As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is coming off a rare off weekend, many drivers and team personnel took the time to take a much-needed vacation from the 36-race Cup Series schedule.
Even though the Cup Series competitors and the NASCAR industry are headed back to work this weekend after their well-deserved rest, they have something to look forward to as the next stop on the tour takes them to the scenic views of Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in Northern California’s Wine Country.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is on the record as someone who really enjoys making right and left turns on the road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. To him, it feels like somewhat of a vacation as it’s a vast departure from the ovals that make up the majority of the schedule.
The 1.99-mile Sonoma circuit is one of numerous road courses where Busch has won as he has evolved into a constant threat to win at the road courses each year. Before 2008, Busch was never mentioned as a threat to win at Sonoma or Watkins Glen. But that changed shortly after his arrival at JGR at the start of 2008, and he promptly dominated the road-course scene that year, leading 130 of the 202 road-course laps run and capturing victories at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen. He quickly established himself as a routine road-course contender and has been in the hunt for race wins on road courses ever since. In addition to his two wins at Sonoma in 2008 and 2015, Busch led 29 laps en route bringing home his second win at Watkins Glen in August 2013.
While his road-course success is well documented, Busch’s most memorable road-course win was the 2015 Sonoma event. After sitting out the first 11 NASCAR Cup Series races that season because of injury, Busch and the M&M’S team had 15 races to meet two requirements in order to make the 2015 playoffs. He needed to have at least one victory, and also needed to make it into the top-30 in driver points.
Busch’s Sonoma race that year was a turning point in his season as he sneaked past now seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson on a late-race restart to bring home an unlikely win, considering he had to deal with all the shifting and footwork that is required on the tight, twisty road course while still recovering from his injuries. It started a remarkable streak of four wins in five weeks, including three in a row at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the season culminated with his first Cup Series championship.
Just 15 races into the 2018 season, Busch has already put together a championship effort with four wins – three of which came back-to-back-to-back at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Richmond (Va.) Raceway in the spring. His fourth victory of the season was the crown jewel Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The Charlotte win made Busch the first driver in NASCAR history to win at all 23 current Cup Series tracks. Along with wins, Busch and the M&M’S Caramel team have been incredibly consistent, posting three poles, 10 top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in the first 15 races.
So, as the Cup Series heads to its annual stop in Wine Country, Busch looks to continue his hot start to the season during this weekend’s “racing vacation” on the Sonoma road course, hoping it leads to more success throughout the summer.