PORTLAND — When Kyle Busch arrived at Oxford Plains Speedway last Thursday for a test session, he and his crew spent eight hours at the track preparing his ride for the TD Bank 250.
Busch, OPS President Bill Ryan said, sent a message that afternoon.
“By the time he left, he had his car going fast,” Ryan said. “He wasn’t here for a casual time. There was no fooling around with this guy. He wants to win this thing.”
The 38th annual TD Bank 250 is Sunday, with qualifying heats beginning around 2 p.m. Busch, who is fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings, is making his third visit to Oxford and the 250. He previously competed in the 2005 and 2006 races.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, a few drivers had a message of their own.
“Don’t underestimate the local talent,” said Don Wentworth, 48, of Otisfield, an OPS regular who finished eighth last season. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re looking forward to racing him. We’re arrogant, but if we weren’t we might as well be playing bridge. We’ll just refer to him as the No 18 car, or whatever it is he’ll be driving.
“We have guys here who can win this thing, too. You can see a local capture this crown. This is as far as we’ll go for most of us out here. This would be the biggest win of our careers. This is the big one.”
The green flag for “the big one” is scheduled to drop around 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Drivers between now and then will spend countless hours fine tuning their cars for a chance at earning a big pay day and taking the checkered flag at Maine’s most prestigious auto race.
“There’s a lot of pressure to make the race,” said Ricky Rolfe, 47, of Albany Township, who’s finished inside the top 10 three times in the last seven 250 races. “People put so much money and effort into this one race. This is the most pressure we’ll feel. “
Added Corey Morgan, of Lewiston, who finished third last season: “I’ll get his autograph on Saturday. And on Sunday I hope to give him mine.”
Jeff White of Winthrop is the Late Model points leader at Oxford. He and Busch are the only drivers who will earn provisionals into the race should they fail to qualify.
White said Wednesday he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“We’ll go out there and do what we do,” he said. “We’ll need to have a lot of patience for the first 200 laps and then do a lot of praying after that. It’s going to be fun racing Kyle. I think he’s serious anywhere he goes. He’d want to win a wheel barrow race against you.”
Busch, who recently earned his 100th career NASCAR national win, certainly was a hot topic among the nine drivers who participated Wednesday. They said his presence should boost interest in the sport here, although no one expects him to just put on a show.
Busch will also race in the Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Model race Saturday night at Oxford.
“He’s coming to win,” said Joey Polewarczyk, who finished third in the 250 in 2008. “He’s not here to just race around. Anyone who shows up the week before to test is serious. Some of these guys will show up on the Sunday, but not Kyle. He wants this on his resume. We’re going to have to be focused to win this thing.”
Added Wentworth: “A podium finish at the 250 would be something. It would make our careers. We’re going to have to race smart. We know who’s coming.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640