Rock the Rainbow
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (March 8, 2016) – Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and his team are off to a hot start in the three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races contested thus far in 2016.
In fact, the defending Sprint Cup champions are the only ones to post three top-five finishes this season. So as the series continues its West Coast swing, they’ll move on down the road to Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday’s Good Sam 500k in hopes of continuing their run of success.
Busch and company will head to the Valley of the Sun looking to Rock the Rainbow for the third consecutive year with the now-familiar Skittles colors that will adorn the No. 18 Toyota for the first of four races this season. The Skittles brand made its NASCAR debut in 1998 in partnership with MB2 Motorsports on the No. 36 Pontiac for driver Derrike Cope. In 1999, driver Ernie Irvan took the wheel of the Skittles No. 36 Pontiac and went on to take the top starting spot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Busch brought Skittles its first victory as part of the JGR partnership as he was victorious in the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last July.
Heading into this weekend’s race at the mile oval just west of Phoenix, Busch is the series points leader thanks to his three top-five finishes. He’s looking to score his first win of the season and automatically seal a birth into this year’s edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Busch has actually posted seven consecutive top-fives dating back to last season, and hopes to keep the streak alive with another top-five finish in Arizona.
The desert setting of Phoenix has been a favorite place to wheel a racecar for Busch long before he joined the Sprint Cup ranks. And the results have certainly shown, starting with a solid eighth-place finish in his very first outing there in the spring of 2005, followed by just his second career Sprint Cup victory in his very next start there that fall. Coincidentally, Busch’s first Sprint Cup win came just 10 races prior in another desert-like setting not far from his hometown of Las Vegas – Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, where the West Coast swing will conclude next week.
In 21 Sprint Cup starts at the mile oval known as the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has one win and 13 top-10 finishes, including four in a row from the spring 2007 through fall 2008 events, and he won the pole for the spring 2006 race. Busch also was in position to win Sprint Cup races at Phoenix in 2010, as well as the February 2011 race, and both races there in 2012, but things never fell his way. Since then, he’s added three more top-10 finishes the past two seasons but sat out the first trip to Phoenix last season because of injury.
So as the Sprint Cup Series moves on to the middle race of 2016’s West Coast swing, Busch will hope that Rocking the Rainbow will be just what he needs to bring home his first victory of the season and continue his hot hand to start his championship defense.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How do you feel the potential of the JGR cars is at Phoenix?
“It was a bit of a struggle there the last several years, but I also think we improved a ton there last fall compared to where we’ve been. We still have work to do there, but I definitely think we were headed in the right direction there last fall. We had a good enough position that we were able to finish well and transfer through to Homestead. So (fellow JGR driver Matt) Kenseth tested for us out there before the race last fall and I definitely think he helped our program with the feedback he and Jason (Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief) gave us. I’m looking forward to what he’s worked out for us, getting there and making some laps and hopefully having a good racecar with our Skittles Camry.”
Have you been pleased with the start of your season and your top-five streak dating back to last year?
“The guys have been doing a great job. As a company, we have a little bit to go to get better with this new package, but I think we have the right people and the right resources to get that done. Last weekend, we were off in practice and qualifying and we finally hit on something the last part of final practice that we could race with. So I’m proud of Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and all the guys for digging and getting us better. Phoenix is a bit of a different deal than the other two races on the West Coast, but we ran better there last fall and I’m hoping we have something to be competitive with on Sunday in our Skittles Camry.”
What does it take to be successful at Phoenix?
“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but heading there with our Skittles Toyota Camry without any testing there will be interesting to see how the race plays out.”
In addition to eight Xfinity Series wins at Phoenix, you also won in your second Sprint Cup start at the mile oval. Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix?
“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave. For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you have two distinctly different corners at Phoenix.”
How do you feel about your intermediate program after the first couple of “open” races?
“We have some work to do. There are definitely guys who are better than us. I think, as a company, we’re not bad. I think we’re fourth to eighth – out of all of us, that’s kind of where we run and we need to get a little better to where we’re the guys who can be up front and lead laps. Yeah, we led laps at Vegas, but Matt (Kenseth), being a leader, got passed. And me, being a leader, got passed under the green flag. So, we’re just not good enough. We’ll work on our Phoenix package and look and see what we can do better the following week at Fontana.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine