HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Kyle Busch, crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota team have been no strangers to adversity thus far in 2015.
So after a potential third-place run turned into a 36th-place finish late in the running of last Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway through no fault of their own, Busch and Stevens will do what they’ve been doing all year long – roll up their sleeves and keep bringing fast cars to the racetrack just like they have the first three weeks since Busch returned from injury.
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the mountains of Pennsylvania for Sunday’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), will no doubt keep showing the determination that helped him recover from a broken leg and foot to return just three months later.
This weekend’s race at the track known as the “Tricky Triangle” is the first of two races at Pocono in an eight-week span and signals the beginning of the summer stretch of races. Busch and the M&M’s Crispy team will keep focusing on what is ahead of them, particularly the next three races at Pocono, Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, and Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
While Pocono has been difficult for Busch to master over the years, he seemed to have turned the corner in June 2011 when he started from the pole for the first time there and was beaten across the finish line only by teammate and Pocono master Denny Hamlin, who has four Pocono wins to his credit. In August 2011, Busch led 27 laps late in the race before equaling his career-best Pocono finish of second behind race-winner Brad Keselowski. The Las Vegas native brought home top-10 finishes in both 2013 races at Pocono but suffered a rough 2014 there, so it goes without saying that Busch and the M&M’s Crispy team are striving for even bigger things at the 2.5-mile track this weekend.
While Busch and the M&M’s Crispy team have come so very close to a Pocono win, it remains one of three tracks Busch has not captured a win in any of NASCAR’s top series. Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are the others. Of the 28 tracks that will host NASCAR’s top three divisions in 2015, Busch has competed at every circuit but Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and he has won at 25 of them. He’s hoping a few things finally fall his way and he can add a 26th track this weekend.
As the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains this weekend, Busch, Stevens and the entire M&M’s Crispy team will no doubt keep up their fierce determination during the upcoming stretch of races. They’ve already shown in just 13 races thus far that they are tough enough to handle just about anything.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Until 2010, Pocono seemed to be a place where you struggled. What changed there to help you be in contention for wins in recent years
“Pocono used to be a place I didn’t look forward to going to but, lately, I’ve been looking forward to it more than I used to. Adam (Stevens) seems to be able to catch on to places pretty quickly, but we also have our teammates to lean on with Denny (Hamlin) being so good there. We’ve used some of the baseline stuff from the 11 car in the past and tweaked it more to my liking. I think the repave set us back a bit, even Denny, but we had two top-10s there a few years ago and would like to turn those into top-fives, and maybe have a shot at a win there. So far, since I’ve been back this year, Adam, along with everyone on the M&M’s Crispy team and JGR, have done a good job of giving me solid racecars and it has given me plenty of confidence, even though the finishes haven’t been as good as how we’ve run. We’ve been a top-five race team the last two weeks and that says a lot about this team and how hard they’ve worked.”
Pocono is the most unique track on the circuit with three distinct corners. What’s the most difficult part of the track for you?
“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest. Turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down. We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside, and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway.”
Did the repaving of the track at Pocono change the racing there the last couple of years?
“I thought the racing there was kind of the same, not much different. It was a little bit harder to pass because it seems like, when you’re out front in clean air, you have so much more of an advantage than being back in traffic than what it used to be – slightly, not much. To me, it was always a hard, tricky place, but it’s actually finally started becoming a two-lane racetrack in turn three. You could run the bottom and you could run the top with what we call ‘the grip strip.’ Now, it’s all grip, so it’s all back to the bottom again and you can’t really make much time up on the outside anymore. I know they had a pretty tough winter up there, so hopefully it weathered the surface even more and it widened the groove and we can put on some good racing there.”
Since the track is unique, where is the best place to make a pass at Pocono?
“Most of your passing is going to be done probably through turn one and off of turn one and getting into turn two, if somebody can get a good run off of turn two, get back up high and get in line to get on that patch getting into turn three. Besides that, in turn one, we just can’t get the cars to turn down there because there’s so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a ‘buck-40’ (140). Turn two is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you’ve got to maneuver through the tunnel turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”
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