As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500, Kyle Busch will have the number nine on his mind.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), recorded his eighth career Bristol victory in the NASCAR Cup Series last April, extending his margin of most wins there among active drivers. Only his older brother Kurt is close in the number of wins with six victories at the track often called the “Last Great Colosseum”.
Nine Cup Series victories at Bristol would send the younger Busch brother into a tie with some all-time greats of the sport. Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Rusty Wallace all ended their careers at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile with nine victories. If Busch was to achieve nine Bristol wins, the next milestone would be Darrell Waltrip’s all-time record of 12 wins at the Tennessee short track.
Busch, the two-time and defending Cup Series champion, holds the distinction of being the only driver in NASCAR history to win all three national series races in a single weekend, which he’s done twice at the .533-mile Bristol bullring. He captured the “Bristol Triple” in 2010 and 2017 when he swept NASCAR’s Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and Cup Series races. In addition to his eight career Cup Series wins, Busch has notched 12 top-fives and 17 top-10s in 29 career starts at Northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.”
While he is a factor any time he travels to Bristol, it’s interesting to note Busch didn’t immediately take to the place. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But his record since then has been impressive, to say the least. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Cup Series win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, from 2008 to 2011, nobody has been better at the high-banked, concrete oval than Busch. He scored four wins and six top-10s from 2008 until another change to the track surface prior to the August 2012 race weekend. Busch has seemed to recapture the magic from his four years of dominance there as the new racing grooves there have better suited Busch’s driving style over the past several seasons.
So, as Busch and the Skittles team head to Bristol this weekend, they’ll be aiming for nine, as a ninth victory there would put him into the same category as NASCAR Hall of Famers Earnhardt, Yarborough, and Wallace. Impressive company, indeed.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
With no on-track activity before the race at Bristol Sunday, will that give you any sort of advantage, considering your number of wins there?
“I’m not sure it gives me any sort of advantage there, necessarily. Obviously, with the success we’ve had there over the years, I feel really good about going there. But we make a lot of adjustments typically when we get there. We go through practice, we are really fine-tuning a lot of different things and being nitpicky about a bunch of it to make sure we get it to where we want it for the race. Bristol is an important place because, if you are going to run the bottom for a while with that traction compound that’s put down there, as that wears, the groove is definitely going to move up around the top toward the end of the race and you have to be ready for a lot of versatility. So you definitely have to understand some of those adjustments during practice is a big deal and we won’t have that, so we just have to get after it right at the start of the race. I know our guys are up to the task and hope we can have a good Skittles Camry and have it with enough adjustability in it so we can make the right changes and have a shot at the win there.”
You make Bristol look easy at times when it seemed difficult for others. What’s the key to that?
“Bristol is kind of a finicky place. You’re used to running on asphalt every week and so the concrete can throw you for a little bit of a loop. But that place ages and the track changes, there’s some little nuances that change with the racing surface and the line, they’re always changing something. We had the old concrete there and then they went to this progressive style concrete and then they ground the top and then they spread the PJ1 on the bottom, and now you run the bottom but you end up going back to the top at the end the race. It’s just paying attention to days leading up to it, with the Xfinity race or Trucks in the fall and getting your eyes on the track and seeing what it’s doing. We won’t have that luxury now, but we’ll obviously be paying attention to how the race starts and which way track is trending with our Skittles Camry.”
How has the hectic schedule, from going to Darlington twice, Charlotte twice and then to Bristol, been for the team and the drivers from your perspective?
“I think for the teams it’s been a really big deal. For many of the drivers, it’s not been a big deal because they are only running just Xfinity or just Cup races. I’m running all of them, so it’s kind of crazy for me. Going back and forth and being at the track each day. It’s been fun and it’s been unique. It’s been a good opportunity for me to get back in a race vehicle and running laps and getting back to my usual race form as quickly as possible.”
Without practice, do you think it’s going to be more difficult at Bristol than it has been at Darlington and Charlotte?
“I think it is. The way that PJ1 is sprayed down and how and where it’s sprayed down and what the cars do. I’m not sure if there’s a different tire there or not, but any time you have a different tire, it’s a whole new wrench that’s thrown into the plan, as well. During practice, we get to lay some rubber down. So we get to groom the racetrack in before the race and we are not doing that. We are going to have to start cold turkey, so that is going to be quite the interesting moment for all of us.”
What makes Bristol Motor Speedway so unique?
“Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit. All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 40 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time and sometimes a frustrating time when things don’t always go your way.”
What is your first memory of Bristol and what is your best story of success?
“I remember my first time. It was in an Xfinity Series car at a test session for Hendrick Motorsports. I remember I needed about 27 laps before I thought I was going to knock the wall down, with all the optimism and pumped-up feelings I had about going there. But after that, it’s been pretty fun. We’ve had some challenging times there, but also I’ve had some good times there. Looking to continue that on Sunday with our Skittles Camry. What’s the highlight? You can’t dismiss the sweeps there. I would say that the first one was really, really awesome and really, really special, and the second one was special, as well.”
Race 9 of 36 – Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 – Bristol
Car No.: 18 – Skittles 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
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 Food City 500 will mark Kyle Busch’s 543rd career NASCAR Cup Series start and his 30th NASCAR Cup Series start at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 204 top-five finishes, 300 top-10s and 17,446 laps led in 542 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 eight wins, 12 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s and has led a total of 2,334 laps in 29 Cup Series starts at Bristol. Busch’s average Bristol finish is 13.4.
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 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.
210 and Counting: Busch enters Sunday’s race at Bristol with 210 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (56), Xfinity (97) and Truck (57) – following his Xfinity Series victory this past Monday at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!