As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway this weekend, the phrase “Let’s Play Two” is entirely appropriate as NASCAR’s top series heads to the 2.5-mile triangle in the Pocono Mountains.
It was made famous by Chicago Cubs’ legendary Ernie Banks. As the story goes, Banks first uttered the phrase into a half-empty clubhouse on July 18, 1967 as the Cubs were set to play a doubleheader in scorching temperatures approaching 105 degrees in the friendly confines of their home at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Banks’ words went on to become among the more famous sayings in baseball history as he reminded his teammates that, despite the extreme conditions, they were lucky enough to be able to play the great game of baseball.
For many years, the two annual NASCAR Cup Series races at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway have been runs five to six weeks apart. The tight window in which they’d traditionally been run didn’t give much time between trips to the Pocono Mountains for teams to be able to make drastic changes to their cars.
But this weekend, when the Cup Series makes it way to the Poconos, the window of time between Saturday’s Pocono Organics 325 and Sunday’s Pocono 350 is less than 24 hours.
The rules for the first doubleheader weekend in the modern era of the NASCAR Cup Series require teams to use the same car in both events, but they’ll be allowed to work on them between races. Following the finish of Saturday’s 130-lap race, the starting lineup for Sunday’s 140-lap event will be set by inverting the lead-lap finishers, with lapped cars starting Sunday’s race where they finish Saturday.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Minis Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), also knows he’s fortunate enough to be able to race, and win, for 15 seasons and counting in NASCAR’s top series. Not only has he won 56 races and two Cup Series championships, he’s had his fair share of success recently at the track nicknamed the “Tricky Triangle.” The Las Vegas native won last year’s June Pocono race and has three wins in his last five Cup Series starts there. He’s finished no worse than ninth in his last seven Pocono starts.
For the first time ever, a timeless M&M’S favorite – M&M’S Minis – with adorn Busch’s No, 18 Toyota this weekend. M&M’S Minis are a great way to share the delicious, colorful fun of M&M’S with friends and family. M&M’S Minis are perfect to include in baked treats for the same M&M’S taste, mini style.
Busch’s recent fortunes at Pocono began after he narrowly missed a victory in June 2017. He returned in late July looking for his first Cup Series win there and brought home his first career Pocono Cup Series win behind some clever strategy by crew chief Adam Stevens, as well as his own smart driving. While the top competitors headed to pit road for their final scheduled fuel-and-tire stops late in the race, Stevens elected to leave Busch out longer than the rest. The others were clearly faster on newer tires, but Busch took advantage of a clean track to make up time and, when he was finally called to pit road, he had much fresher tires than his fellow competitors for the closing stages of the race. He eventually drove by Kevin Harvick for an impressive first Pocono victory. Since then, Busch has been able to grab Pocono wins in 2018 and 2019 to add to his growing resume at the Tricky Triangle.
So, as the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains, Busch, crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire team will focus not just on “playing two” with their M&M’S Minis Toyota, but hope to take it a giant step further and win two during this weekend’s doubleheader.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Minis Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What is it about you and your team that make you so good at Pocono Raceway?
“There are certainly a lot of things over the years that we’ve worked on and there are definitely things we’ve fine-tuned on and gotten a lot better at. I think starting in 2013 or 2014, and then it’s evolved with Adam Stevens being the crew chief since 2015, as well. We’ve run really well there. It’s a good track for us. I’ve learned a lot from my teammate Denny Hamlin who’s won there, and certainly working with Martin (Truex Jr.) and his guys has also brought on some new, fresh ideas, which help. It’s been a good track for us and hopefully we can carry our M&M’s Minis colors to victory lane there this weekend. Looking forward to having them on board for the first time with us and our No. 18 Toyota.”
How do you learn to get better at a track, like you have at Pocono?
“There are so many different ways you can do it. You can look at data, you can look at the driving technique. Talking is kind of the best resource, just being able to ask the guy, ‘Hey, when you do this, why do you do this, or what do you expect when you get into a run and you’re going this far, and tire wear, and how do you get around turn two.’ Whatever it might be. Lots of different things there, being teammates with Denny (Hamlin) for this long, it’s lended itself to myself improving at Pocono and Martinsville, places like that, and him improving at places like Bristol and Charlotte from myself. It’s a good take there. And then having Martin (Truex Jr.) now, having him on board, who is really good everywhere, as well, has definitely brought a good basis to our team, as well as having our past teammates like Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards – so it’s been good.”
You make Pocono look easy, but what is still tough about Pocono even for you?
“Every time you go there, it’s a bit different. The bumps change, the characteristics change. Where the bumps are. Are they getting bigger? Are they getting worse? Is there more? That turn-two tunnel turn is always a culprit for the bumps, and the harsh winters up there really change the racetrack. Then, what happens in turn three, where the wind is blowing and stuff like that, is always kind of a convoluted piece to Pocono, and how you get through turn three versus turn one versus two. There are three distinctly different corners, there’s definitely going to be compromise.”
Do you see race two as the same as race one since they are on the same weekend, or will they be different?
“I think you will have to make some changes to your stuff. The first race, there’s only going to be the Truck Series rubber, it’s only 60 laps, so there’s just going to be a little rubber down. Then, we’re going to put a lot of rubber down with our race. Then you’ll have the Xfinity race the next day, and then you’ll have our race. Over the course of all those miles, I think the main similarities between the two days is going to be just that – they’re a day apart rather than a month apart. There’s a difference between the Pocono racetrack when it’s a month apart, but when it’s day one to day two, there are going to be big differences in day one to day two, so you have to take a lot of different things into account.”
What are the most critical adjustments you can make between each race at Pocono?
“Obviously springs, shocks, bars, whatever you can change, all that sort of stuff. Making some adjustments. Knowing how much that track changes in that first race will give you a basis to how much you expect it to change in the second race barring any weather or the track. It’s 68 degrees one day and a 90 degrees on the other, there are going to be some big differences you’re going to want to adjust for and compensate for. Having a good notebook I think will certainly help us and our team, and Adam (Stevens, crew chief) being on board since 2015, since we started running good there. I think we could have a good idea of what to do with our M&M’S Minis Toyota.”
Are you trying to conserve yourself at all in Saturday’s Pocono race to be ready for Sunday?
“That and you have an invert, right? Kind of depends on what’s going on and what’s happening. If you’re struggling along, or pit strategy throws you off and there’s three to go and you’re back in 15th, maybe you want the pole for the next day. We’ll see what happens with that. Obviously, you want as many points as you can possibly get. We’ve run real well there the last few years. We definitely want to keep that going and try to get a win. If you’re up in the front, or up in the top-five or whatever, you’re going to try to get as much as you can get there and not worry about the next day. You’ll just refocus the next day.”
Can you carry anything over from Pocono to Indy, since there’s no practice at Indy?
“That’s definitely a question for Adam (Stevens, crew chief). I can do my best there, but I would think there’s definitely some similarities in setup you can kind of look at, and we’ll definitely take notice of those from day one to day two. Is Indy typically closer to our first Pocono race or our second Pocono race that’s on the schedule? I’m not sure. Do we take some of those setup concepts from the first one to the second? Again, I’m not sure. As far as the overall skeptic of it, you would think whatever you have, or some ideas you have that are good at Pocono can transfer to Indy, and having back-to-back weeks could act as somewhat of a simulation to where you’re fine-tuning our stuff from the simulator to the real thing at Pocono. And then having someone go back and redoing the simulator to make sure it’s right. And then the data that they are looking at to get ready for Indy to make sure it’s the exact stuff you want.”
M&M’S Minis Racing
Rounds 14-15 of 36 – Pocono Doubleheader – Pocono
Car No.: 18 – M&M’S Minis 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:
Saturday’s Pocono Organics 325 and Sunday’s Pocono 350 will mark Kyle Busch’s 548th and 549th career NASCAR Cup Series starts and his 31st and 32nd Cup Series starts at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 206 top-five finishes, 303 top-10s and 17,559 laps led in 547 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 three wins, eight top-five finishes and 15 top-10s and has led a total of 460 laps in 30 career Cup Series starts at Pocono. Busch’s average Pocono finish is 15.6.
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.
ll-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 this weekend’s races at Pocono with 211 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (56), Xfinity (97) and Truck (58) – following his Truck Series win at Homestead two weekends ago.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!