Still just 25 years old, Kyle Busch is rapidly burning through the NASCAR record book. Heading into the 2011 season, Busch already has amassed a total of 86 victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
In terms of combined victories in NASCAR's top three series, Busch isn't yet in a class by himself, but it doesn't take long to call the roll in the august class he's in. Ahead of him are just six men – Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Richard Petty. Should Busch have the kind of season he had in 2010, when he set new records for combined series victories (24) and Nationwide Series race wins (13), he'll vault all the way to second behind only The King, Richard Petty. And that's the man Busch is aiming to surpass, one day, in total NASCAR victories.
For most people, publicly setting such a lofty goal might come across as braggadocio or outlandish. But like the old saying goes, “It ain't braggin' if you can back it up” – which Busch certainly can. Last year he won three Cup races, the aforementioned 13 in the Nationwide Series and eight in the Truck Series. His career totals are now 19 victories in Cup, an astounding 43 in Nationwide and 24 in the Truck Series.
What's especially impressive is that the three vehicles he races are all unique technically. Or as Busch likes to put it, “They are all similar, yet they all are very different.”
From a technical perspective, the three vehicles are more alike than disparate. All three have a rectangular steel tubeframe, with integrated roll cage. Out back, they have solid rear axles, trailing arms, coil springs and a panhard bar. Up front, the differences start to come into play. While all three classes of NASCAR vehicles have upper and lower A-frames, coil springs and shock absorbers, the Cup cars use a series of bump stops and shims to control the front-end movements.
The Cup and Nationwide cars share a common chassis, with a 110-inch wheelbase. The Cup car is 198.5 inches long and 53.5 inches high. The Nationwide cars are three-quarters of an inch longer and about a quarter of an inch taller. But the trucks are a whole other animal – 206 inches long and 59 inches high. They punch a much bigger hole in the air than the two cars do. That has a whole series of ramifications on racing.
At every track other than Daytona and Talladega, the Cup cars use 358-cubic-inch engines that produce close to 900 horsepower. The Nationwide cars and the trucks use what's called a tapered space, a machined aluminum device that fits between the carburetor and intake manifold and limits the flow of the air-fuel mixture into the engine. As a result, those engines make only about 650 horsepower. Vive la difference!
Observes Busch, “They all drive drastically different because of the horsepower levels and the aerodynamics of all the vehicles now being so different from each other. Out there on the racetrack, say at a mile-and-a-half track, there's a big difference in the way they each react in the draft or around other cars or trucks.”
NASCAR set out to make the three vehicles progressively more difficult to drive as you move up the competition ladder. This is on-the-job training for the drivers and NASCAR wisely does not want young, green drivers getting in way over their heads early in their careers – especially not at 200 miles per hour.
So the trucks have the most aerodynamic downforce, which plants the vehicles firmly on track and gives the driver a secure feel behind the wheel, while the Cup cars have the least, which is why they are the hardest to drive. These differences make the driving techniques unique, too.
“The approach speeds into corners are all different,” says Busch. “The trucks you can drive in the farthest, the Nationwide cars, you back it up a little bit, and then the Cup cars, you back it up even more. It's all relative to the aerodynamics of the vehicles, to the stopping power of the vehicles. The truck is real boxy, so it doesn't get up to maximum speed as fast, but it's easier to slow it down because it has so much drag, so you can drive it into the corner farther. It has more downforce than any of the other vehicles, too.”