For as long as anyone can remember, the State of Kentucky and Horse Racing have been synonymous – from the state’s many horse farms to the world’s most famous horse-racing track, Churchill Downs in Louisville. Several of the 13 thoroughbreds that have won the Triple Crown came through the state’s various training grounds.
Just 65 miles up Interstate 71 from Churchill Downs sits Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, where horsepower of a different kind has been showcased over the years.
One of the very best competitors in the relatively short history of Kentucky Speedway happens to be Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota whose record there has proven to be not unlike the state’s most top-notch thoroughbreds. Busch is always optimistic about his chances to win at one of his best tracks statistically, and he’ll look to score a record third Kentucky win during Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at the 1.5-mile oval.
The 2015 Cup Series champion has notched multiple victories at Kentucky in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions – Cup, Xfinity, and Truck. Add his 2003 ARCA series win at Kentucky and Busch has been victorious in four racing divisions and has made quite a Kentucky home of his own in the Bluegrass State’s second-most-famous victory lane.
While Busch attempts to add yet another win to his Kentucky resume Saturday night, his primary backer M&M’S will be debuting a sweet treat for NASCAR fans – the M&M’S Glampground. The all-inclusive, branded glamping experience includes a turn-key race weekend combined with the colorful fun that only M&M’S can provide. Located in the Kentucky Speedway infield, the experience includes 30 “glamorous camping” tents for fans, along with race tickets, prerace access, and a number of activities and driver appearances, including a visit by Busch. The M&M’S Glampground came about as M&M’S was looking to give new and seasoned racing fans an exclusive experience at NASCAR races. A second M&M’S Glampground will be available for the race weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway next month.
Busch and the No. 18 M&M’S team look forward to their return this weekend to the Kentucky oval, where he won two of the track’s first five races, including its inaugural Cup Series race in 2011 and, most recently, in July 2015. The heavily worn racing surface and quirky Kentucky layout Busch navigated to win both Cup Series races is gone, replaced three seasons ago by a newly repaved surface, along with a slight reconfiguration of turns one and two. Busch managed a fifth-place finish on the new surface in 2016, and he scored his sixth top-10 in seven Kentucky Cup Series races in 2017, along with a fourth-place finish in 2018.
In the inaugural Cup Series event at Kentucky in 2011, Busch proved his worth when he led six times for a race-high 125 laps in becoming the historic first winner in NASCAR’s top series in the state. He enters Saturday night’s race with an average Kentucky finish of 5.0 – the series’ top average finish over the first eight races there. He also leads the series in several statistical categories during that time, including his six top-five finishes and seven top-10s.
Busch’s winning history at Kentucky started way back at the ripe age of 18, when he dominated the 2003 ARCA race while competing for Hendrick Motorsports. He led a race-high 91 laps en route to the victory.
He returned the following year and found victory lane again, this time in his Xfinity Series debut. In all, Busch has three wins, eight top-fives and has led 766 laps in seven Xfinity Series starts at Kentucky. He also won the 2011 and 2014 Truck Series races to give him five top-10 finishes and 310 laps led in six starts there in that division.
While Busch has notched four Cup Series wins thus far this season, as has JGR teammate and fellow championship contender Martin Truex Jr., race fans know Busch won’t be satisfied Saturday night unless he brings back home yet another trophy.
So as the Cup Series makes a swing through the Bluegrass State Saturday night, Busch’s fans are hoping he can bring home not only his third career Kentucky victory, but his fifth win this season.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What is it about Kentucky Speedway that suits you so well?
“I don’t know. People ask me that question about a bunch of different racetracks. It’s pretty nice to be able to go to these racetracks and be able to have the opportunity to do well and run well and finish up front and win. You look at Bristol, you look at Richmond, you look at Kentucky, you look at Indy – now, more recently, than years past – and Kansas for that matter, you’ll see we’ve been doing a hell of a lot better and it’s been really good to go to these places and have the consistency that we need to run up front like that. Kentucky, though, when we first started going there, I remember going there in the ARCA days and the Xfinity days, back when the asphalt was old, rough and bumpy. Then they ground it a couple times and it kind of changed a little bit. I kept up with the changes, and then now it’s all repaved and we’re still trying to work in the surface a bit. Looking forward to the racing and visiting fans in the M&M’S Glampground. It’s a really cool deal that M&M’S is doing at Kentucky and at Bristol, so I’m hoping fans get to enjoy their weekend and we get a chance to celebrate with them in victory lane.”
What are your favorite moments at Kentucky Speedway?
“I have a few favorite moments, actually. The first time racing in the ARCA Series, I won that race a long time ago. And then just a few years ago when I was able to win the race at Kentucky in 2015 during my championship season, just coming back from injury, and that was the first of three races we won in a row. We were able to pass Joey Logano that year late in the race and go on to win – that was a fun one, too. The track that year was really wide. We were running four lanes off the bottom and that never happened before. Going to take some more time to have that many grooves with the asphalt still being being relatively fresh there.”
