Kyle Busch Hopes To Emerge From Season Winless Slump This Weekend At Sonoma

Kyle Busch

Anyone who has watched the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017 has seen the colorful M&M’S Camry running up front plenty so far this season.

In fact, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has led laps totaling in the double digits in his last six starts in NASCAR’s top series. He’s led 329 total laps in those six races, starting in early May at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway through last weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The 2015 Cup Series champion has brought home three top-five finishes and five top-10s in those six races. Within the same timeframe, Busch won the non-points NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

Despite the All-Star victory, there’s one thing that’s sorely missing for the front-running driver of the M&M’S Caramel Camry, and that is a points-paying win. But if history is any indication, Sunday’sToyota/Save Mart 350k at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway could be the perfect venue to start a winning streak. The M&M’S Caramel scheme has proven to be quite the good luck charm as Busch won the All-Star race in the “unsquaring caramel” scheme’s debut. He’ll try to make it two in a row on the 10-turn road course in Northern California.

One only has to flash back two years to 2015 to see some reasons for encouragement. 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 used the Sonoma race that year to turn around his season by sneaking 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 that is required on the road course at Sonoma 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.

The 1.99-mile Sonoma circuit was just the latest of numerous road-course wins for Busch, who has turned into a constant threat to win at each of the two road courses on the Cup Series schedule. Before 2008, Busch was never mentioned as a threat to win at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. But that all changed shortly after his arrival at JGR at the start of 2008 as he 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.

Busch quickly established himself in 2008 as a routine road-course contender and has been in the hunt on road courses ever since. Prior to his 2015 win at Sonoma, Busch led 29 laps en route bringing home his second win at Watkins Glen in August 2013.

So, as the Cup Series heads to its annual stop in Northern California’s Wine Country, and just like he did in 2015, Busch hopes Sonoma is a starting point for another strong summer and a new win streak that could drive him into and through NASCAR’s playoffs this fall.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 
How special was your 2015 Sonoma win, and what do you remember about it?

 

“That weekend was certainly a good start to our championship run. To go out there and win the race after where we were after Michigan the previous week, it all gave us the confidence that we still had a shot to win the Chase. We thought getting the win would be the hardest part, but it was really not expected at Sonoma. My feet and legs were still recovering and there was a lot of shifting and it was hard on them. With 30 laps to go, it was hurting pretty bad but, when you realize you have a chance to win, it doesn’t hurt as bad. We’ve had times at Sonoma where we’ve been up front and haven’t been able to hold onto it, and other times when we had the right strategy and we were in the right place at the right time. We’ve had some bad luck recently, so we’re hoping we can get a good run with our M&M’S Caramel Camry at Sonoma and maybe finally get that win we’ve been looking for.”

 

Is road-course racing something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on?

 

“It’s definitely something you have to work on. With rule changes and tire changes, it’s something you work on every year. There’s always change that you have to work on to be competitive. When I was a kid back in Las Vegas in Legends cars, that’s where I was able to learn about shifting and turning left and turning right. I had the natural instincts for it and won a couple of championships in the winter series we had out there. We actually went to Sonoma back then and ran the national championship races two years in a row and finished third both times, so I had a little bit of experience on road courses as I came up through the ranks.”

 

Last year’s race was hot and it looks like there is more warm weather in the forecast this week. How do you handle the heat inside the cars?

 

“Sonoma is a place where you can’t necessarily run 100 percent every lap. You’ve got to hold yourself back a little because the tire just won’t withstand running on it as hard as you can every single lap with the fall-off. The better you can take care of those tires and the more you take care of yourself, then the more you take care of your car. I’m sure there will be some hot tempers there when it’s hot, too, like there typically is at a short track. And this, to me, is like a road-course, short-track race where there’s going to be some beating and banging and moving some people out of the way, for sure.”

 

Describe what it’s like to race at Sonoma and what challenges you face there?

“Sonoma is a neat place. It’s a cool area to go to up into Wine Country. I’ve always enjoyed road-course racing. Even when I was in Legends cars, I would enjoy going up there during the days that I raced there. Now that I’m on the Sprint Cup tour, it’s cool to go there every June. It’s a fun racetrack. The cars get grouped a lot closer together there than at Watkins Glen, so braking there is a lot tougher getting into turn four, turn seven, and especially turn 11. There are some opportunities in those corners to pass people. Forward bite seems to have become an issue as you get going there during the run. And you need to make sure you keep the rear tires underneath you because it’s really easy to burn them babies off when you try and pass somebody. You go to pass somebody and hit the gas and all your rear tires want to do is spin and you can’t get alongside that guy. So, from that respect, Sonoma can be frustrating at times, as well. We just want to get in a position to win with our M&M’S Caramel Camry, then see how the strategy plays out.”

 

How challenging is it to race against road-course specialists who you might not race against on a regular basis?

 

“It’s different, for sure. There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do. The neat thing about road racing is just being able to have – it’s like – a vacation weekend. You just go out there and have fun and do the best you can and you’ll either do really well or you’ll do really badly and you just go on to the next one. We do have some testing for it and you try to pick up on it but, with respect to who you’re racing, you can expect to race a little bit of a different crowd.”

M&M’S Caramel Racing

Race 16 of 36 – Toyota/Save Mart 350k – Sonoma

Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Caramel 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

 

Car Chief: Nate Bellows

Hometown: Fairfax, Vermont

 

Interim Crew Chief: 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: Anwar Parrish

Hometown: Shelby, North Carolina

 

Rear Tire Changer: Adam Hartman

Hometown: Oxford, North Carolina

 

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 Toyota/Save Mart 350k will mark Kyle Busch’s 442nd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 13th NASCAR Cup Series start at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
  • Busch has career totals of 38 wins, 21 poles, 150 top-five finishes, 225 top-10s and 13,099 laps led in 441 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 21st of his career, came two races ago at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
  • Busch has two wins, two top-five finishes and four top-10s and has led a total of 107 laps in 12 career Cup Series starts at Sonoma. Busch’s average Sonoma finish is18.1.
  • 13,000: After leading 100 laps at Pocono, Busch bested the 13,000 mark in laps led in NASCAR’s top series. With his 13,099 Cup Series laps led, Busch is just the 11th driver to best the 13,000 mark.
  • 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. 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 win 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 Sonoma 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 last month at Charlotte.

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

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