When you think of Saturday night racing in Richmond what comes to mind?
Hard driving action, flared tempers and good old short track beating and banging!
What fans got this past Saturday was a very atypical night at Richmond International Raceway.
Long green flag stretches that saw Kyle Busch dominate the field, picking off drivers one by one.
It was his race to lose and in the middle of the night, as blue smoke emerged from his hood, many believed that there was no way the No. 18 M&M's Toyota would make it to the end of the race, much less victory lane.
But as in any good "come back" story, Kyle Busch did just that and took the checkered flag for his first Sprint Cup win in 2010.
In the media center we saw something a bit aberrant as well. A calm and collected Kyle Busch, his new crew chief and first time Sprint Cup winner Dave Rogers, and former Redskins Coach turned NASCAR owner Joe Gibbs.
The trio discussed team strategy, the virtue of patience and how sweet the first win of the season feels.
After the celebration in victory lane ended, Kyle Busch addressed the media. NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp started off the question and answer session.
Kerry Tharp: We have Kyle Busch and he's joined at the podium by his crew chief Dave Rogers. 17th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win for Kyle Busch, at a place that you won here last spring as well.
Kyle, talk about your win tonight. You started off very strong and then came back strong there at the very end as well.
Kyle Busch: We did. For some reason, we missed the handle on the car there in the middle of the race. The car was phenomenal in the beginning. We were making minor changes to it to make it a little bit better. There about lap 170, 200, we started falling behind on the long runs, getting really loose. We kept plugging away. Dave never gave up.
These guys on pit road kept putting in some really good pit stops. I kept driving what I had. I couldn't make much out of what was going on out there on the track, especially with traffic. But we made some changes back to the car to get it going a little bit better. Especially at the end of the race when Dave made the call to come to pit road and put tires on with 25 or 30 to go, something like that, we just got going on restarts there.
I think there was a lot of 'em. One of the winning passes was on Harvick, getting to the bottom on turn one, forcing my issue to the bottom line, then having a caution come out, getting to the outside of Jeff Gordon, just being able to get up on his outside, run him hard on that last restart there.
Kerry Tharp: Dave Rogers, talk about some of the moves that the team did tonight to come out on top.
Dave Rogers: Yeah, like Kyle said, car started out really strong. Probably just got a little bit too far behind on my adjustments. When you're out running that fast, pulling away, it's hard to try to keep up with the track. Probably got a little lazy on it, fell behind.
Then at the end, we were making bigger adjustments to get caught back up. Then the restarts, Kyle Busch driving restarts, your odds are always good when you're in that situation.
Kerry Tharp: Congratulations. We'll take questions now for Kyle or Dave.
Kyle, to what degree was this like a character-building win? If the car was off, you never fell that far behind. And, Dave, how proud are you of the way everything was held together and finally got to Victory Lane?
Busch: What did we fall back to, fifth or something like that? It felt like 15th, for as bad as we were running. You know, it was a character-building night for sure. That's a good point. We kept our head down and kept digging. We didn't let it bother us too bad.
I felt like we were getting passed. But it was weird because you had guys that were short pitting, you had guys that were on different strategies that were coming to pit road. You got guys passing you, you know, that have just come off pit road, like the 38 car passing me, Hornish is passing me, guys like that on tires. Man, I got to be running 15th by now. But it was just a weird night. So as far as all of the things go inside the race car, we kept our handle on it.
Rogers: Yeah, I'm real proud of our night tonight. It would have been great to lead all the laps. But you know, winning it the way we did is probably more special, a greater lesson to our race team. This isn't the first time that we had a character-building race this year.
We've had a lot of races where we just didn't have the car for Kyle, and he's kept his head in the game, we kept working on it, we've gotten some finishes better than what we deserved. If you look at it, I think that's what it's going to take to compete with the 48 year in and year out, try to make a run at the championship. Real proud of the way we won it.
Kerry Tharp: Moved up to third in points, as well.
Kyle, what about the last restart? Did you feel like you pretty much had to get him on the first lap? What about the inside-outside positioning? Was the outside you felt better for you?
