HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina - As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race, Kyle Busch is facing some knowns and plenty of unknowns in the racing mecca known as “Thunder Valley.”
The obvious known is that the driver of the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has a stellar record at the .533-mile high-banked bullring with five Sprint Cup wins to his credit there. In fact, there will only be two other drivers in the 40-car field Saturday night who have the same number of Bristol wins – his brother Kurt Busch, and four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon.
In addition to his five wins, Busch has notched eight top-fives and 13 top-10s in 22 career starts at Northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.” Amazingly enough, three of Busch’s wins there came over a four-race span at the .533-mile short track in 2009 and 2010.
While Busch’s Bristol dominance has been well documented in recent years, there are plenty of unknowns that lie ahead Saturday night. For starters, since the March race weekend, the track has undergone another small change. The bottom groove of the racing surface has been “polished” in hopes of rubber being able to stay on the bottom groove. It is yet another change to the progressive banking that was incorporated during the most recent track resurfacing project in 2007. How drastic will the changes be? That’s an unknown until practice commences Friday.
While he is a factor any time he travels to Bristol, it’s interesting to note Busch didn’t immediately take to the place. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But his record since then at the half-mile bullring has been impressive, to say the least. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Sprint Cup win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, from 2008 to 2011, nobody has been better at the concrete short track than Busch. He scored four wins and six top-10s from 2008 until another change to the track surface prior to the August 2012 race weekend. Busch is looking to recapture the magic from his four years of dominance there on the current surface.
So despite the knowns and unknowns on tap for Busch this weekend, it’s a safe bet that Busch and the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary team will be right in the thick of things on Saturday night, looking to add to the four Sprint Cup wins they’ve already scored in 2016.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How much do you look forward to Bristol with your recent string of victories?
“I certainly look forward to Bristol and I definitely have over the years, whether it was the old surface or when they repaved it. It’s been kind of frustrating a little bit since the (track surface) grind for me on the Sprint Cup Series side, and I haven’t figured that out all the way, yet. Definitely last fall, we got a lot closer to being able to have a win there and having some good success with the racetrack that we have with the grind. I definitely look forward to this weekend. We had some issues with tires there in the spring even though we had a fast car, so hopefully we have a better handle on that this weekend. We’re hoping things will fall in place this weekend with our M&M’S 75th Anniversary Camry and we get to victory lane there again. That’s always the goal each weekend.”
What is your most memorable experience at Bristol?
“The one that stands out the most for me is August 2010 – being able to do the sweep. We won the Truck race on Wednesday night, backed it up in the Xfinity Series race Friday and took home the trophy from the Cup race on Saturday night.”
What is the most challenging aspect of Bristol?
“I think the most challenging aspect of Bristol is just how difficult it is to transition through from the straightaways to the corners, back to the straightaways, and have your car set up in order to do all that. Sometimes you can be really loose getting in, or you can be really tight in the middle – you just seem to never be able to get a good-flowing car that works well there. Drivers have to do a lot of manipulation on the racetrack with their car in order to try to make the best of it.”
Do you think anyone will ever win another seven races in a row at Bristol?
“No, no I don’t think so. I think the way the sport was then is certainly different than the way the sport is now. When you hit on something back in that day, you might have been able to keep it at that particular racetrack for a lot longer than you can now. The way that tech goes and the way you have to tear down your car here at the racetrack and having people looking at it from not very far away, they can see what you’re doing and, then again, they go to the tech center and they pull apart the shocks and they pull apart the bump stops and they basically give away to everybody else what you’re doing. It’s not all that secretive on the things that these guys are doing these days. I don’t think you’ll ever see seven in a row at a particular racetrack again, but I could be wrong. Deep down, I would like to say that I could do it, but I know that even with the team I have and the crew and the talent and everything we’ve got going on with the M&M’S car, that’s going to be hard to do. It’s fun to reminisce about those days and about what it’s all about but, sometimes you hear these comments about our sport and about how it could be dull or boring or whatever. And they talk about how great it was in the ’70s or the ’80s, and you look at some of the results and there’s eight cars that finish and the second-place car is three laps down and this guy has now won five in a row at a particular racetrack and it’s, like, ‘How is that the good old days?’ Is that really what would be exciting these days? I don’t think so. Not unless it’s your favorite driver, and there are a lot of fans out there who pull for different drivers.”
How have you figured out the best way to get around Bristol Motor Speedway?
“Things have just kind of really worked well together. It’s a fun place that you like going to. You enjoy the race around there. We grew up at the ‘Bullring’ (in Las Vegas) and stuff like that. They aren’t as banked as Bristol is, but I love going and racing at Winchester (Indiana) and at Slinger (Wisconsin), Salem (Indiana) – those are all really high-banked racetracks that are a half-mile in distance, or a quarter. They’re really fun to race around and you kind of get a great feel for racing in a bowl. You go down the straightaway and you slam it into the corners and you mash the gas and you kind of sling right back out of the corners. It’s a lot of fun to do that. It’s kind of an art. Some guys are really good at it, and some find a knack that makes them really good at it and makes it seem easy.”
What makes Bristol Motor Speedway so unique and a place that fans love?
“Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit. All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins, and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 40 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time.”
- Jonathan Paluga
Director of Marketing & Sales
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