As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, it might have a sense of déjà vu. Flashing back to March 15, the series was scheduled to run its early season 500-miler on the 1.5-mile oval and teams and drivers were making their way to the track when the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on the season just four races into the 36-race schedule.
Now, a little less than three months later, the series has returned and has contested five races since. Sunday’s race at Atlanta will be the 10th of the season and sixth race back post-hiatus.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Fudge Brownie Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has had an up-and-down five races since the return to racing, bringing home top-five finishes at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on May 20, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway on May 24, and at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway this past Sunday. On the flip side, some bad luck led to disappointing finishes at Darlington on May 17 and Charlotte on May 28.
With NASCAR’s top series heading to its next round, Busch would like nothing more than to bring home his first win of the season Sunday at Atlanta. Busch returns to the racetrack this weekend where the winning for him began with JGR in 2008. That was his first year with JGR, and he headed to Atlanta for the fourth Cup Series race of the season aiming to bring home the maiden victory for the team’s two new partners – Mars Wrigley Confectionary U.S. and Toyota. After leading a race-high 173 laps, the Las Vegas native broke through for the first time in NASCAR’s top series for Toyota, which was in its second year of Cup Series competition and its first year with JGR. Busch added an Atlanta Cup Series win in 2013 to go with five top-five finishes and eight top-10s at the 1.5-mile oval during his career.
So, as the Cup Series heads back to Atlanta yet again this weekend, Busch and the M&M’S Fudge Brownie team look to take lessons from their 2008 and 2013 race wins on the lightning-fast oval and bring home his third Cup Series win at the track and 57th of his career on a weekend that most certainly will be different than the first time around there this season.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Fudge Brownie Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your expectations going to Atlanta?
“Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen and we’ll definitely have to be on our toes there this weekend with our M&M’S Fudge Brownie Camry. You have to have good grip there, you have to have good (tire) fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run, yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else. So you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early (in the run) or save a little and be there late. We went there several months ago and didn’t get to race there, so expecting the weekend to be much different this time around than when we traveled there in March.”
With the way the racing is on the 1.5-mile and 2-mile ovals, are you doing anything differently with the aero on those types of tracks?
“It’s the same for everybody. You’re trying to shut the guy off behind you. You’re trying to shut his air off. That’s why the blocking is so bad, even at some of these places. The guys out front, they’ll mirror drive wherever the heck you’re going to make sure they shut your air off so you have to get out of the gas and stay out of the gas and lose momentum, and they can get a gap on you so they don’t have to deal with you again. As soon as you sort of lose that lead draft, if you’re not fast enough to catch back up to that guy in front of you, then you just continually seem to lose ground.”
What are your memories of racing at Atlanta?
“I’ve won a few Truck Series races there. That was fun. I won for the first time in an Xfinity race there a few years ago, so that was very cool. I finished second three or four times, so it had been an Achilles heel for me, I guess. The Cup races there, I’ve either been really good or really bad, it seems. There have been times where I’ve been really good throughout the event. I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t seem to keep the grip in my car for the long haul, as long as you need to throughout a run.”
How do you feel all the procedures have gone through the first three races back for NASCAR?
“I think the procedures and everything have been really smooth, really easy. I compliment and applaud NASCAR as much as possible just on their efforts and the things that they’ve done in order to go through and get us to this point to have us an opportunity to go out here and put on a show for the fans on television. Obviously, we miss having the fans at the racetrack, but it’s a great effort by everybody involved to get us to this point. It’s been way smoother than I thought it was going to be and I hope that it continues to be as smooth and seamless as possible for everybody, and we can get through a couple months of just getting back with our feet going and getting the show going. And then maybe we can get back to a little more normalcy here in, I don’t know, say a couple months.”
What did you think of the speed at Atlanta the first time you raced there?
“My first time there was 2003 in an Xfinity Series car and it was definitely fast. It’s all relative. You run the same speed around everybody and it really doesn’t feel that fast, so it feels like you do anywhere else, whether you’re at Las Vegas or Chicago or Kansas or any of those places.”
M&M’S Fudge Brownie Racing
Race 10 of 36 – Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 – Atlanta
Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Fudge Brownie 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 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 will mark Kyle Busch’s 544th career NASCAR Cup Series start and his 22nd NASCAR Cup Series start at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 205 top-five finishes, 301 top-10s and 17,545 laps led in 543 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 two wins, five top-five finishes and eight top-10s and has led a total of 432 laps in 21 career Cup Series starts at Atlanta. Busch’s average Atlanta finish is 14.4.
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 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway on Memorial Day.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!