Busch: You know, I figured I was going to get the outside. So I was just kind of thinking the whole time during the caution flag, the whole weekend everybody was taking the bottom. All I really knew was just to get into turn one smooth and be able to get a good launch up off of turn two to get down the backstretch, then make sure I got into three without over driving it.
On the previous restart, when I was with Harvick, I kept over driving, locking up the left front tire into turn three, sliding up the track. I knew if I could get through turn three okay, hammer down off of turn four, get him clear, it would be pretty good. That's what I did. Did I have a plan? Was that exactly my plan? No. My plan was just to drive it as hard as I could and make whatever happen happen. It seemed to work, you know, off the cuff.
Dave, at one point Kyle was picking cars off real quick. There were only eight left on the lead lap. It went from eight on the lead lap to 27. Why not stay out there to prevent that from happening?
Rogers: It would have been great to keep that many cars a lap down. It would have been selfish. Everybody behind us was going to pit. If we stay out, we keep all those guys down. Then the seven guys behind us are going to drive by us, we're going to lose our track position just to keep cars a lap down. It's not worth it.
I didn't think keeping those cars a lap down was going to help us win the race. I thought keeping the track position was going to help us win the race.
Kerry Tharp: Dave Rogers, your first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win tonight as a crew chief. Congratulations.
Kerry Tharp: Joining us on the podium is Coach Joe Gibbs. Coach, sure had to be impressed and proud of how the No. 18 team did tonight.
Coach Gibbs: We were thrilled really. It was a great night for us. We had so many key people here tonight, a whole group from Mars, Victoria, David. Todd had a bunch of friends watching it. A big night for us. Appreciate it. It was great for Dave. A lot of hard work there. Kyle, too. He's been real patient this year. Had some races where things didn't go well for us and stayed after it.So hopefully we get on a roll here.
Kerry Tharp: Let's continue with questions.
When you came in to get the tires about 30 laps to go, were you confident to know that you were going to be able to get up there? On the final restarts, was that really what set you apart from the 24, the 29 and the 31, or was that your ability to restart really well?
Busch: I didn't know what the race was going to have in store for us there. Coming to get tires with 30 to go, you know, I felt like it was a good decision. I didn't know how many were going to follow behind us.
We were out there for four or five laps on tires where we short-pitted a little bit on that caution. The leaders, they only had about two or three laps on their tires. We could have stayed out and probably still done the same thing, winning the race. But, you know, we wanted to be on the safe side and get tires when we did in order to, I guess, make it easier. But sure didn't feel that easy.
Maybe we made it look that way. But, you know, I think I still had a good enough car on restarts that we could have done the same thing with the tires if we would have just stayed out. But given our experience in the past, we felt best coming in.
Kyle and Dave, can you both assess where you feel you are as a team 10 races into the season, third in points, where you feel you need to go. Can you also talk about because you're still learning working together where you feel like that relationship has gone and what more you need to do to be more effective.
Rogers: We're pleased with where we're at. Obviously we want to win more races, lead more laps. But that's stating the obvious. We sat down in the winter, we came up with some goals we wanted to accomplish this season. So far we're on track. We're checking off some things.
Busch: We are?
Rogers: Okay, we're a little behind track, but not too far (smiling). But the team is progressing. They're gelling together real nice. I think communication between Kyle and I is getting better. You know, this is our first win so we're obviously making progress.
Busch: I'll just say that, you know, having Dave come on board this year, the end of last year, I saw a turnaround in the team. We went to Texas, ran strong. Homestead, one of my non-great racetracks, we ran strong. This year we've been trying real hard as being able to get Dave accustomed to the car and me to be a little bit more patient inside the race car and also let Dave come into here and make this his race team.
I feel like he's done a really nice job at it. Joe and J.D. have given in and allowed Dave and us to do what we need to do in order to make this a championship team. The guys in the garage area really see that, see the hours that Dave puts in every week. His family sees it, as well, too. I'm very fortunate to have a crew chief that does all that.
Of course, you know, our A and B team guys, they've stepped up their game. They've come to not play anymore, they've come to work hard and make sure that we win some races.
I've heard "patience" mentioned several times here. Kyle, could you talk about this part of the season, just maybe how different you've been in terms of looking at things because of changes. Do you feel like you've kind of grown a little bit and learned that it's okay to be competitive necessarily without winning and that would pay off like it did tonight?
