Bruce Martin
Monday June 23rd, 2008

NEWTON, Iowa -- Now that Kyle Busch has won on a road course after driving from the back to the front in Sunday's contest at Infineon Raceway, he's regained his status as NASCAR's dominant driver this season.

And he may have gotten to victory lane by doing less, rather than more.

After two straight weeks of competing in all three of NASCAR's divisions, including three races in three states in three days two weeks ago at Texas, Nashville and Pocono, Busch skipped the trip to Milwaukee for Friday night's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race and Saturday night's Nationwide Series contest.

Focusing on the Cup race instead of trying to be "Mr. Everything" allowed Busch to regain his form as the best driver in NASCAR.

"Pocono was bad, and I don't think I've ever really run that great, and I'm not making excuses, but I think I've got a fourth place finish there and the rest are in the teens or 20s," Busch said. "Last weekend we went fourth to sixth all day, bided our time and led some laps in the beginning there, got up as high as second and faded and stuff. We ran OK. We just fell behind a little bit on fuel strategy and finished 13th. It was going to be a good points day and didn't turn out as well as we wanted."

Busch stuck to what Busch does the best and that pleased his boss, Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs.

"From our standpoint, I still feel the same way," Gibbs said. "This weekend would have been harder. Milwaukee is hard. The other ones to me aren't really anything out of the ordinary. He's been doing it his whole life and I don't really worry. This one was a big drain and he had to go a long ways. I don't attribute it to that, but obviously if we go in the future and have more issues, we'll revisit that. I think he can run long and hard. He's still young and strong."

Busch will continue to compete in the truck series and Nationwide races this season, but he was not going to run for the championship in all three divisions once he realized that not even a driver with his talent can withstand such a schedule.

And with Busch having a clearer focus on the Sprint Cup title, that's bad news for the rest of his competitors during the "Summer Stretch" of NASCAR's season.

Entering Sunday's road course race, only six active drivers had won at Infineon or Watkins Glen International, and Busch wasn't one of them. He can now check off "a road course victory" on his list of Sprint Cup goals.

"You've got Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who are probably the most well-known road racers in our garage, and Robby Gordon is on that list," Busch said. "And Boris (Said), he's sort of nicknamed 'The Ringer,' he's one of those guys. It means a lot to be able to put my name now on that list, but I'm not going to say I'm a road course ace or anything.

"Today we were just in the right positions at the right time and had a great race car and I was just able to drive it around to a win. Hopefully we can do it again come Watkins Glen."

After setting the agenda for the Sprint Cup Series this season, Busch admitted that he's a "terrible loser." So that made him downright miserable the past two weekends when he was trying to compete in all three divisions. By keeping it simple, Busch was able to take work with a car that didn't start off well in practice and qualifications at Infineon and make it a winner on race day.

"I'm not happy unless I'm winning, to be honest with you," he said. "I'm a miserable person. It means a lot to be able to come out here and run well today and to be able to win. Just coming here on Thursday, I was like, `OK, let's get to the road course weekend and see how we can do and it will be all right.' And then Friday, it was like, `Whew, it was just bad.' Saturday it kind of came back to the middle and now today, we're back to thumba up.

"I'm a moody person, I guess. All of us drivers are when we are not having a good day. We are sort of upset or PO'd or however you want to put it, but when you have a good day and run well and you're winning races, it kind of sums up."

Busch is back after Sunday's victory, although he never really went anywhere. He was able to get back on track by not trying to do too much the past two weekends.

The Kyle Busch vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Trade

Give the nod to Busch once again this week as he won Sunday's race while Earnhardt struggled on the road course, finishing 12th.

For those keeping track, Busch has five wins this season to Earnhardt's one, and Busch leads the points standings with 2,408 -- 152 ahead of third-place Earnhardt.

Danica Patrick may be the "Darling of the IndyCar Series," but she drew some heated criticism from this year's Indianapolis 500 winner, Scott Dixon, and fellow driver Ed Carpenter after Sunday's Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway.

Patrick was the meat in a sandwich during a restart on lap 227, when Dixon went high and Marco Andretti went low to pass and leave her in their ethanol fumes.

"She's lucky that's all she got, man," Dixon said. "She's a menace."

Carpenter also voiced his displeasure with Patrick after he crashed in the second turn on the 39th lap.

"I just started working on my car, working towards the front, but Danica was doing her normal supreme block job," Carpenter said. "She is the new Scott Sharp of the series as far as I am concerned. That is two races in a row, and I am over her. I finally got around her and was nearing the lead pack. It is really disappointing."

"I just wanted to make sure it wasn't intentional. Racing for 15th and dive-bombing someone around the outside of Turn 1 up into Turn 2 isn't really the smartest thing, in my opinion. He thought it was a great idea and I just wanted to make sure it wasn't intentional. And it sounds like it was a racing deal, so I guess we're all right."

-- Jimmie Johnson after talking to Greg Biffle following Sunday's Sonoma race, where the two were involved in an incident.

"Nobody belongs in NASCAR. He's an Andretti; he knows how to drive open-wheel cars. He feels right at home here. The most experience he gets, the more of a pain he is going to be. ... Hopefully he can sign on here for the rest of the year."

-- Marco Andretti on his second-cousin, John, who is experiencing a rebirth in his return to IndyCar racing with Roth Racing after leaving this style of racing for NASCAR in 1993.

Kevin Harvick

After being in the top 12 for the entire season, Harvick has dropped to 13th after his 30th-place finish at Infineon. That places him in the mad scramble for the final position in The Chase. He needs to use the Summer Stretch to regain his consistency and be one of the 12 drivers battling for the championship after the Sept. 6 cutoff at the Richmond race.

What am I looking forward to this weekend? Let's stick with the IndyCar Series on this one as 27 cars are expected to battle it out at the three-quarter-mile Richmond raceway in the middle of NASCAR country. In the six years that the series has raced there, it has enjoyed huge success as crowds estimated at 50,000 watch the Saturday night shootout under the lights.

While NASCAR Sprint Cup teams stage two of their best races of the season at Richmond, IndyCars whiz around this short track 50 miles per hour faster, creating a dizzying pace for 250 laps.

On Sunday, NASCAR Sprint Cup heads to Loudon, N.H., and the newly-renamed New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This will be the first race at the "Magic Mile" since Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) purchased the New England track from Bob Bahre last November.

California native David Gilliland had the best finish of his career with a second-place run at Infineon. The Ford driver for Yates Racing stayed toward the front for most of Sunday's race, and when the so-called road course experts such as Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya and Robby Gordon were all involved in crashes, Gilliland benefitted.

"It was a great day for us," he said. "We hit on some stuff there late in Happy Hour that just made the car drive really, really good, and I told my crew chief, 'This is what we need to be able to stay on the race track,' and it was fast. That's a combination for a good day, and then it was in my hands not to make a mistake, and that's harder than it sounds here. As a whole, it's 180 degrees of where it was [last year] and I think it still has the potential to get even better. So, I'm real proud of that."

Gilliland admitted it was a bit stressful to look in his rear-view mirror and see Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet behind him in a race that ended with a "green-, white-, checkered-flag finish."

"That's an uncomfortable feeling, I can tell you that," he said. "I wasn't real excited about having him back there, for sure. Our car was pretty good on the restart before the last one -- I kind of got away from Jeff a little bit going up the hill. So, that made me a little more comfortable on the second one, but it was super slick the last lap, so as far as challenging for the lead, it was everything I could do just to stay on the race track. It was wild back there. It was incredible."

Tragic news came out of Englishtown, N.J., when NHRA Drag Racing star Scott Kalitta was killed when his Funny Car erupted into flames and crashed at the end of the track during the final round of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Kalitta's Toyota Solara was traveling at more than 300 miles per hour when it burst into flames.

The 46-year-old Kalitta was the 1994 and 1995 Top Fuel champion with 18 career victories, including 17 in Top Fuel and one in Funny Car.

"We are deeply saddened and want to pass along our sincere condolences to the entire Kalitta family," the NHRA said in a statement. "Scott shared the same passion for drag racing as his legendary father, Connie. He also shared the same desire to win, becoming a two-time series world champion. He left the sport for a period of time, to devote more time to his family, only to be driven to return to the drag strip to regain his championship form. ... He will be truly missed by the entire NHRA community."

Kalitta retired from racing in 1997, sitting out most of two seasons before returning for a 10-race campaign in 1999. He sat out three more seasons following that brief stint and then returned again in 2003, joining cousin Doug as a second driver for the family's two Top Fuel dragsters.

Kalitta's last victory came in Chicago in 2005 in Top Fuel. He had a runner-up finish two weeks ago in Chicago, his 36th career NHRA final-round appearance.

While advances in safety have dramatically improved the sport, Kalitta's death is a grim reminder of the inherent danger that exists in a sport where speeds are in excess of 300 mph. Kalitta is the fifth NHRA driver to die since 2004.

"Any time an incident like this happens, it bothers the sport and we'll do whatever we can to make it safer," NHRA spokesman Jerry Archambeault told USA Today.

This wasn't a move on the race track, but from the heart.

There's obviously a racing "love affair" between the fans of Iowa and the IndyCar Series. After a "smashing" debut in last year's race, where there were more spectators than chairs at the 40,000-seat "Track that Rusty Wallace Built" and far too many crashes, those fans were subjected to endless hours in traffic. But despite that, there was warmth and wide-eyed wonderment among those who were genuinely excited and enthusiastically embracing the IndyCar Series at Iowa.

There was little doubt the same support would exist for this year's return trip. The race sold out weeks before the teams arrived. But that support was tested when the springtime rains began in early May and didn't stop until weeks later. By then, the rivers were swollen, overflowing their banks and flooding nearby towns and farm fields, wiping out the crops and livestock that drive the state's economy. Cities such as Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines were flooded, too.

Yet, the level of support for the Iowa Corn Indy 250 was astounding as another sellout crowd jammed into the short track on a perfect, sunny day. The traffic woes of 2007 had been rectified and 98 percent of the fans' cars were in the parking lots 45 minutes before the green flag waved to start the race.

There were a few scattered empty seats, perhaps held by fans who had purchased their tickets before losing everything to the floods, a grim reminder of the devastation that has hit this state. But for one day, at least, the IndyCar Series gave the people of Iowa sometime to celebrate and a chance to forget the floods and tornadoes that deeply impacted their lives.

"Hopefully we can take their minds away from the devastation and put a smile on their faces, and if we can, then that is something we can be proud of," said race winner Dan Wheldon, who along with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, donated his winnings to the relief effort.

Wheldon is one of the many IndyCar drivers who is impressed with the warm support Iowa gives this event. While this driver from Emberton, England, lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., he believes the Iowa race is the oval version of success enjoyed by the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, another one of the sport's highlight events of the season.

"There is a real energy to this race before it even started," Wheldon said. "You definitely notice that. These are the types of races that are going to make the IndyCar Series big again. When we did the drive around in the trucks for pre-race, it was packed.

"Forgive me for saying this; it was like a NASCAR race. There were a lot of people here. This is what we need and what we enjoy being a part of. And considering the devastation, and this is a little ways from a big city, it's pretty impressive. The biggest thing is how excited people get."

Now that IndyCar racing is whole again, there may be bigger cities or more cosmopolitan markets that want to get on the schedule, but it's going to be difficult to match the genuine love affair that exists between Iowa and IndyCar.

Also, the Indy Racing League, IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights combined to make a donation of $60,000 to the local Iowa chapter of the American Red Cross.

"It was only appropriate that we help anyway we can the people of Iowa who have been through so much in recent weeks," said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for IRL. "We ask that you please keep the local fans and community in your thoughts and prayers through this very difficult time."

On Tuesday, a group of Iowa-based businesses announced a major effort to raise money for Iowans trying to recover from the recent disasters that have devastated more than 80 of the state's 99 counties. Race2Recovery was established under the Iowa Speedway Foundation, a non-profit tax-exempt entity.

"The recent weather has left many Iowans without food, water, or even a decent place to live," said Jerry Jauron, President of Iowa Speedway. "The goal of all the businesses backing Race2Recovery is to jump-start the rebuilding efforts while letting the recent flood victims know they are not alone."

With a goal of raising $1,000,000 before Sept. 20, Race2Recovery fundraising was held throughout the weekend during the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Joining the Iowa Speedway in the campaign are Iowa Telecom, Learfield Sports, WHO Radio and Vantus Bank, in conjunction with a number of other area businesses and radio stations, including DISH Network and Radio Iowa. With several well-known Iowa-based businesses coordinating the Race2Recovery efforts, the group ensures that the funds raised will go directly to local communities as they begin to recover throughout the summer and fall.

In addition to donations being collected on-site at the Iowa Speedway, those who wish to donate online are directed to visit www.Race2Recovery.com.

High fuel prices are being felt by everybody, including NASCAR, which takes 11 tractor-trailers to each Sprint Cup race. Each semi rig contains equipment that is used for each race, including "the principal's office," where meetings are held or drivers are summoned for disciplinary reasons after each race.

It costs $1,000 to fill up each of the 11 transporters. Last week's trip from Conover, N.C., where NASCAR houses these big rigs, to Sonoma, Calif., required six fill-ups for each of the 11 transporters, roundtrip. That's nearly $70,000. Each of the teams that made the trip spent between $6,000 to $10,000 on fuel for the trip.

Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and the other drivers who competed in Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Milwaukee spent $22,500 on jet fuel for their round trips from Sonoma on private aircraft. That doesn't include whatever they paid for the helicopter rides that got them out of the track and to the airport at each venue.

At least these teams don't have to pay for fuel for their race cars. That's included as part of Sunoco's contract as the official fuel of NASCAR.

IndyCar officials confirmed that 11 engine manufacturers will send representatives to Indianapolis to participate in the Manufacturer's Roundtable at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beginning Tuesday. They will discuss their ideas about a potential engine package and rules for the next generation of engines and cars that participate in IndyCar racing. Another four engine companies were unable to send anyone, but have expressed interest in meeting with IndyCar Series officials in the future.

Both domestic and international auto companies will attend the roundtable, as well as private engine builders, such as Ilmor and Cosworth.

"These meetings will be informational and give the engine companies a chance to tell us what they would like to see in future engine programs," said John Griffin, vice president of public relations for the Indy Racing League. "It gives us a chance to hear their ideas before we move forward to the next step with the new car and engine."

The IndyCar Series is expected to have a new car/engine package for the 2011 season.

Also, IndyCar officials are looking at the possibility of ensuring that all races finish under green, but they are not interested in adding laps to the end of the race beyond its scheduled distance, as NASCAR has with its "green-, white-, checkered-flag" rule. They are considering the potential of red-flagging a race if there are enough laps left to ensure a green-flag run to the checkered flag.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.