weren’t quite what our set-ups were yet. So, hopefully we can do the same thing with Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and myself at Joe Gibbs Racing this year to just come out of the gate better than everybody else.”
Another factor for 2013 that has Busch starting out on the right foot: he has excellent rapport with his new teammate already.
“Matt’s a cool dude,” Busch observes. “I’ve raced with him since I’ve been in Cup, obviously, and we’ve never gotten into one another, we’ve never had a pissing contest about nothing. So, him and I have a lot of respect for one another, and I think that’s going to be great having him come over to our team.
“The other cool factor is that he has a championship mindset — what it takes to win races, what it takes to win a championship, and being able to put all that together. So, being able to talk to a guy like that, that’s one of the main things that he can bring to a team.”
One thing that is emphatically not on his mind, however, is the budding relationship between Sprint Cup rookies Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
“Not my problem,” Busch says. “I’m married and in love myself, but it stays off the racetrack.
“That’s fine for them. Whatever way you want to live your life, that’s up to you.”
There’s one final piece of the puzzle that Kyle Busch says will complete his run for the Chase and the Cup in 2013 — one that might please his most dedicated fans.
“On Twitter, I posted — I was waiting for the new year because I didn’t want to post something and then have somebody call me — and I said, ‘Wow, I made it a whole year without having to go to the NASCAR hauler.’
“I’m signing my name that I need to go back to the NASCAR hauler, apparently, because I win a lot more races when I’m in trouble.”