Busch Makes His Own Memories at Phoenix
By: John Singler - @JohnSingler2 on February 26, 2014 | 3:11 P.M. EST
It's become a familiar sight ... Kyle Busch collecting another Nationwide Series checkered flag at Phoenix International Raceway. (Photo: Getty Images)
Phoenix International Raceway has rolled out a special exhibit titled "Memory Lane" as the track celebrates its 50th anniversary season in 2014. If recent history is any indication, they may be adding Kyle Busch and his No. 54 Toyota to the display for NASCAR’s return trip to the desert this fall.
He swept both Nationwide Series races at PIR last season, leads all drivers with six victories on the one-mile oval and set the track qualifying record that still stands three years later. So it’s easy to understand why Busch is brimming with confidence heading into Saturday’s Blue Jeans Go Green 200 Presented by Cotton.
"It feels awesome," he said, gazing with pride at his gaudy Phoenix statistics. "I can’t say enough about Joe Gibbs Racing. All these guys do a phenomenal job and it pays off. It’s fun to go out and win in the Nationwide Series."
For Busch, the second race of the season has been "go time" in recent years. Since 2009, he’s won Race No. 2 four times.
"Hopefully, we can get it done again early to set the tone for the rest of the year," Busch said. "The Daytona race went well – wish I could have gotten one right out of the gate. But we’re looking forward to seeing if we can repeat at Phoenix. I think we have the car to do it."
Busch finished fourth in the season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300 last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. From a technical standpoint, crew chief Adam Stevens is confident in the team’s Phoenix game plan.
"We have a good base line to start from, but I expect our final race setup to be a little different than last year," he said. "The track surface is changing quickly, which should make for a good race. I expect the second groove to open up quite a bit quicker this weekend than it has in the past.
"It’s the same tire combination as last time, which is a plus for us."
In winning last fall’s Nationwide Series race at PIR, Busch claimed his 12th victory of the season – starting from the pole and leading all but 31 of the 200 laps. He closed the deal by leading the final 47 trips, beating second-place Justin Allgaier by more than four seconds.
One of Busch’s biggest challenges this weekend will come from Regan Smith, who carries a load of momentum to Phoenix after winning the season opener in Daytona.
"Our entire organization is still riding the excitement of Daytona," Smith said, referring not only to his No. 7 Nationwide Series crew but to team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory in the Daytona 500. "You want to win each and every week, but a victory at Daytona is on a whole other level.
"There’s a lot to be pumped about," added Smith, who leads the NNS standings by six points over Trevor Bayne. "Still, we have to keep focused on the next race. Phoenix was a challenge for us last spring. We came back, did our homework, changed some things and left with a top five last fall."
Indeed, Smith & Co. erased the sting of an 11th-place finish in March with a fourth-place run when the Nationwide Series returned to PIR in November 2013.
Busch and Smith are among 39 drivers on the entry list for Saturday’s race. Other notables include Sprint Cup Series drivers Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski who have signed on for double duty in the desert.
Nationwide Series teams will open practice at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday morning and qualify Saturday at 12:10 p.m. (ET), just hours before the green flag falls in the Blue Jeans Go Green 200 Presented by Cotton. Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of the season’s second race starting at 3:15 p.m., with live streaming at MRN.com.