Memorial Day in the United States is a time to remember and honor the soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the United States military.
With that, Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N. C.) Motor Speedway takes on a special meaning for those in the NASCAR community. It will be the annual “600 Miles of Remembrance,” during which each car in the field will carry the name of a fallen soldier on the windshield.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Red, White & Blue Toyota, has the honor of displaying the name of Naval Helicopter Aircrewman 1st Class Jonathan Clement on his windshield during NASCAR’s longest event. Clement, a native of Vero Beach, Florida, lost his life in July 2018 in an accident in San Diego. A longtime Washington Redskins fan, Clement’s family is excited to be riding along for the team owned by three-time Super Bowl winning coach of the Redskins.
In addition to honoring the fallen soldier, the No. 18 M&M’S Red, White & Blue Toyota Camry features a patriotic paint scheme that celebrates M&M’S Red, White & Blue Mix that is available for fans to show their patriotic spirit.
The traditional Memorial Day-weekend 600-mile race comes at a busy time for NASCAR. The suspended 2020 schedule resumed last weekend at Darlington (S. C. ) Raceway after a 10-week hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Busch is coming off a runner-up finish Wednesday night at Darlington, where he rallied from his 26th-place starting spot after finishing in that same position in Sunday’s first race back from the hiatus for NASCAR’s top series. Sunday’s race is one of five among NASCAR’s top three series that Busch is scheduled to compete in over a seven-day span as the sport’s schedule is back in full swing.
As for the 1. 5-mile oval in Charlotte, Busch has managed to enjoy plenty of success there with 13 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s in his 30 previous Cup Series starts over the past 14-plus seasons. In addition to solid Cup Series finishes, Busch has captured eight NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at Charlotte – May 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010, October 2008 and 2009, and both May and October 2013. He also has eight NASCAR Truck Series wins at the track – 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019.
While he had gone to victory lane early and often in the Xfinity and Truck Series, Busch only recently broke through in the Cup Series at Charlotte. His 2017 win in the non-points All-Star Race was his first Cup Series win of any kind at Charlotte. The following year, in 2018, Busch was able to win there again, this time bringing home his first points-paying Cup Series win at the track and adding another crown jewel to his already impressive resume. Even more special, another fallen soldier’s name was able to help Busch on his ride to victory lane. SGT Eric Toth, who lost his life in Iraq in March 2005, adorned his windshield that day.
So, this Memorial Day weekend, Busch will look to bring home his second crown jewel win at Charlotte and, at the same time, honor Clement and all troops who have given the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those who continue to serve America and the Red, White & Blue.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Do you take pride in the way NASCAR handles honoring the military and the national anthem before races?
“Absolutely. We all are patriotic in our own ways. NASCAR seems to do it probably the best with the NASCAR Salutes program that we’ve had over the course of the last few years with having the ability to have the fallen soldiers on our racecars for Memorial Day weekend. Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to take my soldier’s family to victory lane – the Toth Family with SGT Toth. This year, I get the opportunity to carry around the name of Naval Helicopter Aircrewman Jonathan Clement, so I’m really looking forward to that. I understand that he was a big fan of the Washington Redskins, so i know his family is happy he’s along for the ride with us in a Joe Gibbs owned car. I’m honored to be able to have them as part of our night, and it makes it most special when you’re able to take them to victory lane. So, hopefully, we can do that with our M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Camry. With what we all do on Memorial Day weekend, I feel like we do it the best. ”
A lot of people talk about the beginning of the season, “Let’s skip past the West Coast swing and get back East to run a couple of races to see where your team stands.” Was there anything you saw out of the two Darlington races that is more optimistic than that take?
“The 11 (Denny Hamlin) had pretty good speed, but he’s always good at Darlington. Arguably, we were pretty equal on that second‑to‑last run, although he passed me and was able to drive away a good bit. He definitely had the long-run speed over what I did. He’s better at being able to take care of his tires, I think. The 20 (Erik Jones) led for a bit. I think he overused his stuff and fell back a little bit. You can kind of see those guys up front who ran hard, real fast on the front side of the runs, they’d burn their stuff up and start coming back to the other guys. Track position was so important. You could hold a guy up for a fair amount, not allow him to pass you very easily. That was, I guess, a little disappointing in that we were not able to make moves as good as we wanted with myself and the 18 car with the way my car was driving. Charlotte is a completely different deal, so we’ll see what that brings us. ”
Does the sport still need a 600-mile race like we have Sunday?
“Yes, I think so. Is it a tough race for the drivers? It is a tough race for the drivers. Is it as tough as it once was? Maybe not. Is it (tough) on the cars? No. The cars are way too sophisticated now. I bet you we could probably go 800, maybe even 1,000 miles, on a racecar before you’d start to see problems. It’s just a matter of length and attention span, I guess. Some other drivers would probably argue the fact with me that we don’t need a 600-mile race, but it’s tradition. I think it’s history. I think you keep some of those that have been the longer ones, that have meant more to our sport over the years like the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500. Those probably could stay the length that they are and many of the others could probably change. ”
Does Sunday’s 600-mile race feel different than other events?
“It depends on what kind of car you have. I’ve been in races in the 600-mile race where it’s felt really easy and short, and I’ve been in races where it’s been a long, drawn-out, knock ’em, sock ’em kind of day. Hopefully, Adam Stevens (crew chief) and the guys can bring a really good M&M’S Red, White & Blue Camry for me this weekend and it will be a smooth race for us. I like running the 600 miles. I think it brings a different aspect to our sport – its longevity. People will say, ‘It’s too long. It’s boring. Whatever.’ Well, you know, it’s a part of the product and the history that we’ve had on Memorial Day weekend for a long time that you run that extra hundred miles. And car preparation goes into that. Will your car make it? Will your engine last? Are the drivers able to be competitive throughout the whole race? You’ll have fatigue, sometimes, even at a 500-mile race. So, if you don’t show signs of weakness, you should be pretty good. ”
M&M’S Red White, and Blue Racing
Race 7 of 36 – Coca-Cola 600 – Charlotte
Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Red, White, and Blue 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
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
Notes of Interest:
The Coca-Cola 600 will mark Kyle Busch’s 541st career NASCAR Cup Series start and his 31st NASCAR Cup Series start at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 203 top-five finishes, 299 top-10s and 17,446 laps led in 540 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, resulting in his second Cup Series championship. Busch’s most recent pole, the 32nd of his career, came in November at Phoenix Raceway.
Busch has one win, 13 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s and has led a total of 1,449 laps in 30 Cup Series starts at Charlotte. Busch’s average Charlotte finish is 14.6.
Finally: Busch’s combined record in NASCAR Xfinity Series and Truck Series races is quite impressive at Charlotte, where the Las Vegas native has eight wins apiece on the 1.5-mile oval for a total of 16 victories. While he found victory lane early and often at Charlotte in those series, Busch was unable to find similar success in NASCAR’s top series. That all changed starting in 2017, when he brought home the win in the NASCAR All-Star Race, the first Cup Series win of his career at Charlotte, albeit a non-points event. But a little more than a year later, in 2018, Busch was able to bring home his first Cup Series points paying win at Charlotte as he led a whopping 377 laps of the 400-lap event en route to the crown jewel win.
56 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Homestead in November, the 56th points-paying win of his career, Busch passed NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace for sole possession of ninth place on the all-time win list in NASCAR’s top series. Next up for Busch on the list is eighth-place Dale Earnhardt, who had 76 wins during his Hall of Fame career. 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 52 wins for JGR to Stewart’s 33 following his most recent win at Homestead last year.
209 and Counting: Busch enters Sunday’s race at Charlotte with 209 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (56), Xfinity (96) and Truck (57) – following his Truck Series win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway back in February.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!