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Kyle Busch One Spot Short of the Sweep

Kyle Busch was just a few laps from accomplishing yet another weekend NASCAR sweep, but he was forced to settle for a strong second-place finish in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. While Busch earned the second-place finish, his teammate Denny Hamlin battled to an 11th-place finish, while engine issues forced Joey Logano to settle for 33rd-place.

Busch started the No. 18 Combos Toyota in the fourth position but wasted no time in moving to the front of the field and claiming what was a familiar spot for him over the course of the weekend. Busch, who became the first driver to ever sweep a weekend with victories in all three NASCAR national touring series last summer in Bristol, entered the day with dominating victories already in the Truck Series race Friday night and Nationwide Series race on Saturday. In fact, Busch led all 200 laps in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.

Busch was able to claim the lead early today and held that until the team made a decision to come to pit road following an early debris caution. The decision shuffled him back in the field, but a two-tire change on lap 51 would put him back near the top 10. On lap 59 Busch would get loose following contact by Ryan Newman and was forced down into the side of Carl Edwards. The contact required a trip down pit road, but the M&Ms team was able to keep Busch on the lead lap. Restarting at the back of the field on lap 67 proved to be good fortune however as Brian Vickers spun to set off a chain reaction that took out a number of cars in the middle in the field. Things started to settle down from there with longer green flag runs. Busch would get stronger as the race went on and pit strategy with about 29 laps to go would pay off as Busch, riding in second at the time, brought his No. 18 Camry down pit road for the final time one lap before leader Jeff Gordon. When the pit stop cycle was over, Busch was in first. He was able to get a great jump on the day’s final restart with 22 laps remaining to maintain the lead but Gordon was just a bit better on the long runs and went around Busch for the lead once again with just eight laps remaining. Busch held on from there for an impressive second-place run.

Denny Hamlin qualified the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota in the 12th position and had climbed into the top 10 by lap 10 of the race. An early debris caution allowed Hamlin to remain out on the track while many of the leaders made the determination to come down pit road. The track position proved vital as he would take the lead on lap 32. Pit strategy would continue to shuffle the field through the early portion of the race, but as the race settled in to longer green flag runs the No. 11 Camry was unable to make up the necessary ground to get back to the front. Over the last 22 laps Hamlin was able climb his way back toward the top ten to earn an 11th-place finish.

Joey Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the sixth position and was solid through the early going moving up into the fourth spot. The team made the decision to come down pit road for fresh tires and fuel which caused a shuffle of track position. Shortly after a competition caution prior to lap 40 the team diagnosed an engine issue that limited Logano’s ability to power up to full speed. The result put him toward the rear of the field in 38th position. Amazingly Logano was able was to improve his position on the track while nursing the engine as he steered clear of several early wrecks. Unfortunately his luck would run out with just about one hundred laps remaining as his engine finally gave way. Logano, who had been as high as 24th, would have to settle for a disappointing 33rd-place finish.

Gordon captured the victory, with Busch second, Jimmie Johnson third, Kevin Harvick fourth, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. There were eight cautions for a total of 43 laps and 29 lead changes among 12 different drivers over the course of the 312-lap race.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next Sunday, March 6. The race will begin at 3 PM ET with live, high-definition coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2 PM. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.

 

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Kyle Busch Dominates Phoenix Nationwide Race!

Could there be a more perfect example of domination? Kyle Busch lead every lap Saturday during the 200-mile NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Phoenix. His white and green Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry started first and finished there, only to be challenged for the victory briefly by Carl Edwards during the final 50 laps. For Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole it was a stellar day with both Joey Logano and Brian Scott also finishing in the top-10.

Kyle would jump to a substantial lead at the beginning of the race and every restart thereafter. Often he was running more than a second faster than his closest competitor. However, as the race neared it’s completion, the No. 60 car started mounting a charge. Several times in the past, Kyle has dominated a race, only to be passed by Carl Edwards in the closing laps. Both he and crew chief Jason Ratcliff knew that they would have to stay on top of a car that tightened up after 20 laps if they were going to beat Edwards at the end. A pit stop with 33 laps to go meant the No. 60 would be right on Kyle’s rear bumper. Indeed, during the final laps, Carl would get along side Kyle using the inside lane, but was unable to clear the No. 18 Toyota for the lead off the turns. Without a doubt, it was a team effort that propelled the defending Owner’s Champions to victory as the pit crew delivered flawless pit stops throughout the day.

Joey Logano drove the No. SportClips Toyota Camry to a solid finish of 6th, but was never able to make a charge for the win due to his tight race car. Overall, it was an uneventful day for the 20-year-old who raced as high as 4th place early in the race.

Brian Scott, in his second race for Joe Gibbs Racing, battled a tight car as well, which saw him drop to 14th position during the first half of the race. Several adjustments to the chassis by his crew chief Kevin Kidd, good pit stops by his crew, and impressive driving by Brian later returned him to the top-10. Brian saved the car late the race when the rear end stepped away from him while running 7th. He would eventually come home in 9th position.

Stay tuned for more from Phoenix including quotes and photos!

Phoenix Quotes & Notes

Hamlin Quotes on Phoenix

What is the key to getting around Phoenix?

“For me, the key to being fast at Phoenix is how you brake getting into the corner. It’s a tricky place to get around, but I have found that if I set my car up good getting into the corner, we get so much more speed getting off the corner and down the straightaways. I really like racing at Phoenix and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it reminds me a lot of the places I raced when I was growing up. I spent my early career running flat tracks in Late Models and this track feels like that to me. It’s flat and requires you to be really good with your setup if you are going to be quick through the corners.”

Will you be sad to see the track repaved after this race?

“I will be disappointed to see the old surface gone. I’m the type of driver that loves worn out race tracks, and Phoenix is one of them. Right now, it’s pretty much a one-groove race track, so passing is tough, but it really puts things in the drivers’ hands. They say they are going to reconfigure the track a little bit to get two grooves of racing, so we’ll have to see when we come back in November. I want to get the last win on the old surface and I think we have a good shot at it.”

FedEx Racing Express Notes

Denny at Daytona: Denny Hamlin was in prime position to make a run at the checkered flag in the Daytona 500 before a lap 198 incident collected the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, causing extensive damage and a 21st-place finish. Hamlin was drafting with Ryan Newman in the outside groove down Daytona’s backstretch when Regan Smith was turned across the track and in the path of Newman and Hamlin. The #11 Camry — which led seven laps late in the race — incurred damage to its nose, and the repairs on pit road put the FedEx team a lap down to the leaders for the two ‘green-white-checkered’ attempts.

Hamlin Headed to Phoenix: Hamlin and the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota head to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) this weekend, the one-mile desert oval that caused so much pain and heartbreak one season ago. The #11 team headed to PIR last November holding a 33-point lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings and were the car to beat throughout the race, leading 190 of 312 laps. However, a pit stop for a splash of fuel with 10 laps remaining — when the other race contenders could make it the distance — caused a 12th-place finish, turning a near-insurmountable points lead into a scant 15-point advantage heading to the season-finale in south Florida.

The April race at Phoenix in 2010 brought literal pain to Hamlin, who was just 10 days removed from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Hamlin turned in a gutsy performance, finishing out the race even after mechanical issues put the #11 car a couple laps down, driving to a 30th-place result.

Hamlin is making his 12th Cup Series start at Phoenix on Sunday, and has five top-five finishes to his credit at the track. His best result of third has come four times, most recently in Nov. 2009. He also recorded third-place runs at April 2008, April 2007 and Nov. 2006. The 30-year-old captured the pole position in his first Cup race at PIR in Nov. 2005 — in just his sixth series start — the year before he earned ‘Rookie of the Year’ honors.

Kyle Busch Quotes on Phoenix

How is your relationship with Dave Rogers heading into your second season with him?

“We both did learn an awful lot last year and we’ve both talked a lot this winter. We spent some time together and we’ve had some good talks and some good opportunities to think about what we want to do and kind of develop our plan and our strategy for moving forward into this year. We’ve gone over most of that and, hopefully, we can put it all into effect here at the beginning of the year and get our momentum rolling and stay strong all throughout the year.”

Is there anything different about your team this year that makes you believe you can win the championship?

“I think the biggest thing that’s different with us is just having a full year under my belt with Dave Rogers (crew chief) and, now, going into the season with that year’s worth of experience of working with Dave and to trying to reach our potential and little bit more this year. Unfortunately we’ve kind of fallen shy of that the past few years. This is the year we’d like to change that around and make it to where we get through the regular season okay and get to the Chase and then, once we get into the Chase, we stay consistent with what we’re doing. Then, if we can make it through without motors blowing up or getting involved in wrecks or something like that, we can have a shot come Homestead.”

How do you feel about heading to Phoenix this week after having a strong Speedweeks?

“I’m glad to go back to a racetrack that drivers matter and car handling matters. You always want to win at Daytona, so don’t get me wrong. But taking everything into account, I’m pleased to get a top-10 finish and start off the season on the right foot as far as the points go. I ran really well at Phoenix in both races last year, but circumstances kept us from winning there last year. The late caution in the spring race hurt us and not being able to stretch out fuel mileage in the fall race obviously hurt us, as well. I’m looking forward to getting back there, for sure, and hoping we can get Combos into victory lane again, as well.”

