TMS Media Relations | Apr 01, 2014
FORT WORTH, Texas (April 1, 2014) – Kyle Busch has a knack for rewriting history at Texas Motor Speedway and no feat may have been better than last April’s sweep of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series races in the same weekend.
Busch became the first driver in the 17-year history of Texas Motor Speedway to pull off the sweep and the odds may be long for him to duplicate the feat beginning with Friday night’s NNS O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 (7:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2) and culminating with Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 (2 p.m., FOX). He will run double duty once again this weekend – driving the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota in Cup and No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota in NNS for Joe Gibbs Racing – but he may want to focus on another historical footnote.
While Jimmie Johnson became the first driver at Texas to win the fall AAA Texas 500 in consecutive years, no driver has yet to win back to back at the annual spring NASCAR Sprint Cup race dating to the speedway’s debut in 1997.
Last April was his first Sprint Cup victory at Texas, but he was quite a dominant performance that could make him a favorite to repeat. He won the pole with a track qualifying record speed of 196.299 miles per hour, led a race-high 171 of 334 laps and became just the third Cup driver in track history to win from the pole.
“It felt good to sit on the pole with a new track record and go to Victory Lane,” Busch said. “Doesn’t get much better than that. It was a fast race and I expect more of that this weekend.”
Despite having nine career victories at Texas Motor Speedway across NASCAR’s top three national series (6 NNS, 2 truck series, 1 Sprint Cup), success had not come easy for him in the Sprint Cup Series prior to last season. Dominating performances were met by late-race miscues that ultimately spoiled his chances for padding his overall win total.
However, his victory in last year’s race possibly erased the demons. As Busch continues to tally more laps around the 1.5-mile speedway, the more he has grown acclimated to the track that provides the greatest sensation of speed. Ultimately, that style of racing – on the verge of out of control – he has come to enjoy.
“It’s a fun place,” Busch said of Texas Motor Speedway. “It’s really challenging because of the flatness of the corners, getting into the corners, and then they’re so banked through the turns and then the exits of the corners, they kind of fall off really quickly. It’s an interesting facility. It keeps you on your toes.”
Tickets for the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR doubleheader weekend are available by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com or by call the TMS ticket office at (817) 215-8500.
Sunday’s victory by Kurt Busch at Martinsville Speedway made it six different winners in the first six races of the Sprint Cup Series season. While it is still short of the record for different winners to start a season – 10 in 2000 – the idea of making the Chase with one victory under NASCAR’s new Chase format could quickly be fleeting.
Perennial Chase fixtures Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin are still winless on the season and with every new winner, securing a second victory could mean the difference in making the Chase.
“If we have a new winner every week, if we get to Week 13 and 14 and we’ve got 12 winners at that point with 10 races left in the regular season, guys are going to get a little more protective of their position in points,” Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I hope we don’t get to that situation.”
NASCAR’s new Chase structure places a premium on winning. The top 15 drivers with the most wins over the first 26 races will earn a spot in the Chase – provided they have finished in the top 30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race. Should there be 16 or more different winners during the first 26 races, the only winless driver who can earn a Chase spot would be the points leader after 26 races.
Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 could allow a driver that has already earned a win on the season to cement his status as a Chase contender. Or it could spark continued debate on the number of victories it will take to make the Chase.
“The pressure will rise for sure,” Earnhardt Jr. said of the trend of different winners. “Intensity, I think on the race track, will stay the same if not increase.”
For those like Gordon who are still searching for their first victory, exchanging fenders and roughing up a competitor who already has a victory during the final laps should be expected considering the premium on winning.
“I think that there is such a huge advantage to them to be relaxed and go about business a different way than the rest of us who haven’t won yet,” Gordon said of those drivers with a victory this season. “I think you always have to look at both sides of it. They are looking at it as ‘Okay, we can be more aggressive with set-ups and what we can do to prep for the next race or winning the championship’, but you also have to remember there are a lot of other guys out there that haven’t won yet and are really hungry to get that win because we see how important it is.”
NASCAR’s move this offseason to revamp its qualifying session has been a knockout for both the fans and the drivers as the new format has provided some compelling drama. SportsDay Qualifying Days Powered by The Dallas Morning News for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (2:10 p.m. CT Saturday) and Nationwide Series (3:10 p.m. Friday) will feature an elimination format that consists of three knockout sessions to qualify on the pole.
All cars will run for the first 25 minutes of the qualifying session, with the top 24 drivers advancing to the next round. Those cars 25-43 will have their position set based on their lap times. The cars that advance to the second round will then run during a 10-minute session, with the 12 fastest advancing to the final round where 12 cars will compete in a five-minute dash for the fastest lap to earn the pole.
“I think it’s way cooler than the old style of qualifying,” Team Penske driver Joey Logano said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome. There’s a lot going on. For a driver you used to wait on pit road for an hour and then you made one lap and you were done. Now you’ve got three opportunities to get eliminated and go for the pole. So much more goes in to qualifying, so, to me, it feels even more special to get a pole because a lot more work goes in to it.”
The new format also has spawned some gamesmanship between drivers as they look to find a balance between putting down a fast lap and not overusing the car.
“You definitely have to have different strategies,” Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch said. “You have to pick and choose the runs you’re going to make and all of what’s going to go on to keep your stuff cool.”
The format made its debut at Phoenix International Raceway in March and since that time it has been tested on various tracks, from 1.5-mile speedways to NASCAR’s shortest track at Martinsville Speedway.
For drivers, the change in philosophy of having to make one strong lap for the pole has changed and presented challenges. Despite the challenges, drivers continue to find the knockout format compelling.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer said. “It’s nerve-wracking. Qualifying has always been that way. Being able to bust that one lap off a weekend was big, but having to do that two or three times here – that’s a lot.”
Defending six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson remains winless this season, but he is not ready to push the panic button considering he is returning to Texas Motor Speedway where he has won two of the previous three races (2012 AAA Texas 500, 2013 AAA Texas 500).
Breaking through with a victory has not been too far off for Johnson, who finished a season-best second Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. It was his third top-10 finish on the season and while a trip to Victory Lane has been missing, Johnson knows a return to Texas Motor Speedway could easily snap his skid.
“Truthfully, every team has good tracks and bad tracks,” Johnson said. “I think on the calendar our good tracks are placed kind of spring and fall – the Dovers, Martinsville, Texas – those types of tracks, and we’re getting into them. Hopefully, we can get something here early to check that box and progress through the regular season and make sure our car’s right because there’s a lot of change going on and a lot of speed to still find in our race cars and then buckle down in the Chase. We’ve always operated well in the Chase, and again, a lot of it is because those tracks are really our strong tracks.”
The Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators will not be the only Southeastern Conference teams represented this weekend in Dallas/Fort Worth as they arrive crosstown for the Final Four in Arlington. Texas A&M University and its familiar Aggie maroon will be featured on four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet during the Duck Commander 500 weekend.
Gordon will honor Texas A&M’s School of Engineering by racing a car with the maroon color and iconic logo on the side. Axalta Coating Systems Chairman and CEO Charles W. Shaver, an alumnus of A&M in College Station, developed the idea to feature the school on Gordon’s car.
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