‘Time’ for a Martinsville Win
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina – Among Kyle Busch’s 157 overall victories among NASCAR’s top three series –Sprint Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Truck – there aren’t many tracks that aren’t represented in his vast trophy collection.
Of the 23 venues where Sprint Cup events are hosted, Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has won at least once at 22 of those tracks in at least one of NASCAR’s top three series. After crossing off Pocono (Pa.) Raceway last season with a Truck Series win, there’s just one track remaining, and that’s Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, site of Sunday’s STP 500 Sprint Cup race.
The .526-mile paperclip-shaped short track in Southern Virginia hasn’t always been a track where Busch has felt comfortable, but that’s changed in recent years thanks to plenty of help from his JGR teammates, along with fast cars provided by the Huntersville, North Carolina operation.
Busch is still searching for his first 7-foot-tall clock that track president Clay Campbell’s late grandfather and track founder H. Clay Earles began awarding Martinsville race winners more than five decades ago.
Despite the lack of a Martinsville’s exclusive grandfather clock trophy in his vast collection, Busch has plenty of reasons for optimism this weekend as his M&M’S team keeps getting closer and closer to that elusive win with each return. Even though there is still a blank in the Martinsville win column, Busch’s resume at the track now includes nine top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in his 21 Sprint Cup starts there.
So as Busch heads to Martinsville this weekend, he hopes to not only cross another track off the win list, but also be able to bring home his first Martinsville grandfather clock after knocking on the door for several years at the Southern Virginia short track.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You’ve been so close to winning at Martinsville, lately. Are you hoping this weekend you can finally get that first win there?
“I certainly hope so. I’ve led a bunch of laps there but we just haven’t been able to hold it for the end of the 500 laps. It’s certainly a racetrack where you can be leading the race and think you’ve got a shot to win the thing in the last 30 laps, and then get beat on from behind and moved out of the way. It’s certainly a racetrack where it’s indicative that, if you’re just a little bit off, then the guys are going to be right on your rear bumper and trying to get by you. For us, it’s been a challenge, but we’re getting better at it and learning some more as we go along. I wasn’t able to race there last spring because of my injury, but (substitute driver) David Ragan ran really well there, finished in the top-five, and I was able to finish in the top-five there in the fall race. That gives me some confidence that our team has what it takes to get it done there. It would be pretty cool during the 75th anniversary of M&M’S to bring them to victory lane at such a historic venue like Martinsville. We would like to be able to have a good run like this team did there in both races last year, but also take it to the next level with a win for our M&M’S Camry.”
Is Martinsville similar to any other short tracks you’ve raced on?
“You say it’s similar probably just because the size of it being a half-mile, but Martinsville is not like any other racetrack I’ve ever raced on. Not even close. Denny Hamlin would probably be able to assess that statement a little better because he grew up at Southside (Speedway in Midlothian, Va.) and that is a lot closer to this place. Although it’s a quarter-mile, it’s flat and it’s like racing in a parking lot. For me, I’ve raced on three-eighths-mile, half-mile and three-quarter-mile racetracks all across the West and they were banked, they were flat, but nothing that was so conducive to heavy braking and all that kind of stuff like Martinsville. It’s certainly a challenge to figure out how to get around here and it makes it tough on you because the guys who are good here have run here for that many years. There’s always that transition period of younger guys coming in here and having to spend their time and cut their teeth and learn what it takes to run around this place.”
What is the key to you getting a win at Martinsville?
“I’d like to think we’re really close. We’ve been good there – especially the last couple of races there, we’ve been really good. It’s a tough racetrack and, anytime you come in the pits and make an adjustment on your car, you certainly hope it goes the right way, or you make enough of it, or you don’t make too much of an adjustment. It seems like I haven’t quite scienced that out for the last run there. The last run can be tricky, too, because you can be coming off a 50-lap run on right-side tires and take four and you’ve only got 30 (laps) to go, or you could have 80 to go and you know you have to manage that run all the way to the end.”
What is it that makes Martinsville so different when it looks so similar to other short tracks?
“Every track is different. There aren’t two racetracks out there that are the same. I would say probably the closest racetrack I grew up racing on was in San Bernardino, California – it was Orange Show Speedway. That’s closest to what Martinsville is. I only ran Legends cars there, so it’s not a true telling. It was only a quarter-mile. It’s just a tough place because you’re so hard on brakes, but your minimum speed there – everybody’s is – the same, pretty much. You’re looking to find things that will make your car just that much faster there. You want to drive into the corner 1 foot deeper than that other guy. You want to step on the gas a foot sooner than that other guy, and you want to roll a half-mile-an-hour better than that other guy. That’s why it’s so finicky and so hard there, because everybody runs so tight that, any little thing you can find, it can help a lot.”
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