HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Much like its driver Kyle Busch, the Skittles® brand is also making a quick return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles® Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), wheeled the colorful red scheme to an impressive run in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in NASCAR’s longest race.
Busch ran in the top-10 at Charlotte for a majority of his first points-paying Sprint Cup race of the season, moving into the top-five for much of the final 150 laps. If not for a late-race jumble in the finishing order because several others gambled on fuel strategy, a top-five finish would have been entirely possible. Still, an 11th-place finish was quite impressive in the grueling 600-mile marathon, especially considering Busch had been sidelined since Feb. 21 after breaking his right leg and left foot during the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
At the conclusion of the demanding 600-miler, Busch was even surprised at how good he felt. However, the next challenge is never far away, and Busch looks to keep the strong return going at Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover. While 400 miles may seem like a much lighter workload after Charlotte, Dover actually can be much more taxing on driver and equipment with its abrasive concrete surface and high banking.
With the FedEx 400 being only Busch’s second points-paying start of the season, he is embarking on his own unique chase to make this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. The Las Vegas native has been given an exemption to make the 2015 Chase field, but he has plenty of work to do over the next 14 races in order to make NASCAR’s playoffs. Along with winning a race, Busch must rally to make it within the top-30 in driver points. The Coca-Cola 600 was a good start as he now has 33 points, sitting 169 markers behind 30-place Tony Stewart after just one race.
As for this weekend, the Dover stats for Busch and his Skittles team are impressive – two Sprint Cup wins to go with nine top-five finishes and 13 top-10s in 20 career Sprint Cup starts on the Delmarva Peninsula. He’s also led an impressive 1,011 laps there.
Like at Charlotte, race fans will get to “Taste the Rainbow” for the second consecutive Sprint Cup event with Busch at the controls at Dover. Busch, who counts Green Apple Skittles among his personal favorite, will also race the No. 18 Skittles Toyota in July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, finally, in August at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
So with the return of the driver they call “Rowdy,” will the reappearance of the rainbow this weekend culminate in a return to victory lane for Busch and Skittles? With his record at the concrete mile oval, Busch has shown that anything is possible.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How much does running a 600-mile race prepare you for Dover, which is one of the most physically demanding events of the season?
“I think the Coke 600 is actually quite relative to Dover this week. Charlotte is an endurance race for as long as it is, and I think it sets you up for that Dover race. The Dover race is more taxing on your body. I feel like it beats you up a bit more, but it being 400 laps, it’s a tough stretch. It’s maybe not 600 miles, but 400 laps there is certainly a long time at Dover. I felt really good after Charlotte. I didn’t get tired or anything like that, so I probably could have gone little longer. We’ll take our Skittles Camry up there and see what we have for them, but Dover has always been a pretty good place for me.”
Do you enjoy racing at Dover?
“It’s definitely a fast racetrack. It’s a fun racetrack, too. It makes it interesting when you get to traffic, when you have to pass guys, when you’re kind of falling down into the hole and jumping back up out of the hole to the straightaways. It’s a good place to race. It’s a competitive racetrack and, when the rubber gets laid down, it definitely changes the whole atmosphere and the whole way you run around that place. We feel like we have a great chance to have a good race there this weekend with our Skittles Camry.”
Last weekend was 600 miles, but this week is a tough track, as well. How are you preparing for Dover, and what do you expect out of that race?
“Preparation for Dover is just relaxing on Monday, trying to, you know, get some fluids back in me, everything, and just kind of chill out and not do anything, take a day off. And then Tuesday it’s JGR meetings, all that stuff. I’ve also got a doctor’s appointment, and then back to therapy. So, Tuesday I’ll hit it pretty hard. Might go Wednesday, maybe, and do some of the less weight stuff, just the kind of walking on the beams and stuff to work on balance. And Thursday, I’ll hit it again before heading on my way to Dover. So, thinking every day this week, try not to get behind and keep building it up, keep getting it better and, every time I get in the racecar, every time I get in the gym, everything seems to come along a little bit better and make life and daily walking and stairs and everything easier, so you might as well not quit.”
What does it take to be successful at Dover?
“Dover, being a concrete track, is challenging. They are all a challenge, but Dover is especially so just because of the way you have to run around that place. The way tires sometimes wear out. The way the rubber gets put down there. You’ve got to be fast through the corner. Two-thirds of your lap time is through the turn rather than down the straightaway, so you definitely have to make sure you have a good-handling racecar – one that’s good in the beginning of the run on low air pressures and one that’s good at the end of the run on high air pressures, and even through traffic, too. Some of the most challenging times are when you’re trying to get through traffic with guys. We had good races there the last couple of years but haven’t been able to finish them off, so I hope we can keep the momentum going there again this weekend and get a win with our Skittles Camry.”
Does going from concrete to asphalt change the way the car handles?
“We don’t run on an asphalt racetrack that’s banked like that or shaped like that. The mile tracks we go to that are asphalt are Phoenix and Loudon, and they are relatively flat. The concrete just changes the feel a little bit, of course, and changes the way you approach the racetrack, too.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine