HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the half-mile bullring at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, many naturally look to Kyle Busch as the driver to beat in northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.”
Busch has five Sprint Cup wins at Bristol while also recording eight top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 19 career Sprint Cup starts.
But, looking at his most recent starts at Bristol, while he still has had several solid finishes, his record isn’t as strong as it was in 2009 and 2010, when he won three of the four races at the .533-mile short track those two seasons.
Iconic chewing gum brand Doublemint – which happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year – will be along for the ride on Busch’s Sprint Cup Toyota in Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race.
Saturday night’s event will mark the first of two races in 2014 that Doublemint will serve as primary sponsor for Busch. The brand’s mint paint scheme will also adorn Busch’s No. 18 Toyota at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in October.
The driver of the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) will look to repeat an impressive feat from 2010, when he posted the first “triple’ in NASCAR history by winning the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series races that week. Busch will again compete in all three races this week, starting with Wednesday’s Truck Series race.
While he’s 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 Busch’s record in his last 15 starts at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” has been nothing short of amazing. 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 as Busch goes for his sixth career Sprint Cup win at Bristol Saturday night, he’ll hope a “fresh” start wearing Doublemint colors at the “The Last Great Colosseum” will help him add to his gaudy statistics there.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Are you looking forward to returning to Bristol?
“I love Bristol, and getting back there running all three divisions is going to be fun again. Being able to get back in the Truck, of course, and then run the Nationwide car and also run the Cup car. We’d love to be able to repeat 2010 – that would be amazing – and do another trifecta. But, since they’ve ground that place, it’s not necessarily been my best track, lately. So, I’ve got some work to do to figure out how to get better there and make it happen. We’re excited to have Doublemint on the car this weekend. It’s the company’s 100th anniversary this year and it was on my car for the sweep in 2010, so hopefully we can bring them back to victory lane on Saturday night.”
What makes you so good at Bristol Motor Speedway?
“I’m not exactly sure what makes me so good at Bristol. I’ve just had a lot of success there, but I’ve also had some misfortune there, too. Ever since I got through my rookie year, I’ve just taken a liking to the place. But, when they changed the track to this current surface in 2007, I just really took to it right away. I really liked it and I’ve been fast there, but also I’ve had great racecars from Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s just a fun racetrack no matter what series I’m running there. Like I said, we haven’t been as good since they made the changes in 2012 there, but we have been gaining on it and I’m hoping we can get back to form there this weekend. You really have to be on your game at Bristol. You make one mistake, or someone else makes one mistake, that’s it. We’re hoping things will fall in place this weekend with our Doublemint Camry and we get to victory lane.”
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 Nationwide 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.”
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 43 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine