Memorial Day in the United States is a time to remember and honor the soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. 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 feature 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 U.S. Army Sgt. William R. Thiem on his windshield during NASCAR’s longest event. Sgt. Thiem takes on even more meaningful significance to M&M’S and Mars Wrigley as he was nominated by Mars associate Roger Smith, who is Thiem’s cousin. Smith and his wife Becky were able to visit with Busch at the May 15 race weekend at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, about an hour’s drive east on I-70 from their home in Topeka. This weekend, Busch and the M&M’S Red, White, and Blue team will thank Thiem for his service as his legacy rides along with them at Charlotte.
As it pays tribute to the fallen soldier, the No. 18 Toyota will feature a patriotic paint scheme that celebrates M&M’S Red, White & Blue bags that are available in stores for fans to show their patriotic spirit throughout the summer. M&M’S has been supporting the men and women of the U.S. military since 1941, when the first M&M’S were created as a military ration during World War II, and it’s proud to display Red, White and Blue in their honor on the No. 18 Toyota Camry TRD.
As for the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval he’ll be racing on, Busch has managed to enjoy plenty of success there with 15 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s in his 33 previous Cup Series starts over the past 17-plus seasons. In addition to solid Cup Series finishes, Busch has captured nine NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at Charlotte – May 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010, October 2008 and 2009, both May and October 2013, and May 2020. He also has eight NASCAR Camping World 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 NASCAR 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 Sgt. Thiem and all troops who have made 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 way. NASCAR seems to do it probably the best with the NASCAR Salutes program that we’ve had over the course of the last several years with having the ability to have the fallen soldiers on our racecars for Memorial Day weekend. Back in 2018, 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 Sgt. Thiem, so I’m really looking forward to that. There’s a special connection this year with one of the Mars associates who we get to give an opportunity to honor their family member. They were able to come visit with us at Kansas a few weeks ago, so that was really cool. I’m also 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 as a sport. ”
How is your momentum going into the 600 with your good runs on mile-and-a-half tracks?
“I mean, the mile-and-a-half stuff has kind of been our bread and butter a little bit this year, I guess you’d say. You know, at California we were OK. I thought we were quick, but we got behind early, but then Vegas and Kansas were really good. We were fast there. So being another mile-and-a-half here, hopefully that bodes well.”
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, Ben Beshore (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.”
You’ve always said that Charlotte is one of your favorite tracks. Is there any particular reason why?
“Just growing up watching races on TV, I loved watching the All-Star Race under the lights and the 600 with all the sparks flying and all the guys going after hard-fought, hard-racing wins. The Xfinity Series has been good to me there. The Truck Series has been pretty good to me there, too. In Cup, we finally got to win the All-Star Race there and then the 600, but would like to be a multi-time 600 winner, too. That’s what we’ll shoot for this weekend.”
If you’re saving your car for the end of the race, is it a struggle for you not to pass during the earlier stages of the long, 600-mile event?
“Yeah, you want to race those guys who are around you all of the time. You think to yourself, ‘There’s a car in front of me. I want to pass that guy.’ That’s what’s in your blood to do. Sometimes, you’ve just got to back off a little bit and kind of let the race play out. You’ve got to get to the end of the final pit stop. Once you get to the final pit stop, then the race is on.”
● Event: Coca-Cola 600 (Round 14 of 36)
● Time/Date: 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday, May 29
● Location: Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway
● Layout: 1.5-mile oval
● Laps/Miles: 400 laps/600 miles
● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 100 laps / Stage 2: 100 laps / Stage 3: 100 /Final Stage: 100 laps
● TV/Radio: FOX / PRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Meet the No. 18 M&M’S Red, White, and Blue / Joe Gibbs Racing Team
Primary Team Members:
Driver: Kyle Busch
Hometown: Las Vegas
Crew Chief: Ben Beshore
Hometown: York, Pennsylvania
Car Chief: Nate Bellows
Hometown: Fairfax, Vermont
Spotter: Tony Hirschman
Hometown: Northampton, Pennsylvania
Race Engineer: Seth Chavka
Hometown: Soldotna, Alaska
Race Engineer: Jaik Halpainy
Hometown: Blockville, New York
Over-The-Wall Crew Members:
Gas Man: Matt Tyrrell
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Front Tire Changer: Thomas Hatcher
Hometown: Middleburg, Florida
Jackman: Kellen Mills
Hometown: Mesa, Arizona
Tire Carrier: CJ Bailey
Hometown: Outer Banks, North Carolina
Rear Tire Changer: Lee Cunningham
Hometown: Leaf River, Illinois
Road Crew Members:
Engine Tuner: Dan Bajek
Hometown: Camden, New York
Truck Driver: Chris Miko
Hometown: Bronx, New York
Truck Driver: Eloy Trevino
Hometown: Adrian, Michigan
Mechanic/Tire Specialist: Justin Peiffer
Hometown: Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Mechanic: Scott Eldridge
Hometown: Warsaw, Indiana
Mechanic: Tony Hamm
Hometown: Walla, Walla, Washington
Notes of Interest:
● All in the Stats:Busch has one win, 15 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s and has led a total of 1,450 laps in 33 career Cup Series starts on the Charlotte oval. Busch’s average Charlotte oval finish is 14.3.
● 2018 Dominance: Busch brought home his first Coca-Cola 600 victory in 2018, a day when Busch dominated NASCAR’s longest race. The Las Vegas native led a whopping 377 of the 400 laps to bring home another crown jewel victory during his impressive career.
● 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 with his aforementioned dominance in the 2018 Coca-Cola 600 en route to the crown jewel win.
● To the Lead:While Busch has one Coca-Cola 600 win to his credit, he leads all active drivers in laps led in Cup Series competition with 1,450 laps led on the Charlotte oval. The next-best on the lap-leader list among active drivers is JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr., with 1,059, and third-most is Kyle’s brother Kurt Busch with 626 laps led at Charlotte in his career.
● 223 and Counting: Busch will be aiming to add to his record 223 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three series this weekend at Charlotte. In addition to his 60 Cup Series wins and 102 in the Xfinity Series, Busch has 61 wins in the Camping World Truck Series.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!