In just its second year of existence, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway hosted a summer NASCAR Cup Series race on Aug. 23, 1970, a race won by Pete Hamilton. From there, Talladega continued to host an August race until 1983, when its event was shifted into July for the first time. That race on July 31, 1983 started a string of races where the series came back to Alabama in the month of July each year through the 1996 season. In 1997, the event shifted toward the cooler spring weather and the 2.66-mile superspeedway oval has hosted annual spring races in either April or May ever since.
But just like almost everything else in 2020, Talladega’s annual spring race was thrown a curveball by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its spring race this year has been moved to the track’s first-ever late June weekend. The likely temporary summer date will no doubt bring back memories for some of Talladega’s hot summer weather of years past when NASCAR’s top series heads there for Sunday afternoon’s GEICO 500.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to Talladega this weekend looking for his first Cup Series victory of the season, although he’s secured a solid six top-five finishes thus far in this unconventional 2020 season.
With Interstate Batteries returning to the No. 18 Toyota for what will no doubt be a hot Sunday afternoon in Alabama, Busch is encouraging fans to stop by a local Interstate dealer to get their vehicle batteries checked as we enter the dog days of summer. The summer months can be taxing on both man and machine, as hot weather has a far greater effect on batteries than the cold. One of the many ways JGR’s founding partner Interstate Batteries leverages its NASCAR program is by helping to remind consumers to have their batteries checked prior to summer road trips.
While Busch and his No. 18 Interstate Batteries team are capable of winning at any track, it will be a particular challenge for him this weekend at the mammoth Talladega oval, where he’s had a career of ups and downs. Compared to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where he has eight Cup Series wins, and Richmond, where he has six, Busch has won just once in 29 career starts at Talladega. His lone victory came in April 2008, and he has accumulated 13 other top-15 finishes there, but also exited five races early due to accidents.
So as Busch heads to Talladega this weekend, he would like nothing more than to get back to victory lane at the start of another hot summer in Alabama. But, in order to do so, he’ll have to somehow stay out of the inevitable multicar Talladega accidents and be running at the end to put himself in position to get his Interstate Batteries Toyota to victory lane in the first summer race there in almost 25 years.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Are you comfortable with no Cup Series practice at Talladega this weekend?
“I think it would be more of an issue with the engine tuners and knowing whether or not we guessed correct on the gear. Then, obviously whether they can guess right on the fuel mapping of the engine, stuff like that with it just being different RPM and essentially less horsepower. I think it’s going to be something more challenging for them than for us drivers. I don’t think any of us would have any problem with it. Looking forward to getting back in the Interstate Batteries car this weekend and hoping to get us back to victory lane there at Talladega.”
What can a driver still control at Talladega?
“You kind of look at what Denny (Hamlin) does and what Brad (Keselowski) does, the guys who are good racers at Daytona and Talladega and the guys who are fast at those places. Denny makes the most out of what he’s got for equipment, and I’ve got the same stuff and I’m not quite as forceful in situations as he is, and he makes that work for him. Our cars have been better at the speedway tracks and I’m hoping we can have a good run at Talladega. I won’t try to put myself in a bad spot to cause something, but it’s always a challenge and it’s always different. I feel like, every time you go to Talladega it’s the same, but it’s different and you just don’t know what to expect. A lot of new drivers who are out there don’t have wins, yet, in our series who are going to be hungry and looking for wins, so they’re going to be trying to punch their tickets to the playoffs and be very aggressive. You’ve got to be mindful of that, too.”
Is it an advantage being a former winner at Talladega?
“It doesn’t matter at all. It’s such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from.”
What is the key to pulling off a victory at Talladega?
“The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble. You stay where the pack is, generally, and we get up single file on the wall at times until it’s time to go, and you can pretty much run wide open every single lap. Everyone can run up on top of each other. When you get single file at the bottom, sometimes it’s hard to get a lane on the outside with enough good cars to get something going. It can be frustrating at times because of that. It also seems to still put on a good race each time we go there. If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy.”
Interstate Batteries Racing
Race 13 of 36 – Geico 500 – Talladega
Car No.: 18 – Interstate Batteries 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 Geico 500 will mark Kyle Busch’s 547th career NASCAR Cup Series start and his 30th NASCAR Cup Series start at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 206 top-five finishes, 303 top-10s and 17,554 laps led in 546 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, six top-five finishes and eight top-10s and has led a total of 245 laps in 29 career Cup Series starts at Talladega. Busch’s average Talladega finish is 20.3.
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 on the list for Busch 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 November.
211 and Counting: Busch enters Sunday’s race at Talladega with 211 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (56), Xfinity (97) and Truck (58) – following his Truck Series win last weekend at Homestead.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!