Four years ago, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kyle Busch made a trek to Oxford, Maine in late July. He didn't go for a vacation; he raced the prestigious Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway and won. Busch will be headed back there in spirit on August 30 as his team, Kyle Busch Motorsports, attempts to take home another checkered flag from Oxford, this time with young phenom Christopher Bell behind the wheel.
Racing for Kyle Busch comes with pressure all its own, but Bell said there's even more in this type of situation when he is attempting to duplicate his car owner’s performance.
"It's definitely going to put more pressure on me," Bell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. "He's been there before and the car has been there before and they know the car is good there. I know Kyle has won Berlin a couple times and I went there and really struggled. So hopefully that won't happen again."
Bell did struggle, by his and KBM's standards, when he finished seventh in the Battle at Berlin 251 back in June at Michigan's Berlin Raceway. But typically the 20-year-old Oklahoma driver is fighting for wins nearly everywhere he goes.
Since beginning the transition from dirt Sprint and Midget car racing to asphalt last year, Bell has acquired wins with the Southern Super Series and CARS Tour in a Super Late Model. He scored a big victory at the Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway earlier this year.
He's also still winning plenty on dirt, and just recently added a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Mudsummer Classic win at Eldora Speedway to his list of accomplishments. Now he's looking to add a win at the Oxford 250 to that list as well.
But like most of his previous asphalt starts, Oxford is somewhere Bell has never raced. However, he's using his resources to try to learn the track ahead of time.
"I've run it on iRacing a little bit," Bell said. "It definitely helps you out. It's not going to make or break your weekend but it definitely helps you out when you first get there to kind of know what to expect. I know it's a pretty round place and you're probably not going to use a lot of throttle there. Hopefully we'll get a lot of practice time and be able to make laps there."
Bell will get plenty of practice time throughout the weekend to get up to speed, but he's well aware that he'll still be at a disadvantage to the Pro All Stars Series regulars, and the Oxford regulars who have run thousands of laps at the 3/8-mile oval.
"I feel like it's probably similar to going to Knoxville or Williams Grove in a Sprint car where the locals definitely have an advantage," said Bell. "They've been doing it for so long up there and they just know how to get around the place."
In addition to the practice time, Bell will get even more laps around the track because of the qualifying heat race format that the Oxford 250 employs. But that isn't exactly something that Bell is looking forward to.
"I'm not a fan of pill draw formats with straight up heat race finishes determining how you line up," he said. "But if that's what it is then obviously we'll work it out because everyone has to play by the same rules."
When you add together Bell's total lack of seat time at Oxford with the qualifying format, it almost makes it seem like it may be a weekend that Bell struggles with. He said he doesn't expect that to be the case, but also said that he doesn't expect his path to the $25,000-plus win to be an easy one.
"You want to win everything you go to," Bell said. "But obviously you also just want to be competitive. I want to be able to contend for the win and that's all you can ask for. If things go right then hopefully you can pull it off. But if we can just be in contention at the end of the race then I'll be happy."
The 42nd Annual Oxford 250 can be seen live on 51 TV this year on a pay-per-view basis. A three-day video ticket package can be had for just $51.99, while just Sunday can be seen for $29.99. More information can be found here: http://speed51.com/51livetv-events/
Ticket information and more information on the event can be found by visiting www.oxfordplains.com.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor - Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com photo