HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina – The list of racetracks where Kyle Busch has yet to win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is not long.
In fact, there are only two left on that list – Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, the site of Sunday’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 Sprint Cup Series race.
So as the Sprint Cup competitors head to the Pocono Mountains for the first of two races there in an eight-week span that also signals the beginning of the summer stretch of races, Busch and the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota Camry team for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) are looking to get one win closer to adding his name to the record books yet again. Busch has already crossed off two first time Sprint Cup tracks with wins this year – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City – and continues to add to his already impressive resume.
Other drivers have come close to accomplishing the feat Busch has in his sights. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon retired after the 2015 season and was one short of the feat as he fell short of winning at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta in five career starts there. Three-time champion Tony Stewart, who will retire at the end of this season, also has yet to win at Kentucky and is still chasing his first win at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, as well.
Looking back at his most recent trip to the 2.5-mile triangle at Pocono last July, Busch was less than one lap away from crossing the track off his yet-to-win list. The Las Vegas native hit town on a three-race winning streak and led three times for 19 laps, including taking the white flag as the leader. With his fourth consecutive race win in his sights, having pushed hard in swapping the lead with Joey Logano during the day’s final run, Busch pushed his fuel tank just a bit too far as he ran out of gas coming out of turn one. While he eventually coasted across the finish line, his JGR teammate Matt Kenseth benefited from Busch’s misfortune and brought home the win.
While Pocono has been difficult for Busch to master for the first six years of his Sprint Cup career, he seemed to have turned a corner there starting in June 2011, when he started from the pole – his first at Pocono – and was beaten across the finish line only by teammate and Pocono master Denny Hamlin, who has four wins to his credit at “The Tricky Triangle.” In August 2011, Busch led 27 laps late in the race before equaling his career-best Pocono finish of second behind race-winner Brad Keselowski. While he brought home top-10 finishes in both 2013 races at Pocono, Busch and the M&M’S team are striving for even bigger things at the 2.5-mile track after running well the last two years but not getting the finishes they deserved, especially last year’s fuel-mileage heartbreak.
As the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains for Sunday’s 400-miler, summer school will be in session for Busch, crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire M&M’S team. They’ll look to cross another track off the list for Busch as he works to accomplish something nobody else has in NASCAR Sprint Cup history – win at every single active track.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You’ve come close to winning at Pocono the last several years. Have you improved there over the years?
“I think I’ve been a bit inconsistent or streaky there over the years. Started off early in my career with some top-five finishes and then went through a stretch where we weren’t very good. Lately, we’ve certainly been better there and I’ve had some second-place finishes and third-place finishes, so I feel like I’ve figured it out better there lately. With the way our cars at JGR have been overall, I’m very optimistic that we could score a victory there this weekend or, if not, when we come back later in the summer with our M&M’S 75th Anniversary Camry.”
Pocono is the most unique track on the circuit with three distinct corners. What’s the most difficult part of the track for you?
“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest – turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down. We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway."
With you running out of fuel during your most recent trip there, does that enter your mind as you head back to Pocono?
“I think when you run well there and have a shot to win and you run out of fuel, when you head back there you still have the same mindset that you have a shot to win there just like we had a shot to win there last summer. I would definitely like to win a race there, and last year having such a good car I certainly have figured out how to drive the track, so eventually I think we’ll get that win there when you keep bringing back good cars like Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the M&M’S guys have.”
Did the repaving of the track at Pocono change the racing at all there?
“I thought the racing there was kind of the same, not much different. It was a little bit harder to pass because, it seems like, when you’re out front in clean air, you have so much more of an advantage than being back in traffic than what it used to be – slightly, not much. To me, it was always a hard, tricky place, but it’s actually finally started becoming a two-lane racetrack in turn three. You could run the bottom and you could run the top with what we call ‘the grip strip.’ Now, it’s all grip, so it’s all back to the bottom again and you can’t really make much time up on the outside anymore. I know they had a pretty tough winter up there, so hopefully it weathered the surface even more and it widened the groove and we can put on some good racing there.”
Since the track is unique, where is the best place to make a pass at Pocono?
“Most of your passing is going to be done probably through turn one and off of turn one and getting into turn two, and if somebody can get a good run off of turn two, get back up high and get in line to get on that patch, getting into turn three. Besides that, in turn one, we just can’t get the cars to turn down there because there’s so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a ‘buck-40’ (140 mph). Turn two is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you’ve got to maneuver through the tunnel turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”
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