Turning Back the Clock
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 1, 2015) – Starting in 1950, the traditional Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway was held every Labor Day weekend. In 2004, the race was moved to the penultimate race of the season during the first year of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs before it was eventually moved to the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend, where the Southern 500 name was brought back starting in 2009. Last year, the event was temporarily moved to mid-April.
But starting this weekend, the Bojangles Southern 500 will return to its rightful and traditional spot on the calendar, as Sunday night's Sprint Cup Series race will return to Darlington, South Carolina for Labor Day weekend.
Kyle Busch and his primary backer M&M’S Crispy know plenty about making a comeback. Busch returned to NASCAR’s top series after missing the first 11 races because of injury and mounted an impressive run to make the playoffs in the 13 races he’s run since. In total, he’s scored four wins, five top-five finishes and seven top-10s and finds himself ever so close to being locked into this year’s Chase with just two races left in NASCAR’s regular season. As for M&M’S Crispy, the brand also returned by popular demand this year after a 10-year hiatus. The two will work to conquer the tricky 1.33-mile egg-shaped Darlington oval, as everyone knows how difficult it is to win the grueling 367-lap race.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has conquered Darlington before, having brought home a big win at“The Track Too Tough To Tame” in May 2008. His first victory at Darlington earned him the distinction of being the youngest Sprint Cup winner – at 23 years of age – in the storied history of Darlington. Busch also has one Xfinity Series win at Darlington, scoring that one in May 2011.
Even better news for the Las Vegas Native is that NASCAR is bringing back the low-downforce package which Busch and the M&M’S Crispy team used to bring home the victory at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta this past July.
So, as Busch returns to “The Lady in Black” to compete in the first Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend since 2003, he’ll hope turning back the clock will be just what he and the M&M’S Crispy team needs in order to rekindle the magic of his 2008 win there.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your thoughts heading back to Darlington this weekend?
“Going back to Darlington, it’s a place that’s really tough, really challenging. I won there the first year it was repaved and it’s been really fast. The last several years there, we had a really good car. We ended up with a decent finish with our M&M’s Camry there last year and, the year before, we had such a good racecar and had a slow leak in the tire that dropped us to sixth. Hoping we can hold on for all 500 miles there and be leading when it counts this time since we were so close last year. But, I’m looking forward to going back there and seeing what Darlington has got in store for us again. We were able to test there a few months ago, but with the 2015 package. It will be interesting to see how things go with the different tire and low-downforce package being different than what we tested. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the whole M&M’S Crispy team have really done well adapting to the various packages that have been thrown at us this year. It gives me a lot of confidence that we can be right there with them this weekend, too.”
What makes Joe Gibbs Racing so strong at Darlington?
“I like going to Darlington – it’s a fun place although it’s bit me a lot of times. I should have won probably twice as many races as I’ve won there, which is frustrating. I was glad to win there in 2008 and get my Southern 500 win – that was pretty cool. Why we’re good there? I don’t know, but it’s a place that a lot of driver comes into play and I feel like all the JGR drivers obviously are really, really good. Of course our equipment is good, too, and we can run fast there — run well there — and, if you can keep air in the tires, you might win.”
What do drivers mean when they say you have to “race the track” at Darlington?
“It’s tough to pass there, for sure. It’s so difficult. So you run your laps until you get to a pit stop and try to get your guys to have a good stop for you so you can jump a couple of guys. Pit stops become really important there, as is track position and trying to stay up front.”
What makes Darlington a track that is too tough to tame?
“It’s a very narrow and challenging racetrack, especially for the speeds that we carry around there, now. We’re looking forward to the challenge with our M&M’S Crispy Camry this weekend. You’ve really got to be able to get as close as you can to the wall in order to carry your momentum through the corners because you’ve got to make the straightaways as long as you can. The track is very narrow on entries and exits, so you’re always trying to round the place as much as you can. It’s very one-groovish. You can’t really run side-by-side there. Any time you get alongside somebody, you basically have to let them go. It’s a very big give-and-take-type track. It’s a lot harder to pass now, with the fresh asphalt, than it used to be. It’s really aero-sensitive now, to where it used to be more about mechanical grip and getting your car to handle well and handle over the bumps well and keep the tires on it. Now you’re restricted off the car in front of you and are trying to find some air, basically.”
Can you describe the “Darlington Stripe” and what it’s like to get one?
“A Darlington Stripe is pretty easy to receive. Running at Darlington is so tough and we are carrying so much speed there nowadays that you have to run right up there against the wall in order to get your car pointed correctly for the next corner, the next apex you have to make. So, running next to the wall in (turn) one and (turn) two and turning down coming off of two and carrying big momentum and big speed down the backstretch in order to set yourself up for turn three is important. Running high in three and four all the way through the corner, trying to keep the momentum going, because it’s such a tighter corner that the radius difference between each end of the track, you try to spread that radius as wide as you can and that’s right up against the wall. So, at any moment that car can slip and, during a run when the tires fall off, you have to be aware of one to two seconds of tire fall-off and your car is slowing down and at any moment you might slip a little bit and tag that wall. It can be very easy to do.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine