HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – The list of racetracks where Kyle Busch has yet to win in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck – is not long.
In fact, there are only three left on that list – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, the site of Sunday’s Pocono 400 Sprint Cup Series race. Of the 28 tracks that will host NASCAR’s top three divisions in 2014, Busch has competed at every circuit but Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and he has won at 25 of them.
So as the Sprint Cup competitors head to the Pocono Mountains for the first of two races there in an eight-week span, it also signals the beginning of the summer stretch of races. Busch and the M&M’s Peanut Butter team are looking to improve on their results in recent years at the next several tracks on the tour, particularly the next three races at Pocono, Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, and Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
While Pocono has been difficult for Busch to master over the years, 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 Peanut Butter team are striving for even bigger things at the 2.5-mile track.
Sunday’s Pocono race will also serve as the culmination of a unique contest run by Busch’s primary backer M&M’s. Fans last month had the opportunity to visit the M&M’s Racing Facebook page (www.facebook.com/mmsracing) and share which M&M’s flavor they would “draft” – M&M’s Peanut, M&M’s Peanut Butter, or M&M’s Pretzel. The top vote-getter was M&M’s Peanut Butter, which as a result will be the colorful scheme that will adorn the No. 18 Toyota this weekend at Pocono for the second consecutive weekend. The M&M’s Peanut Butter scheme made its season debut last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
As the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains for Sunday’s Pocono 400, summer school will be in session for Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers and the entire M&M’s Peanut Butter team as they look to keep learning how to improve during the coming stretch of races. And, they hope the wins will soon follow.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Peanut Butter Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Until 2010, Pocono seemed to be a place where you struggled. What changed there to help you be in contention for wins in recent years?
“Pocono used to be a place I didn’t look forward to going to but, lately, I’ve been looking forward to it because of Dave Rogers (crew chief). I struggled there and Dave does a really good job of working with our teammates, with Denny (Hamlin) being so good there, we used some of the baseline stuff from the 11 car and tweaked it more to my liking. Denny is still way better than I am there, but Dave, along with everyone on the M&M’s Peanut Butter team and JGR, have done a good job of giving me solid racecars and it’s given me more confidence. I think the repave set us back a bit, even Denny, but we had two top-10s there last year and would like to turn those into top-fives, and maybe have a shot at a win there.”
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.”
Did the repaving of the track at Pocono change the racing at all there the last couple of years?
“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, 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). 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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