How big of a challenge do you have with turn one and two versus a completely different turns three and four at Kentucky?
“I think the biggest thing we saw the last couple of years is that the groove goes from being so wide coming out of turn four and down the front straightaway, it kind of narrows up getting into turn one and the racetrack width narrows up, not to mention the groove is probably only one car wide. Then, on the other end getting into turn three, the track kind of widens out down there and you have plenty of room, but again it narrows down and there’s only one groove. Last year, it seemed, in turns one and two, the rubber laid down well but it was more of a challenge in turns three and four. We’ll see how it is this weekend.”
How does it feel to know you’ll always be the inaugural Cup Series winner at Kentucky for the rest of your career?
“I think it’s cool. You look at some of the new venues we’ve been to over the years and Jeff Gordon got to win a number of inaugural races, like the Brickyard, Fontana, and Kansas. He was always the guy who was known to figure out places the fastest, but we were able to be the ones to do that at Kentucky. There aren’t many opportunities these days to go to a new venue so, for us, being able to win the first race there was extra special, and we’ve really kept that going there by finishing in the top-10 seven of the eight races there. We’d certainly like to keep our record going there this weekend with our M&M’S Camry.”
Is Kentucky a special place for you?
“I love Kentucky. It was special there in 2011, when we were able to win the first Cup race there, and it stayed that way during our win there four years ago. I look forward to going back every year. It’s a pretty challenging racetrack. It used to be a place that lends itself to different kinds of setups because it was so rough. Fast lap times at Kentucky come from momentum. The place is so round that there’s not a ton of banking compared to some other 1.5-milers. It’s all about how round the corners are and just being able to maintain corner speed and stay on the gas. It’s a place we get excited about, for sure.”
Race 19 of 36 – Quaker State 400 – Kentucky
Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Toyota Camry
Teammates: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota Camry; Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Toyota Camry; Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota Camry.
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: Tyler Allen
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Engine Specialist: Mike Johnson
Hometown: Bozeman, Montana
Spotter: Tony Hirschman
Hometown: Northampton, Pennsylvania
Over-The-Wall Crew Members:
Gas Man: Matt Tyrrell
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Front Tire Changer: Cam Waugh
Hometown: Johnstown, Colorado
Jackman: T.J. Ford
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Tire Carrier: Joe Crossen
Hometown: Salisbury, North Carolina
Rear Tire Changer: Jeff Cordero
Hometown: Salem, Connecticut
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
Mechanic: Wesley Lape
Hometown: Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania
Race Engineer: William Hartman
Hometown: Laingsburg, Michigan
Ride and Handling Engineer: Chris Chase
Hometown: Nichols, New York
Rear End Mechanic: Chris Jones
Hometown: Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
Interior Mechanic: Todd Foster
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Notes of Interest:
The Quaker State 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 517th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his ninth NASCAR Cup Series start at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
Busch has career totals of 55 wins, 31 poles, 193 top-five finishes, 284 top-10s and 16,619 laps led in 516 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came last month at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came in October at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Busch has two wins, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led a total of 549 laps in eight Cup Series starts at Kentucky. Busch’s average Kentucky finish is 5.0.
Kentucky Thoroughbred: In addition to winning the inaugural Cup Series race at Kentucky in 2011 and again in 2015, Busch has three wins (2004, 2016, and 2017) nine top-fives, and has led a total of 877 laps in 11 career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Kentucky. In the Gander Outdoors Truck Series at Kentucky, Busch has two wins (2011 and 2014), three top-five and six top-10s in seven starts there.
Loopy for Kentucky: With two wins in the first eight Cup Series races run at Kentucky, Busch has strong statistics overall and is best in the series in eight categories since the series began visiting the 1.5-mile oval in 2011:
Laps Led: 549, or 29.7 percent, in eight starts (1st).
Average Running Position: 4.651 (1st). Average Finish: 5.0 (1st). Driver Rating: 124.4 (1st). Fastest on Restarts: 168.282 mph (1st). Fastest Laps Run: 290 (1st). Average Green-Flag Speed: 174.197 mph (1st). Laps in the Top-15: 2,061, or 96.5 percent (1st).
55 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Pocono, the 55th points-paying win of his career, Busch sits tied for ninth all-time in Cup Series wins with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. With his 40th Cup Series victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in August 2017, Busch became the fourth-youngest driver to reach 40 Cup Series wins at 32 years, 109 days, behind only Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Herb Thomas.
All-Time JGR Wins Leader: With his Brickyard 400 win in July 2016, Busch passed Tony Stewart for most all-time Cup Series wins for JGR. Busch now has 51 wins for JGR to Stewart’s 33 following his most recent win at Bristol, along with besting Stewart’s Cup Series career win total.
206: Busch enters the weekend at Kentucky with 206 wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (55), Xfinity (95) and Truck (56) – following his most recent Cup Series win at Pocono.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!