ROCHESTER — The engine roared, tires screeched and fans cheered rabidly. A cloud of smoke rose from the cement to saturate East Broad Street.
It was a day for NASCAR in Rochester.
Superstar driver Kyle Busch sped his supercharged Toyota Camry on the closed-off downtown street in front of Blue Cross Arena. He performed burnouts, donuts and other controlled stunts as fans lined the police-patrolled sidewalks and watched in amazement.
Busch was in town to promote the Cheez-It 355 Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International, which will run Aug. 11.
“There’s not very many opportunities to be able to take a race car on the streets, but to be on the streets of Rochester is pretty cool and we had some fun today,” Busch said.
Busch said he had never had a street closed off for him before. Approximately 250 fans were in attendance, and many cheered with approval as Busch blew out a rear tire after 11 minutes of driving the 800-horsepower car. He was allotted a maximum of 15 minutes on the breezy, 70-degree afternoon.
On Busch’s way back to the East Broad Street Bridge, where he began his drive, one man pumped his fist rapidly. Another shouted, “that was freakin’ awesome.”
“There are a lot of fans out here,” Busch said. “It’s a unique opportunity for them to get to see the car up close and personal and see the smoke of the tires and everything else. Of course, you don’t see that until the race is over for whoever wins the race, doing burnouts and everything, but the thrill of the noise and the thrill of sound and the smell and everything that you get, it seems like there are a lot of people who have been pretty excited today, pretty pumped up.”
The event took place in Rochester because it was the closest major city to Watkins Glen.
The 28-year-old Busch, a Las Vegas native, is seventh in the Sprint Cup standings with 533 points, 125 behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Busch has had an up-and-down season, and he’s hoping to gain some ground at the Glen, where he has had success in the past. Busch finished seventh in the Finger Lakes 355 last year in his Joe Gibbs-sponsored Toyota, and he has finished in the top 10 (winning the race in 2008) seven of the eight times he has competed at Watkins Glen.
He said he enjoys the track’s “esses” and believes the long back straightaway suits his style well.
“I love Watkins Glen,” Busch said. “It’s been a great track for me. I’ve had a lot of laps led there. I’ve probably been the best car there the past few years; I just haven’t been to victory lane yet since 2008. We’re looking to change that around this year and put our M&M’s Camry in victory lane.”
Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards was among those watching.
Busch smiled when asked about the exploded tire and said he knew it would happen.
“Maybe next time we’ll bring a pit crew with us and we can showcase a pit crew and I can do some more burnouts,” he said.
Busch, who won the 2009 Nationwide Series title, has been among the best NASCAR drivers for eight years, a hotshot since he was 19 years old. In February 2005 as a 19-year-old, he became the youngest-ever Cup Series pole winner (a record Joey Logano has since claimed), and Busch followed that in 2006 by becoming the youngest – he was then 21 – to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He had a legendary first Nationwide Series season and holds the record for most wins as a rookie (five) in a Nationwide Series.
But on Thursday, he was drag racing for the fans.
“It’s always important for the sport to try to, of course, raise awareness of what we’re doing and how much fun it is to go out there and race cars, but also to have some fun with them out here,” Busch said.