Busch: Yeah, I mean, I think that we've had—there's been a lot of that learning for me so far this year. We've had cars that haven't been capable of top fives or top 10s and we've gotten some top fives and 10s with those cars. We've had cars we should have won, maybe Phoenix or somewhere else, and we ran 10th or 15th with those cars.
You know, it's frustrating to see those days when you run well and not really get what you deserve. But then you see the days where you struggle a little bit and you kind of steal one out of there. You wish they were all that way. But, you know, you got to give and take sometimes. I'm learning that a little bit more.
You look back and see what happens with how the season has progressed and how teams progress. You look at what RCR has been able to do. They've turned the corner and have really become a strong team that we've got to focus on and watch out for maybe, that they're getting their stuff going. Of course, you know, the Hendrick guys always. We need to make sure this 18 team focuses on what they need to focus on and keep going forward.
Kyle, you said in Victory Lane a lot of people doubted what you were doing, but you never did. Why were you so confident this move with Dave was the right one? I think the longest streak you'd gone since you joined Joe Gibbs Racing was 16 races without a win. This one was 21 races. You're so used to winning at JGR. What was it like for you, the agony, the frustration of going that long without a victory?
Busch: When Dave came on board, I don't know if I saw something or if I felt something, but I've worked with Dave in a couple of races in the Nationwide Series and really enjoyed my time working with him. He's a smart guy. He's a methodical thinker, utilizes the tools we have at JGR and makes more, pushes everybody harder. He's done it all throughout the off-season and all throughout this year.
Some of our engineers were telling us, That's not the direction we need to go. Dave pushed it. It seems to be paying off for us. Dave and I, we have a lot of same mentality, which maybe is scary to some. But to us it actually works pretty good. You know, we're both fiery competitors. We both want to win. We both get upset when we don't or things don't go our way. We understand each other. We understand each other's feelings and philosophies. I think that's what makes us a team that works well together.
As far as not being able to win in 21 races, shucks, darn, gee, golly, sorry. I certainly wish it wasn't 21 races. But, you know, it was a long end of the year last year. You know, we maybe should have won a few weeks ago. But it doesn't work out that way sometimes. It stinks to not win every single weekend or not every 21 weekends or 21 races, but it certainly feels nice to come out here with another good win and get another good finish.
Now we just got to keep this momentum rolling and have the guys keep pulling forward and go on into next week at Darlington, a tough racetrack for myself, even though I won there in '08, we crashed out there last year. Looking forward to trying to keep this going.
Kyle, you mentioned Jeff (Gordon) may be taking different tactics on the restarts. What kind of gamesmanship was going on on those restarts?
Busch: Well, one of the restarts there, I think when I got tires or something like that, he really slowed the field down a lot. I mean, I was almost bogging second gear. Then he took off. He took off on his own, which is fine, but he didn't keep pace of the pace car, I felt like. On the next restart, when the pace car left, he picked up the pace of the pace car and went to the start line faster. I just felt like there were some games being played there.
From what I'm told, you're supposed to keep the pace with the pace car till you get to the zone, then find your place in the zone where you want to take off and go. I was just trying to keep a consistent pace, that's all.
Dave, so many different things are happening at the end of races now with the green-white-checkereds. Can you sit down at the shop and map out your responses to a lot of these or are you still running races on the fly with 10 or 20 laps to go?
Rogers: I'm not the type of guy that shoots from the hip every day. Like Kyle said, I'm probably more methodical. We spend a lot of time at the shop and on race day morning working through every scenario.
The problem you run into this these late-race restarts, there's so many cars on the lead lap. You're at Phoenix and there's 25 cars on the lead lap. You can have the best car, but it's going to come down to chance. We weren't going to pit at Phoenix. We were going to stay out. We started scanning everybody. You heard that the entire field was going to pit. We thought it was crazy. But before the race, we said, Okay, if we ever hit pit road, we're going to take four. Two tires is a waste of time. We saw it in the Nationwide race. So we talk about it.
