Back in the early to mid 2000s, the term “road-course ringer” used to be a common one when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series headed to any one of the two true road-course races on the schedule – the June race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and the August event at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Road-course specialists like Boris Said, Ron Fellows, and Scott Pruett regularly entered the Cup Series races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, taking on NASCAR full-time drivers who also showed plenty of skill going left and right. While the road-course ringers ran up front with regularity, the full-time drivers still brought home the majority of the victories, with Jeff Gordon’s nine road-course wins leading the way, just ahead of Tony Stewart’s eight wins. And drivers including Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin, and Rusty Wallace regularly showed a penchant for navigating the road circuits to perfection.
Going back even further, the original road course ringer was open-wheel ace Dan Gurney, who won four consecutive NASCAR races at now-defunct Riverside (Calif.) Raceway, including the 1964 event in which he lapped the field. Today, three active drivers have multiple road-course wins – Kyle Busch with four, Martin Truex Jr., with three, all at Sonoma, and Kevin Harvick with two.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to Watkins Glen in Upstate New York for the second and final true road-course race of the NASCAR Cup Series season aiming for his fifth win of the season. If the 2015 Cup Series champion was to grab another victory in Sunday’s GoBowling at The Glen, he could also join some elite company as a road-racing ace in NASCAR’s top series.
The M&M’S Hazelnut Spread driver’s four road-course wins ties him with retired drivers David Pearson and Mark Martin. That’s some pretty good company, already. But with a fifth road-course win, Busch could tie Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Gurney on the road-course win list at five. There is a bit of distance to the top two spots on the all-time road-course wins list, of course, when it comes to catching the aforementioned Gordon and Stewart’s nine and eight road-course wins, respectively.
Busch scored his fourth career Cup Series road-course win in June 2015 at Sonoma, and he heads to Watkins Glen with an impressive 12 top-10 finishes in his 14 career starts at The Glen, which includes two victories. Add an average finish of 9.4, along with his 247 laps led, and Busch’s record is quite dazzling at the site of Sunday’s race.
After his inaugural Cup Series victory at The Glen in 2008, he nearly won for the second time on the 2.45-mile, 11-turn circuit in his 2011 and 2012 visits there before breaking through again in 2013 with another victory in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes region. A third Watkins Glen victory Sunday would continue to solidify Busch and the M&M’S Hazelnut Spread team as a favorite each time the series comes to town.
So as Busch prepares for some road racing this weekend, he would like to accomplish a few things – including another tally in the win column for the M&M’S Hazlenut Spread flavor while also adding to the record books as one of NASCAR’s best road-course racers and continuing his climb up the all-time overall win list.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You’ve had some success at Watkins Glen. What makes Watkins Glen challenging, and why is it so much different than racing at Sonoma?
“I like going to Watkins Glen. It’s a road course, but it’s kind of a high-speed road course. The difference in the two road courses, you think of Sonoma as like a Martinsville-type road course and you would think of Watkins Glen like a 2-mile oval, like a California- or Michigan-type road course. Watkins Glen has some speed and has some wide-open spaces a little bit, but there is still a lot of great racing that happens there since you are able to out-brake people getting into the corners, or having a better run through the bus stop, or maybe getting by someone in the Carousel. It’s a fun place to race. I really like Watkins Glen and I hope we can have another solid run there with our M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry.”
What are your expectations for Watkins Glen this weekend?
“Watkins Glen has obviously been a really good place for me over the years and a place I really enjoy. We’ve just got to keep coming to the track and executing like we have. There are a lot of factors in strategy that affect a road-course race and hope we can execute like we have been and get another win. Certainly, the bonus points from that and trying to win the regular-season championship could be a big deal in the playoffs.”
What is the most fun part of a lap at Watkins Glen?
“To me, going through turn one and up through the esses is pretty cool and a lot of fun. It’s challenging, yet a lot of fun. As you come down the front straightaway, it’s a downhill braking zone, so you feel like you don’t have to brake as soon as you need to, but you need to in order to get slowed down for turn one. You try to stay out and get a good, hard cut to the right for turn one and accelerate out of there as quickly as you can to get set up for the esses. (You) stay wide on the left and then turn into the right-hander in (turn) two – smooth. You’re getting out of the gas but not using too much brake, just rolling off in there. As the car gets in there and loads, it actually takes a really big set because that’s when you start going back uphill. So the car will load up and that’s when you get back in the gas really wide open. And then you have to turn back to the left and be able to roll back out of it just enough to make the car bend. And then you’re back wide open again to the right-side guardrail and just keeping it tight through the right-hander that we call turn five.”
What is the most challenging part of a lap at Watkins Glen?
“I’d say the most challenging thing is the culmination of the Inner Loop and the Carousel. All of that together is a lot harder to figure out how to make speed through there than just going through there traditionally. That’s an area of the racetrack a lot of guys really try to abuse. They’ll get off on the right side, get off on the left side and throw dirt up on the racetrack and then it just makes for a real mess.”
What does it take to be successful at Watkins Glen?
“At Watkins Glen, the biggest thing is pit strategy. Obviously, you’ve got to pick and choose when you’re going to pit and stick to your plan. Whether or not we can still do it on two stops I’m unsure of because Sonoma turned into a three-stop race for us all because the new fuel mileage is a little bit off from where we were last year. At Watkins Glen, though, you definitely have to be good at being able to carry speed, obviously, through the esses and down the long backstretch. That seems to be the key part of the racetrack.”
M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Racing
Race 22 of 36 – Go Bowling at The Glen – Watkins Glen
Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry
Teammates: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota Camry; Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Toyota Camry; Erik Jones – 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: 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 Go Bowling at The Glen will mark Kyle Busch’s 520th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 15th NASCAR Cup Series start at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Busch has career totals of 55 wins, 31 poles, 194 top-five finishes, 287 top-10s and 16,865 laps led in 519 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in June 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 12 top-10s and has led a total of 247 laps in 14 Cup Series starts at Watkins Glen. Busch’s average Watkins Glen finish is 9.4.
Regular-Season Race: Following the race at Pocono last weekend, Busch now sits six points behind leader Joey Logano in the regular-season standings. Busch has four wins to Logano’s two victories so far this season. With five races to go in the regular season, both are battling it out for the 15-point playoff bonus for the winning the regular-season title. Busch has 28 playoff points, a series-high, to Logano’s 17.
55 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Pocono this past June, 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 Watkins Glen 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 in June.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!