NASCAR: Busch is a triple threat
By Jenna Fryer
CHARLOTTE ó Kyle Busch and his buddies had big plans last year at Darlington Raceway, where they took a rare race off to grill out and enjoy some downtime.
The cookout was ruined two laps into the Nationwide Series race when Busch and Jeff Dickerson, his agent, spotter and most trusted confidant, realized they’d rather be racing.
“It drove us crazy not being in the race,” Busch said. “We were sitting there on a Friday night with cars on the track and we couldn’t figure out why the heck we were just sitting there.”
And so began Dickerson’s relentless quest to fill Busch’s schedule with as many races as possible. The journey hits historic levels this weekend, when Busch becomes the first driver in NASCAR history to attempt all three national series on one weekend at three different tracks.
The itinerary calls for Busch to practice and qualify his Sprint Cup Series car in Pocono Raceway on Friday, then jet off to Texas Motor Speedway for Friday night’s Truck Series race. It’s back to Pocono after the race so Busch can practice in his car on Saturday morning before hustling to the Nationwide Series event in Nashville.
Then it’s back to Pocono, where Busch will attempt on Sunday to widen his lead in the Sprint Cup standings.
Dickerson, who will make the manic journey with Busch and spot all three events, insists this is not a publicity stunt for NASCAR’s newest superstar.
“It’s just in your blood. You’re either a racer or you’re not,” Dickerson said. “If they line up some cars, put people in the grandstands and give out a trophy, then someone is going to get their picture taken with a pretty girl. It doesn’t matter if it’s Friday, Saturday or Sunday ó we want to get a trophy, and we want a picture taken with a pretty girl.”
With 10 wins spanning NASCAR’s top three series this year, the duo is well on the way to filling a 2008 photo album. Busch has scored a series-best four Cup victories, four Nationwide wins and two in the Truck Series.
He’s got a cozy 142-point lead in the Cup Series, is second in the Nationwide standings and, after initially leading the Truck standings, he’s missed two of eight races and dropped to 16th.
Although there’s been talk of racing for all three championships, conflicts with the Truck and Nationwide schedules make it impossible for Busch to race all three series the rest of the season and he is prepared to concede the driver title in the Truck Series.
So why even attempt this exhausting cross-country trifecta?
For Busch, it’s about both his love of racing and a loyalty to truck team owner Billy Ballew.
“It’s not about merchandise sales, or fan club members or Q-ratings ó he’s not jaded enough to think of things like that yet,” Dickerson said of the 23-year-old phenom. “It’s just about winning races. Every driver says it, but I don’t think every fan believes them. With Kyle there is no doubt.
“Love him or hate him, every person in that grandstand knows that Kyle is there for one reason, and it’s to win that race.”
And that’s why Busch is going to Texas, where he feels he’s the best option to keep Ballew in contention for the Truck Series owners’ championship. Ballew is currently fourth in the owner standings, just 33 points behind the truck that owner Tom Mitchell fields for Rick Crawford.
Busch has put Ballew in contention, with four top-10s and 304 laps led in his six races. When he missed Kansas and Mansfield for scheduling conflicts, fill-in driver Shane Sieg finished 18th and 21st and didn’t lead a lap.
“I want to keep Billy up front, and no one else can do it,” Busch said. “I think it’s cool that as long as he’s been in the sport, he’s finally got a chance to win a championship and I want to help him keep that alive.”
Busch accepts no money for driving from Ballew, an original owner from the inaugural 1995 truck season, and all his winnings are returned to the race team. He and Dickerson also brought NOS Energy Drink to Ballew this season as a sponsorship partner.
“He’s been around so long, and he’s never had a full-time driver capable of winning him a championship,” Busch said. “I’d like to be the one to do it for him.”
Loyalty aside, the Cup Series remains Busch’s priority. Should there be delays in Pocono, Busch will remain with his Joe Gibbs Racing team until its work is finished. So long as the No. 18 Toyota remains his top focus and that effort doesn’t suffer, the team has no issues with Busch’s hectic schedule.
“I think it’s a concern for us if you watch him and he gets tired, or physically run down,” said team president J.D. Gibbs. “I think where Kyle is right now, being 23, he can run pretty hard.”
So JGR officials don’t stand in Busch’s way of filling his schedule, and this triple effort isn’t the only stunt he’s got planned for this season. Eddie D’Hondt recently approached Dickerson about his fledgling race team, wondering if Busch might be interested in running the Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen in August.
In what Dickerson calls “the dumbest idea in racing,” Busch agreed to pilot the car if Dickerson is the crew chief and fellow driver David Stremme is the race engineer.
“We’re going to have some fun with it, make Stremme dress up like an engineer and I’ll act like I know everything ó which every crew chief I’ve worked with will attest to ó and we’ll go try and win a race,” Dickerson said. “As good a road racer as Kyle is, I expect to be in Victory Lane by the end of the day.”
And in the end, that’s the only place Busch really wants to be.
“I don’t have a family of my own that I have to focus on or be with all the time, and racing is what’s in my blood,” Busch said. “I want to race every day, all day, every minute. I want to be in a car, by myself, because that’s where I am happiest.”