What does it take to be successful at Phoenix?

“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but being a day race and being hot and slick, it makes it that much more interesting.”

In addition to two Nationwide Series wins at Phoenix, you also won in your second Sprint Cup start at the mile oval. Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix?

“Phoenix is a pretty neat place. For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different corners at Phoenix. Turns one and two are different than three and four, and there’s also a kink in the backstretch. Being able to run well there depends on how well you can turn in the center of turns one and two and yet still have a good drive up off the back straightaway because it’s so long and fast. Then, getting into turn three, you really need to rotate. Just past the center of turns three and four, you have a little bit of a kink on the apron, where you need to be able to turn and get a good drive off the corner. It’s really dependent on how I like the car set up so I’m able to make a good lap time. There are plenty of tricks to that place that you need to know to be successful.”

Kyle Busch: Looking for the Right “Combo” at Phoenix

In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the relationship between driver and crew chief may be the single most important element for a team to be successful. The communication between the guy on top of the pit box on race day and the guy behind the wheel of the racecar had better be good – or the results aren’t going to be.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, who’ve combined to win the last five Sprint Cup championships, and Denny Hamlin and Mike Ford of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) team, are the latest examples of long-term driver/crew chief combinations that have been successful over the past several years.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Combos Toyota for JGR, and crew chief Dave Rogers are also quickly becoming a potent “combo” since first joining forces at Texas Motor Speedway in November of 2009, where they led the most laps and narrowly missed a win in their first race together.

So far, the Busch-Rogers combo has worked well and has grown stronger despite working together in just 40 Sprint Cup points-paying races. It’s proven to be one of the top driver/crew chief tandems in the sport as it found victory lane three times in 2010 and put the No. 18 team back in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after missing it in 2009. The Busch-Rogers combo will look to add to its victory total this weekend when Combos Camry takes part in Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

The Busch-Rogers combo got off to a strong start this season, leading laps and contending late while finishing a solid eighth in the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Busch rolls into the second race of the season at Phoenix seventh in the standings.

Neither the fourth-year JGR driver nor Combos as a primary sponsor are strangers to victory lane at the mile oval in the Arizona desert. Combos was on Busch’s Nationwide Series car last April at Phoenix when he scored the win in dominating fashion.

In 12 Sprint Cup starts at the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has one win and seven top-10 finishes, including four in a row from the spring 2007 through fall 2008 events, and he won the pole for the spring 2006 race. The talented 25-year-old from Las Vegas was in position to win both Sprint Cup races at Phoenix in 2010, but late-race pit strategy did not work out either time.

Still, Busch has shown a penchant for winning at Phoenix in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series. In 11 Nationwide starts, he has three wins, eight top-10 finishes and three poles to go with his Truck Series win in the fall 2007 race.

So, the question remains: Will the combo of the crafty Rogers and the young Busch result in a new track being added to their list of collaborative wins? It’s certainly tough to look past what has quickly become one of the strongest driver-crew chief combos in NASCAR as, together, they hope to prove their worth as bona fide Sprint Cup title contenders in 2011.

Joey Logano Quotes on Phoenix

“I like Phoenix a lot, aside from Charlotte it is one of my favorite tracks on the circuit.  I’ve had good runs there the last two times in The Home Depot car, but I’ve run really well there in the Nationwide car too.  This is going to be the first real test on the track for the new nose this season.  I don’t think we are expecting too much of a difference but we will find out on Friday.

“The last race in Phoenix was an example of how far this team has come since my rookie year.  We started out in the top 10, but fell back then got blocked in the pits.  My first year and a half we wouldn’t have been able to rally back from that, but in November we did and finished third.  That shows the strength and confidence this Home Depot Team has now.”

