The TD Bank Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) consists of 250 green flag laps of short track racing. When you add in caution periods, the true lap count is usually over 300. This comes after a few hours of afternoon heat races to set the field, a few days of practice and a whole year of anticipation between each running of the short track classic.
Yet this year’s race came down to one single moment. It was an instant where one of NASCAR’s biggest stars felt the heat from one of the country’s most talented, yet little known, short trackers. It was when Kyle Busch and former Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT) track champion Nick Sweet faced off on a late race restart.
“I knew that was going to be the race…that restart…I knew that I had to get a good one,” said Busch.
This time around, Goliath got the better of David. There was no surprise ending as Busch dropped the hammer quicker than Sweet at the green flag and went on to win the race. But the moment where it was decided was short track competition at its purest. Two drivers faced off and the one who performed best won the race – plain and simple. Busch went to victory lane and Sweet settled for second place.
“I just got outdriven at the end of the race,” said Sweet. “That restart….I don’t think I’ll ever make that mistake again. He definitely taught me something. The racetracks where I race are so much different, you have to take off very early. It’s just one of those deals, but it’s driving me nuts right now, but if I’m going to lose to somebody it might as well be Kyle Busch.”
So one racing star got brighter while another one was born. While Sweet was well known already around his native Vermont, not even Busch (who we have heard is even a regular reader of Speed51.com) knew much about him. That isn’t the case anymore though.
“Nick..is that who it was, Nick?...we were getting through [turn] three and he was getting a little bit antsy,” said Busch. “I was ‘Nope...not yet’ and then ‘Nope…not yet.’ Then I went and I don’t think he was expecting it. But that’s what you have to do in this short track world. They always want to play a little bit on the restarts.”
You really can’t blame Busch for not knowing all about the other 80 plus drivers who attempted to qualify for this year’s 250.
“These guys just stay in their pit areas…they don’t venture out much,” Busch quipped in a post race interview.
Busch was able to learn a little about the track from its winningest driver ever, Mike Rowe, upon his first visit there in 2005.
“When I came here the first year, we spent about 50 laps in his old red pick-up truck driving around,” recalled Busch. “He ran my ear off for about two hours. Then I went out there and he said, ‘You aren’t doing it right!’ So I drove him around and told him what I was doing and he said, ‘That’s not bad…all right…all right.’ Ever since then we kind of hit it off.”
And ever since then, Busch kept getting better and better at the tricky little track in Maine. In 2005, he had tires troubles in the 250. In 2006, an engine failed in his Super Late Model. Both years, he attracted at least a little bit of criticism for his bottom-feeding style of driver that sometimes resulted in knocking other competitors up the track a little bit.
On this trip, Busch stayed clean and quick. He raced hard throughout the weekend – with Patrick Laperle and Cassius Clark in Saturday’s PASS North feature (which Busch also won) and with a list of drivers that included Sweet, Jeff Taylor, Randy Potter and Austin Theriault in Sunday’s show. Other than a little bit of incidental contact with Taylor in the 250, the bumpers and sides of Busch’s racecars stayed clean throughout each race.
Busch also stayed busy throughout the entire 250.
“There wasn’t a moment to relax today,” said Busch. “It certainly was a lot different than last night. We had to save our tires last night and today I thought that I was saving them, but these guys were all over me. They were all over me from the back and checking out from the front. They just ran it hard all race long.”
It would be easy to think that Busch came to Oxford this year, after sitting out the 250s from 2007 through 2010, with something to prove. That wasn’t exactly the case though.
“You never really feel that any racetrack owes you or anything like that,” said Busch. “Certainly, I have had my fair share of problems here though in the past – with the lug nut issue and cutting a tire down or blowing an engine. I’ve had fast racecars here in the past and it is fun to race here. It’s a neat racetrack. It’s certainly has its little quirks and bumps and other little things. You have backwards offset down the front straightaway and then you fall back into the turn. You try to get into a rhythm. That seems to be the biggest thing that helped me.”
When Busch raced in the 250 during the 2005 and 2006 season, the racecar that was featured in the event was a Super Late Model. That’s a type of racecar that Busch has gotten to know very well – having won a string of short track majors like the Snowball Derby and the Winchester 400 in. The 2011 Oxford 250 was Busch’s first race in an ACT-spec Late Model – which runs with a much less powerful crate engine and on eight-inch tires. That unfamiliar style of car, which Busch commissioned New England car builder Dale Shaw to build for him, presented a challenge for Busch and his Kyle Busch Motorsports team.
“It’s not that they don’t have [enough] motor or that they are slow or sluggish, but you are locked in a box,” said Busch. “You can only do so much. You really have to think outside the box to come up with something unique to win here. We didn’t know if we would have a shot. We thought we would be an eighth, sixth or fifth place car...But we ran every practice session today….we needed track time.”
Immediately after the race, Busch wasn’t quite sure what he would do with the winning racecar since it can’t be raced anywhere near his North Carolina shop.
“Well, I think the price just went up on it,” said Busch. “If anyone wants it, they can have it…otherwise, it’s going home.”
The car didn’t end up going home. It was reportedly sold for a price that Busch was very happy with to a Canadian team after the 250 victory celebrations died down.
And despite selling the car, Busch won’t rule out a return appearance for the 2012 Oxford 250.
“If I’m invited (I will) definitely (consider it). We might have the opportunity and we’ll see what the wife says.”
Meanwhile, Busch will go back to his “day job” of racing in the top three divisions of NASCAR. His short track schedule looks to be pretty lean from this point forward in 2011.
“We’re not sure (what our next races are),” said Busch. “For me, I think we’re done. We’re running Lake Erie is someone else’s stuff. Bond might know, but I think we are still planning out our schedule. I think the Winchester race is open. I want to run the Derby, but I don’t want to run the Derby. The wife doesn’t want me to run the Derby. I hope I’m busy that weekend celebrating a Cup championship.”
Speed51.com will have more from the Oxford 250 later this week with our 250 Leftovers.