Rekindling Atlanta Magic
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Feb. 24, 2016) – In his ninth season with Toyota flagship Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), Kyle Busch returns this weekend to the place where the winning began in 2008 with JGR, M&M’S and Toyota – Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for JGR, headed to Atlanta for the fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of 2008 aiming to bring home his first win for the team’s two new partners – Mars Chocolate North America and Toyota.
After leading a race-high 173 laps, the Las Vegas native captured his first win for Mars’ SNICKERS brand and also the first win in NASCAR’s top series for Toyota, which was in its second year of Sprint Cup competition and its first year with JGR, as was Busch.
The win also marked the end of a 147-race drought for JGR’s No. 18 team, and it was Busch’s first of 30 Sprint Cup wins for JGR, so far. Busch has now totaled 133 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three series driving Toyota vehicles – 30 in Sprint Cup, 65 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and 38 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Add 21 overall wins prior to joining JGR at the beginning of 2008 and Busch is at 154 combined Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series wins and counting.
It was déjà vu all over again for Busch in 2013 at Atlanta and the M&M’S team as he led 36 laps en route to his 100th overall win in a Toyota and his 24th Sprint Cup win with JGR’s No. 18 team.
Busch and JGR have accomplished a great deal together as he and the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota team kicked off of their ninth season with last weekend’s Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Not only have Busch, JGR, M&M’S and Toyota won the aforementioned impressive amount of races together, they are also coming off their first Sprint Cup championship in 2015.
Busch looks forward to racing at Atlanta again. Sunday will be his first start there since 2014 as he missed the race last year due to injury. Busch and his entire No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry team hope to add to their winning ways at Atlanta by rolling up their collective sleeves as they try to rekindle the magic from 2008 and 2013 in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
So as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta this weekend, Busch and the M&M’S team will undoubtedly be feeling just a bit nostalgic during this season in which the brand celebrates its 75th anniversary, all the while recalling those 2008 and 2013 race wins at the 1.5-mile oval where the winning all began.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What kind of race are you expecting at Atlanta this year?
“The racetrack has aged really nicely, where it’s probably aged too much, but you can’t repave Atlanta – that would just be stupid. It’s a place where you can run the bottom all the way from the white line and all the way to the wall and anywhere in-between. You have to have a good car there, but it’s a neat racetrack with the way you can race around and move around and not get too comfortable running one lane. Our guys have brought good cars there in the past and I’m hoping we can go for the win with our M&M’S Camry.”
Are your expectations high going to Atlanta since JGR has won several races there over the years?
“Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen and we’ll definitely have to be on our toes there this weekend since it’s the first race there with the low-downforce package and our first race at a 1.5-mile oval this season. You have to have good grip there, you have to have good fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else – so you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early or save a little and be there late.”
Is Atlanta like a tuneup for other upcoming mile-and-a-half tracks?
“Every weekend is a test of what you try, what you want to do differently, and see if you can find anything else that works for you. Atlanta is a lot different than most of the other mile-and-halves just because of the asphalt and the way the grip is and the way the tire is. You don’t necessarily see the same sorts of things at the other mile-and-a-halves that you will at Atlanta.”
What are your memories of racing in Atlanta?
“I’ve won a few Truck Series races there. That was fun. I have not won an Xfinity race there. I finished second three or four times, so it’s been an Achilles heel for me, I guess. The Cup races there, I’ve either been really good or really bad, it seems. There have been times where I’ve been really good throughout the event. I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t seem to keep the grip in my car for the long haul, as long as you need to throughout a run.”
What does it take to be successful at Atlanta?
“It takes a lot of things. You have to have a lot of grip, you have to have a lot of downforce, you have to have tire management, a great engine, and fuel mileage, too. There are a lot of circumstances it can come down to at the end and what it will boil down to.”
What did you think of the speed at Atlanta the first time you raced there?
“My first time there was 2003 in a Nationwide Series car and it was definitely fast. It’s all relative. You run the same speed around everybody and it really doesn’t feel that fast, so it feels like you do anywhere else, whether you’re at Las Vegas or Chicago or Kansas or any of those places.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine