HUNTERSVILLE, N.C.– It’s almost time for Halloween and, for Kyle Busch, there are memories of a time when not many things were spookier than having to make one of his semiannual visits to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
That’s because, before a three-race stretch starting in the fall of 2009, the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver who will sport a special M&M’s Halloween Fun Size paint scheme for Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 never finished better than 24th in a JGR car at the .526-mile paperclip-shaped oval.
Of the 23 venues that will host Sprint Cup events in 2014, Busch has won at least once at 20 of those venues in at least one of NASCAR’s top three divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck. There are only three current Sprint Cup tracks – Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Martinsville – where Busch has not scored a victory in any of NASCAR’s top three series.
Despite the lack of a Martinsville grandfather clock in his trophy case, Busch has plenty of reasons for optimism this weekend, especially considering how he has been able to pick up his game at Martinsville starting in 2009.
Busch finally busted through the 24th-place barrier at NASCAR’s shortest oval with a solid fourth-place finish in the fall of 2009 and, after that, Busch started posting strong finishes at Martinsville beginning with another fourth-place run in October of that year. In his April 2011 trip to the tricky Virginia short track, Busch led a race-high 151 laps before scoring his career-best Martinsville finish of third. And, in October 2011, he led another race-high 126 laps before being collected in an accident not of his own doing late in the race. Add his new career-best Martinsville finish of second in October 2012 and a fifth in April 2013 and it seems that Busch has found his groove at the tricky paperclip-shaped short track.
Indeed, Busch feels like the M&M’s team keeps getting closer and closer to that elusive win at Martinsville with each return. Even though there is still a blank in the win column, Busch’s Martinsville resume now includes eight top-five finishes and nine top-10s in his 19 Sprint Cup starts there.
Last week’s elimination race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway had a bag full of tricks for Busch and the M&M’s team after they were collected in a midrace accident not of their own doing. The 40th-place result was not good enough to advance Busch to the Chase Eliminator round. However, Busch and team can still climb as high as fifth in the final standings, so the focus will be on the best points finish possible, with the hope of another win before the season is finished.
As the Sprint Cup Series returns to Martinsville for another Halloween weekend celebration, will it mean a trick, or a treat, for Busch this Sunday? Despite the lack of a win there, Busch has reason to believe it might finally be time to grab the ultimate treat at Martinsville – his first grandfather clock – as the season hits the homestretch for the final four races of the season.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You’ve been so close to winning at Martinsville, lately. Are you hoping this weekend you can finally get that first win there?
“I certainly hope so. I’ve led a bunch of laps there but we just haven’t been able to hold it for the end of the 500 laps. It’s certainly a racetrack where you can be leading the race and think you’ve got a shot to win the thing in the last 30 laps, and then get beat on from behind and moved out of the way. It’s certainly a racetrack where it’s indicative that, if you’re just a little bit off, then the guys are going to be right on your rear bumper and trying to get by you. For us, it’s been a challenge, but we’re getting better at it and learning some more as we go along. We would like to be able to continue that, but also take it to the next level with a win for our M&M’s Halloween Camry team.”
What is the key to you getting a win at Martinsville?
“I’d like to think we’re really close. We’ve been good there – especially the last couple of races there we’ve been really good. It’s a tough racetrack and, anytime you come in the pits and make an adjustment on your car, you certainly hope it goes the right way, or you make enough of it, or you don’t make too much of an adjustment. It seems like I haven’t quite scienced that out for the last run there. The last run can be tricky, too, because you can be coming off a 50-lap run on right-side tires and take four and you’ve only got 30 (laps) to go, or you could have 80 to go and you know you have to manage that run all the way to the end.”
Your racecar is sporting the special M&M’s Halloween paint scheme again this week. What was your favorite Halloween costume you wore as a kid?
“Actually, one year I went as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I think that was my favorite costume as a kid. I was Michelangelo and I even had the fake nunchuk. One year, I was a football player and, one year, I even dressed up as Jeff Gordon since he was my favorite racecar driver when I was a kid.”
Growing up in Las Vegas, what do you remember about Halloween and trick-or-treating?
“It was always cold in Las Vegas during Halloween, even though it can be really hot most of the year. I guess the biggest memory was going out to everyone’s house and trick-or-treating and hanging out with friends as a group. Sometimes, people wouldn’t be home, so they had a bucket out and you would reach in and grab whatever you wanted out of the bucket. It was all about how much candy you could collect, not necessarily about how much you would eat when you got home.”
What was your favorite kind of candy?
“Mainly, everyone always had the fun size packs. Back then, which wasn’t that long ago, the fun size pack of M&M’s was always really popular, and I’m sure that hasn’t changed too much, even now.”
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