The Home Depot Team Notes of Interest

  • Joey Logano will be making his fifth Phoenix International Raceway start as the driver of the Home Depot Toyota.  The one-mile track has been one of Logano’s most consistent tracks on the circuit.  In 2010, he earned top-10 finishes in both events at the desert track including a third-place effort last fall.
  • About last week: Logano and The Home Depot Team were running a clean, smart race in the Daytona 500 despite the new drafting style at the recently paved speedway.  Unfortunately the No. 2 car spun late in the race and clipped the right rear of the No. 20 Camry causing extensive damage. Logano came into the pits for repairs and was able to finish in the 23rd position.
  • The Home Depot’s monthly Kids Workshop will feature the No. 20 car driven by Logano on Saturday, March 5 from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.  Kids Workshops are a FREE family activity, designed for children 5-12, available the first Saturday of every month at all The Home Depot stores.  In addition to instilling safe DIY skills and a sense of accomplishment, each child gets to keep their car, along with a Kids Workshop apron, achievement pin and diploma.
  • Meet Logano! Fans in the Phoenix area can meet Logano at The Home Depot Store down the road from the track on Feb. 24 from 6 – 7:30 p.m. The store is located at 5230 W. Baseline Rd in Laveen, Ariz. There will be photo opportunities with the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota and an autograph signing by Logano.  Wristbands will be distributed starting at 5 p.m. to the first 700 fans.
  • Welcome aboard The Home Depot associates from store #3615 in Cary, N.C.  The store number will ride along with Logano this weekend for the Subway Fresh Fit 500.  Cary is the home to the founder of the popular HowStuffWorks, Inc., Marshall Brain.  Brain started the company with www.howstuffworks.com in 1998 and by 2008 had over 58 million visitors annually.
  • The No. 20 Home Depot Team is taking chassis #275 this weekend for the race in Phoenix. The team used this chassis five times last season and it has four top-10 finishes.  Logano piloted chassis #275 to a third-place finish at Dover International Speedway, a ninth-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, crossed the stripe 10th at Michigan in August and most recently drove it to a sixth-place run at Martinsville.
  • To access information on The Home Depot Team visit: www.joegibbsracing.com and follow twitter.com/homedepotracing, twitter.com/joegibbsracing and twitter.com/jlogano.

 

Brian Scott Quotes on Phoenix

“I’ve traditionally run well at short tracks and flat tracks, so Phoenix fits my driving style.  Joe Gibbs Racing has a really good track record at Phoenix and that adds to my confidence going into this weekend.  The keys to Phoenix are track position and a decent pit stall.  It’s going to be important to have a good practice and a solid qualifying run.  There has never been a green-flag stop in the Nationwide race at Phoenix because there are so many cautions.  That also means that you usually see some sort of wreck during one of the many restarts, so you want to get up toward the front and stay there to avoid those kinds of situations.”

“This is the last race on this track configuration.  I’m excited about the new track because it will really help from a spotter’s standpoint with the pit road issues and the restarts.  That will make the race easier for them to call, better for the drivers and should result in better racing for the fans.”

“Obviously last week was disappointing.  So we will need to adjust our goals and objectives heading into the next three races.  We need to focus on finishing the race first of all, but getting solid finishes.  What we can’t do is try to overcompensate for Daytona.  We still need to race hard but we need to be smart about it.  We can’t afford to get ourselves in a deeper hole.  If we can get top-10 finishes at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Bristol we can readjust our goals again.”

Shore Lodge Team Notes of Interest

  • Brian Scott will be looking for redemption after a disappointing first race as a member of the Joe Gibbs Racing organization.  Scott was spun on lap 15 at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last weekend and was forced into the garage for repairs.  Scott started from the 11th position, drafted his way into seventh but finished 34th in his Shore Lodge Toyota after the early race incident.
  • Scott will be making his fourth start at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend in the Nationwide Series.  Scott has top-20 finishes in all of his three starts including an 11th-place run in November of 2010.  In addition to his three starts in the Nationwide Series, he also has three starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where his best finish of fourth came in 2008.
  • Scott, the runner up for the 2010 Nationwide Series rookie of the year, joins JGR following his first full season in the series where the 23-year-old tallied five top-10 and one top-five finish.  The addition of the No. 11 team gives the JGR organization an opportunity to run for the series championship with the rule change this season. Following Daytona, Scott sits 23rd in the Nationwide driver standings.  He joins teammates Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota and Joey Logano in the No. 20 Toyota this season.
  • Scott’s No. 11 team is headed up by crew chief Kevin Kidd who led Logano to two wins, eight poles and 24 top-10 finishes in just 25 starts last season.  Several member of the No. 20 moved to the No. 11 with Kidd and will support Scott’s efforts this season.
  • Scott, along with several other NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers, will sign for fans at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday from 10:30 – 11:15 a.m. in the fan midway area behind the Bobby Allison grandstand.
  • Former NASCAR Nationwide stand-out Tim Fedewa will be Scott’s “eye in the sky” for the 2011 season. Fedewa will guide Scott and the No. 11 Shore Lodge Toyota as they look for victory lane for the first time this season.  Fedewa has four Nationwide Series wins and 66 top-10 finishes on his resume.
  • To access information on Brian Scott and No. 11 Team visit: www.joegibbsracing.com and follow twitter.com/bscottracing and twitter.com/joegibbsracing.