Can Kyle Busch Check Off Pocono This Weekend?

Kyle Busch

The list of racetracks where Kyle Busch has yet to win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is not long.

In fact, there are only two left on that list – Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, the site of Sunday’s Pocono 400 Cup Series race.

So as the Cup Series competitors head to the Pocono Mountains for the first of two races there in an eight-week span that also signals the beginning of the summer stretch of races, Busch and the No. 18 M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Toyota Camry team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) are looking to get one win closer to adding his name to the record books yet again. Busch added two Cup Series tracks to his career victory list with 2016 wins at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.

Other drivers have come close to accomplishing the feat Busch has in his sights and fell short. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon retired after the 2015 season and was one short of the feat as he was unable to find victory lane at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta in five career starts there. Three-time champion Tony Stewart, who retired at the end of 2016, had Kentucky and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway remaining on his list of tracks where he had yet to win.

While Pocono proved to be difficult for Busch to master for the first six years of his Cup Series career, he seemed to have turned a corner there starting in June 2011, when he started from the pole – his first at Pocono – and was beaten across the finish line only by teammate and Pocono master Denny Hamlin, who has four wins to his credit at “The Tricky Triangle.” In August 2011, Busch led 27 laps late in the race before equaling his career-best Pocono finish of second behind race-winner Brad Keselowski. While he brought home top-10 finishes in both 2013 races at Pocono, Busch and the M&M’S Red, White, and Blue team are striving for even bigger things at the 2.5-mile track after running well the last two years but not getting the finishes they deserved, especially the July 2015 fuel-mileage heartbreak as his most recent strong run there.

While Busch brought home his first career win in the non-points All-Star Race three weeks ago at Charlotte, Busch has come agonizingly close to his first points-paying win of the season. With strong runs at Phoenix International Raceway, Martinsville and in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Busch has at least three races he’s run well enough to win but has come up just short in his attempt. In fact, Busch has led 603 total laps this season, the third-most laps led in the Cup Series behind Martin Truex Jr.’s 871 and Kyle Larson’s 607. With those strong runs in the back of his mind, there’s no doubt that Busch, 2015 Cup Series champion, could bring home a win very soon.

As the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains for Sunday’s 400-miler, Busch and the entire M&M’S team hope to start the summer stretch of races on the right foot. They’ll look to cross another track off the list for Busch as he works to accomplish something nobody else has in NASCAR Cup history – win a points race at every single active track.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 
You’ve come close to winning at Pocono the last several years. Have you improved there over the years?

 

“I think I’ve been a bit inconsistent or streaky there over the years. Started off early in my career with some top-five finishes and then went through a stretch where we weren’t very good. Lately, we’ve certainly been better there and I’ve had some second-place finishes and third-place finishes, so I feel like I’ve figured it out better there lately. With the way our cars at JGR have been overall, I’m very optimistic that we could score a victory there this weekend or, if not, when we come back later in the summer with our M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Camry.”

 

Pocono is the most unique track on the circuit with three distinct corners. What’s the most difficult part of the track for you?

 

“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest – turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down. We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway.”

 

With you running out of fuel in July 2015, does that enter your mind as you head back to Pocono?

 

“I think when you run well there and have a shot to win and you run out of fuel, when you head back there, you still have the same mindset that you have a shot to win there just like we had a shot to win there last summer. I would definitely like to win a race there and, last year having such a good car, I certainly have figured out how to drive the track, so eventually I think we’ll get that win there when you keep bringing back good cars like the M&M’S guys have been.”

 

Did the repaving of the track at Pocono change the racing at all there?

 

“I thought the racing there was kind of the same, not much different. It was a little bit harder to pass because, it seems like, when you’re out front in clean air, you have so much more of an advantage than being back in traffic than what it used to be – slightly, not much. To me, it was always a hard, tricky place, but it’s actually finally started becoming a two-lane racetrack in turn three. You could run the bottom and you could run the top with what we call ‘the grip strip.’ Now, it’s all grip, so it’s all back to the bottom again and you can’t really make much time up on the outside anymore. I know they had a pretty tough winter up there, so hopefully it weathered the surface even more and it widened the groove and we can put on some good racing there.”

 

Since the track is unique, where is the best place to make a pass at Pocono?

 

“Most of your passing is going to be done probably through turn one and off of turn one and getting into turn two, and if somebody can get a good run off of turn two, get back up high and get in line to get on that patch, getting into turn three. Besides that, in turn one, we just can’t get the cars to turn down there because there’s so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a ‘buck-40’ (140 mph). Turn two is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you’ve got to maneuver through the tunnel turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”

M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Racing

Race 14 of 36 – Pocono 400 – Pocono

Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Toyota Camry

 

Teammates:  Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota Camry; Daniel Suarez – No. 19 Toyota Camry; Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota Camry.

 

At-Track PR Contact: Bill Janitz, True Speed Communication (704-875-3388 ext. 803 or Bill.Janitz@TrueSpeedCommunication.com).

Primary Team Members:

Driver: Kyle Busch

Hometown: Las Vegas

 

Crew Chief: Adam Stevens

Hometown: Portsmouth, Ohio

 

Car Chief: Nate Bellows

Hometown: Fairfax, Vermont

 

Race Engineer: Ben Beshore

Hometown: Hometown York, Pennsylvania

 

Engine Specialist: Mike Johnson

Hometown: Bozeman, Montana

 

Spotter: Tony Hirschman

Hometown: Northampton, Pennsylvania

Over-The-Wall Crew Members:

Gas Man: Tom Lampe

Hometown: Beatrice, Nebraska

 

Front Tire Changer: Josh Leslie

Hometown: Mount Clemens, Michigan

 

Jackman: TJ Ford

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

 

Front Tire Carrier: Brad Donaghy

Hometown: Orange County, Virginia

 

Rear Tire Carrier: Kenny Barber

Hometown: Hoosick Falls, New York

 

Rear Tire Changer: Jake Seminara

Hometown: Steubenville, Ohio

 

Pit Support: Marcus Bonicelli

Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colorado

 

Pit Support: Jeff Koons

Hometown: Greenfield, Indiana

Road Crew Members:

Truck Drivers: Brendan Greene and Jamie Price

Hometowns: Midland, North Carolina, and Choteau, Montana, respectively

 

Tire Specialist: Jon Desrocher

Hometown: Plattsburgh, New York

 

Interior Mechanic: Wesley Lape

Hometown: Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania

 

Race Engineer: Tyler Allen

Hometown: Seattle, Washington

 

Ride and Handling Engineer: Chris Chase

Hometown: Nichols, New York

 

Rear End Mechanic: Chris Jones

Hometown: Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

 

Mechanic: Todd Foster

Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

 

Front End Mechanic: Brandon Griffeth

Hometown: Pittsfield, Illinois

Notes of Interest:
  • ​The Pocono 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 440th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 25th NASCAR Cup Series start at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
  • Busch has career totals of 38 wins, 19 poles, 150 top-five finishes, 223 top-10s and 12,959 laps led in 439 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in July 2016 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when he brought home his second consecutive win at the historic 2.5-mile oval. Busch’s most recent pole, the 20th of his career, came last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
  • Busch has four top-five finishes and nine top-10s and has led a total of 86 laps in 24 career Cup Series starts at Pocono. Busch’s average Pocono finish is 18.5.
  • All-Star Winner: While it wasn’t a points-paying race, Busch brought home a Cup Series victory last month in the All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The win was Busch’s first victory in his 12th start in the All-Star Race, the largest number of starts before an All-Star Race win. The previous high was held by Tony Stewart with 11 All-Star starts before his win in 2009.
  • 38 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Indianapolis last July, the 38th points-paying win of his career, Busch is tied for 19th on the all-time Cup Series win list with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammate Matt Kenseth.
  • Trimming the List: With wins at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City added to the list last season, Busch has won Cup Series points races at 21 of the 23 tracks at which the series competes. The only two tracks he has yet to conquer in the Cup Series are Charlotte and Pocono, site of Sunday’s Pocono 400. Busch, of course, was the winner of last month’s All-Star non-points race at Charlotte. During his 2015 Cup Series championship season, Busch checked off Indianapolis and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Four of Busch’s last six Cup Series wins have been his first at each track in NASCAR’s top series (Indianapolis, Homestead, Martinsville and Kansas). Of the 21 different tracks where Busch has won, he has multiple wins at 11 of them.
  • All-Time JGR Wins Leader: With his Brickyard 400 last July, Busch passed three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart for most all-time Cup Series wins for JGR. Busch now has 34 wins for JGR to Stewart’s 33.
  • 173 and Counting: Busch enters Charlotte with 173 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (38), Xfinity (87) and Truck (48) following his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win two weekends ago at Charlotte.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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