HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Kyle Busch returns this weekend to the place where it all began in 2008 and also continued one year ago – Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), headed to Atlanta for the fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of 2008 aiming to bring home his first win for two new partners – Mars Chocolate North America and Toyota.
After leading a race-high 173 laps, the Las Vegas native captured his first win for Mars’ SNICKERS brand and also the first win in NASCAR’s top series for Toyota, which was in its second year of Sprint Cup competition and its first year with JGR, as was Busch.
The win also marked the end to a 147-race drought for JGR’s No. 18 team, and it was Busch’s first of 25 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins for JGR. Busch has now totaled 114 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three series driving Toyota vehicles – 25 in Sprint Cup, 55 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and 34 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Add 21 overall wins prior to joining JGR at the beginning of 2008 and Busch is at 125 combined Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series wins and counting.
One year ago this Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, it was déjà vu all over again for Busch and the M&M’s team as he led 36 laps en route to his 100th overall win in a Toyota and his 24th Sprint Cup win with JGR’s No. 18 team.
This weekend, Busch and his entire No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry team will look to add to their winning ways at Atlanta by rolling up their collective sleeves and working on rekindling the magic from a year ago as the series returns for Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500 Sprint Cup race.
While Mars Chocolate North America will race the M&M’s colors this weekend at Atlanta, its COMBOS® brand will also be busy outside the track in the Fan Zone.
Known to be an expert when it comes to combinations, the COMBOS® Brand has been traveling the country throughout the summer testing interesting combinations of objects, people and places with the ultimate goal of determining whether each pairing – or, COMBOS® Curiosity – makes a good or bad combination. This weekend, the brand will put to the test its fifth COMBOS Curiosity – the combination of a fire hydrant and a water gun – to help fans cool off at the Atlanta Motor Speedway Fan Zone. Sunday, COMBOS will ask NASCAR fans who want to cool off to look for The Hydrant Soaker, get sprayed with water and declare via social media if The Hydrant Soaker is a #GoodCombo or #BadCombo.
Fans can join the discussion about good and bad combinations at Facebook.com/COMBOS, or by following the COMBOS® Curiosities in real time at Twitter.com/Combos.
So as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta this weekend, Busch and Company will undoubtedly be feeling just a bit nostalgic, recalling their 2008 and 2013 race wins at the 1.5-mile oval as they look to reach yet another milestone at the place where the winning all began.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What kind of race are you expecting at Atlanta this year?
“I don’t think you’re going to see a race any different than what we’ve seen down in Atlanta the last few years. The racetrack has aged really nicely, where it’s probably aged too much, but you can’t repave Atlanta – that would just be stupid. It’s a place where you can run the bottom all the way from the white line all the way to the wall and anywhere in-between. You have to have a good car there, but it’s a neat racetrack with the way you can race around and move around and not get too comfortable running one lane. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the guys have brought good cars there in the past, especially last year, and I’m hoping we can go for the win with our M&M’s Camry.”
Are you looking forward to the multi-zone tire returning to Atlanta?
“I thought last year had good reviews for it and I think Atlanta is a good place for it – the multi-tread zone compound tire that Goodyear brought was good. I thought it was a positive for the series and for us and I look forward to it again.”
Are your expectations high going to Atlanta since JGR has won the last two races there? How is your mile-and-a-half program?
“We’re not quite where we need to be with our mile-and-a-half stuff, but Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen. You have to have good grip, you have to have good fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else – so you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early or save a little and be there late.”
Is Atlanta like a tune-up for mile-and-a-half tracks in the Chase?
“It is a little bit, yeah. It’s the final mile-and-a-half before the Chase and all mile-and-a-halves you kind of use as a test. Every weekend is a test of what you try, what you want to do differently, and see if you can find anything else that works for you. Atlanta is a lot different than the other races we go to in the Chase just because of the asphalt and the way the grip is and the way the tire is. You don’t necessarily see the same sorts of things at the other mile-and-a-halves that you will at Atlanta.”
What are your memories of racing in Atlanta?
“I’ve won a few Truck Series races there. That was fun. I have not won a Nationwide race there. I finished second three or four times, so it’s been an Achilles heel for me, I guess. The Cup races there, I’ve either been really good or r really bad it seems. There have been times where I’ve been really good throughout the event. I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t seem to keep the grip in my car for the long haul, as long you need throughout a run. I’m really fast for the first five, eight laps. But, after that, I seem to slip more than anyone else.”
What does it take to be successful at Atlanta?
“It takes a lot of things. You have to have a lot of grip, you have to have a lot of downforce, you have to have tire management, a great engine, and fuel mileage, too. There are a lot of circumstances it can come down to at the end and what it will boil down to.”
What did you think of the speed at Atlanta the first time you raced there?
“My first time there was 2003 in a Nationwide Series car and it was definitely fast. It’s all relative. You run the same speed around everybody and it really doesn’t feel that fast, so it feels like you do anywhere else, whether you’re at Las Vegas or Chicago or Kansas or any of those places.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine