HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina – It’s summertime across the United States, and Kyle Busch is as hot as the weather outside as he rides a wave of momentum into this Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) is coming off another record-breaking weekend at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Busch not only swept both the Xfinity Series and Sprint Cup Series races at Indianapolis for the second weekend in a row, but also became the first driver in NASCAR history to sweep both races from the pole.
Busch will now shift his focus to the “Tricky Triangle” at Pocono Raceway, one of just two tracks left on his Sprint Cup winless list – Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway being the other. He’s already captured first-time wins at two tracks this year – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Kansas Speedway in Kansas City – while continuing to add to his already impressive resume.
Last July at the 2.5-mile triangle at Pocono, 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 at Pocono, 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.
Busch will no doubt find plenty of encouragement this week during his usual pre-Pocono visit to Mars Chocolate North America. There, the M&M’S driver will have the opportunity to meet with hundreds of Mars associates, and many of those same associates will travel just down the road to Pocono Sunday to cheer for Busch as a continuation of M&M’S 75th Anniversary celebration.
While Pocono was difficult for Busch to master for the first six years of his Sprint Cup career, he seemed to have turned a corner there in June 2011, when he started from the pole – his first at the track – 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 there, Busch and the M&M’S 75th Anniversary 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 and an accident there after leading in the spring.
So, as the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains, Busch, crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire M&M’S team will look to ride the huge wave of momentum back to victory lane for the second race in a row and for the first time at the “Tricky Triangle.”
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
With all this momentum, what’s your outlook going back to Pocono for the second time this year?
“I’m looking forward to Pocono with our M&M’S 75th Anniversary Camry. It’s a place where you run similar setups to Indy, but it still has its own unique challenges with just three turns as opposed to four. I think there’s a good opportunity for us to excel. If we could bring home two in a row and our first-ever win at Pocono, that would be something special, especially at a place I have yet to win at, so I would love to cross that one off the list. We get to visit the offices at Mars in New Jersey before the race and continue our celebration of the 75th Anniversary for M&M’S, so I know it’s going to be a fun week all around.”
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. I 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 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 last July, 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.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine