HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 20, 2015) – As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend for the final race of the Contender Round of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kyle Busch’s M&M’S Halloween Toyota is appropriately dressed for the occasion with a special Halloween-themed livery.
Talladega will undoubtedly have treats in store for some drivers but tricks in store for many others during Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 – the biggest “unknown” of NASCAR’s playoffs.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Halloween Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), found himself on the trick side of things during last year’s Chase race at Talladega. With a 25-point lead on the eighth and final transfer spot, Busch was wrecked from behind during a chain-reaction accident, heavily damaging his car and ultimately relegating him to a 40th-place finish.
With lessons learned from 2014, Busch again enters Talladega as one of 12 remaining Chase drivers who will look to earn the chance to continue their playoff run by advancing to the Eliminator round starting the following weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. This year, Busch sits outside the bubble spot in ninth place, just six points behind eighth-place Martin Truex Jr. In the bigger picture, only seven points separate Busch from fifth-place Kevin Harvick, so nobody but the winner of the last two races, Joey Logano, is thus far guaranteed a spot in the Eliminator Round. One lap, or even one corner could make the difference in making the cut or not as there probably isn’t a track on the circuit that presents as much of an unknown as the mammoth 2.66-mile Talladega oval.
Busch has conquered Talladega just once in his career, his lone win coming in April 2008. In his 20 starts at the track, he has eight other top-15 finishes, and four outings that ended in an accident. So, the Las Vegas native knows the winner of Sunday’s 500-mile race will need to have a strong car and some good fortune at NASCAR’s longest track.
If Busch has learned anything at the restrictor-plate tracks, it’s that he must be fortunate enough to avoid the almost inevitable multicar accident. He’s comforted in knowing he has exceptional equipment underneath him, thanks to the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota provided to him by JGR.
So as Busch and his fellow competitors head to Talladega this weekend, they’ll hope that a treat will be waiting for them Sunday afternoon in the form of a ticket to the Eliminator Round.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Do Talladega and even Martinsville present the chance for a shakeup in the standings?
“Certainly, we’ll know a lot about the standings after this week. Now, obviously, the points structure is much different and we need some good fortune and bring home a strong finish on Sunday and avoid trouble to advance. It’s tough, and you’ve got to be able to pull through in all of these races, and you’ve got to have a little bit of luck go your way. You’ve got to have the execution of everything go your way. It starts with coming off the hauler and getting good practice sessions going, qualifying well, trying to always stay up front, and then putting yourself in position for a chance to make it through this weekend with our M&M’S Halloween Toyota.”
What did you learn by being eliminated from this round last year?
“Last year we played it right, we were the top point-total scorer of the first two rounds and we were seeded the highest without a win, and we went to Talladega and we sure learned how to throw that away. I don’t know that it necessarily matters, really. For us, if we can do the same thing again, then we’ll do the same thing again. I think what we can do a better job of – instead of being one of the only guys to race at the back of the pack and get ourselves caught up in something that none of the other Chasers were involved in – is race with all the rest of the Chasers and, if they all get caught up in a wreck and we do, too, then hopefully our point totals will all be lower but all the same, That’s better than me just being the only guy down at the bottom of the totem pole.”
How are the Chase races different, emotionally, from the regular-season races?
“It’s definitely a time of the year where it’s not all that enjoyable as it is in the summer months. Last year, for instance, when I had a win at California, we were just able to race the rest of the year and not have a worry on our mind. But, once you get to Chase time, then every single week you’re worried about something. Loudon, I wasn’t even worried about anything. We were running like ninth and I was like, ‘Okay, we’re not where we need to be right now, but let’s play this out, and pit strategy play out.’ All of a sudden, we have a blown tire and we’re in the fence. Anything can happen and those moments will certainly catch you off guard.”
What is the key to pulling off a victory at Talladega?
“The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble. At Talladega, you pretty much stay around the bottom since there is a lot of grip there, and you can pretty much run wide open every single lap. Everyone can run up on top of each other. When you get single-file at the bottom, sometimes it’s hard to get a lane on the outside with enough good cars to get something going. It can be frustrating at times because of that. It also seems to still put on a good race each time we go there. If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy.”
Your racecar is sporting the special M&M’s Halloween paint scheme again this week. What was your favorite Halloween costume that you wore as a kid?
“Actually, one year I went as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I think that was my favorite costume as a kid. I was Michelangelo and I even had the fake nunchuk. One year, I was a football player and, one year, I even dressed up as Jeff Gordon since he was my favorite racecar driver when I was a kid.”
Growing up in Las Vegas, what do you remember about Halloween and trick-or-treating?
“It was always cold in Las Vegas during Halloween, even though it can be really hot most of the year. I guess the biggest memory was going out to everyone’s house and trick-or-treating and hanging out with friends as a group. Sometimes, people wouldn’t be home, so they had a bucket out and you would reach in and grab whatever you wanted out of the bucket. It was all about how much candy you could collect, not necessarily about how much you would eat when you got home.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine