Whenever NASCAR rolls into Auto Club Speedway, Kyle Busch is expected to contend for the win.
That’s been a theme throughout his career. The Las Vegas native earned his first Cup Series victory there as a rookie in 2005 and notched his 200th career win across NASCAR’s three national series in March 2019.
In all, Busch leads all active Cup drivers with four wins at the 2-mile oval coupled with six wins in the Xfinity Series and a 2-for-2 record in the Camping World Truck series.
But perhaps most jarring is this stat: Busch has amassed seven top-three finishes in his last nine Cup starts in Fontana, a 77.8% podium rate that includes three wins and eight top 10s in a span that dates back to 2011. Notably, Busch went to victory lane in 2013, the last time a new car was introduced to the Cup Series with the sport’s transition to the Gen 6.
“I really enjoy the 2-mile track. I love going out to California,” Busch said in a press release. “It’s a driver’s track and it’s aged over time. The surface has been ground, but I don’t think it’s been paved since it was first built back in 1997. It’s been a long time with the place being aged, and it’s aged well. You can run all over it. Typically, recently you run up around the wall in the turns, but you can still move around a bit.”
This time might be a little different. Sunday’s Wise Power 400 marks the first time the Next Gen car will see Auto Club Speedway in a competitive setting. And with such rough, bumpy and abrasive asphalt, how the new vehicles respond will be analyzed by drivers all weekend.
“I think the biggest thing with getting familiar with the new car is just understanding its little things that it likes and it doesn’t like, whether it’s setup-wise or even driving-wise,” Busch said. “Just how far can you push the limit of the new car? Where are the brakes going to let you go into a corner, or how much grip is the bigger, wider tire going to have? How long does that grip hang on for and when does it fall off? You have to see if it was more or less than before.”
If any driver is bound to adapt quickly, it’s likely Busch. While the results highlight his dominance, so do the statistics beneath the surface. According to NASCAR’s loop data, Busch holds series-best marks in average running position (8.169); fastest laps run (372); and laps inside the top 15 (3,962).
As Busch noted, drivers typically utilize multiple lanes across Fontana’s wide, sweeping corners. Understanding when to use which lane and most effectively has been a critical factor in his long-lasting success. Whether that remains the case with Next Gen car, however, won’t be determined until cars hit the track Saturday for practice.
“Obviously going back there for the first time in a couple of years and with the new car, there are going to be a lot of unknowns,” Busch said. “But in the past, there were two completely different types of racing when you run the top versus the bottom groove. You can run from the top to the bottom but, when you run the bottom, you really feel like you’re puttering around the racetrack.
“You feel like you aren’t making up any time on the bottom. But when you are running the top groove, you feel like you’re getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top.”
The Wise Power 400 rolls off Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.