We have a game plan long before the race ever starts. But you do have to adjust on the fly because of your competitors. They're changing it up. If we could have kept only seven or eight cars on the lead lap today, it would have been a whole lot easier. But when you have 25, 28 cars, it's a little bit more difficult.
Kyle, after having the length of lead you had for as long as you had, was it hard to keep your head in the game after falling back like you did? Would you have been able to do that a year or two ago?
Busch: For the old Kyle Busch, he would have folded. The new one, he stuck in there, he dug hard. He kept going (laughter). You know, I mean, it was difficult. You know, I just kept driving every lap with what I had. That's all I ever do. It seems like every race so far this year we've had at least one run where we've fallen back. Texas was a big one. We came in the pits. Came out of the pits sixth with a third-place car on the previous run and dropped all the way back to 22nd or 25th or something like that before we could come back to pit road and make an adjustment to get back going forward again.
We faded a little bit. Just kept doing what we could do. We were good on the front half of the run, we could make up a little bit of time there. After 80 laps, something like that, we would start fading backwards. You had to hang on at that point. It was about 35 or 30 laps before we were going to come in and pit. It was just, Hold on. Everybody is so tight here and their lap times are so tight, it's hard to gain ground on anybody.
I was behind my brother there late in the going, I think lap 300 to 350, and he was driving away from me. I was like, man, I can't even run down a car that's a lap down. We just kept plugging along. There wasn't anybody behind me. I think Juan Montoya caught me, I let him go. A couple other lap cars came in and got tires, let them go. Ran my own race and it paid dividends tonight.
Can you comment on what Kyle was saying, the new Kyle Busch, not losing his head when things go against him?
Gibbs: I think one thing that's helped Kyle is winning that Nationwide Championship last year. I think he had real patience there. There were days where he had to take third, fourth. Of course, it's different over there because you're not racing as many cars up front that really have a chance. I think this year, you know, had this been last year with three or four of the things that happened to us in some of the races this year, particularly this one, I think you probably would have seen a different reaction. I appreciate the new Kyle.
Now the question is, What's coming in the future? One thing I did want to say, Richmond, I appreciate coming back to Richmond. I feel great here. For me personally it's Redskin territory and I appreciate everybody here. The other thing was Toyota. Toyota and our group here have been great partners, done a terrific job for us. Without their support and everything, there's no way we'd be sitting up here.
Kyle, could you talk about the new Kyle, old Kyle. What really made the difference over the last few years? Is it the championship? Is it owning the truck team? What has really changed the way that you are behind the wheel?
Busch: You know, I think it's a lot of everything. To be honest with you, I think, shoot, man, I turn 25 tomorrow, I'm getting old. I feel that way anyway. But, you know, it's got somewhat to do with the truck stuff. It's got somewhat to do with Samantha, of course. It's got a lot to do with Dave.
With Dave coming on board, I knew we weren't going to come out of the gate right away and win. Even though at Texas we could have, should have, if it wasn't for about that much more gas we probably could have. You know, I felt like there was some patience and felt like Dave needed some time to get going and get everything organized, to get the team behind him, you know, to get a lot of things in the car that he wants in the car. I think it's just a patience things. I've become a little bit more patient.
Kyle, the first 170 laps of this race you spent putting three-quarters of the field down a lap. In one fell swoop 18 or 20 cars get their lap back. Objectively speaking, are you a fan of a rule that allows that many cars to recover a lap like that?
Busch: I'll tell you what, there's going to be one of these days where I'm on that end of it and I'll be grateful for it. I don't have anything bad to say about it. It was kind of crazy that it happened. I had never thought of that predicament at all with this rule. You know, we just had pit stops, I don't know, 15 laps prior to that or something. You take a chance. That's always a chance.
If it was towards the end of the race, would guys have done that or would they have come and gotten tires? Who knows. I think to get back on the lead lap was big for a lot of people, get a caution to come in and get their tires they wanted. It plays out. I'm sure I'll be the recipient of that somewhere down the road and I'll be grateful for it then.
Kerry Tharp: Congratulations Kyle, Dave and Coach Gibbs. Good look at Darlington. Happy Birthday in 10 minutes.
Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Press conference transcript used by permission from NASCAR, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richmond International Raceway.