Sonoma

Carousel of Progress

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (June 18, 2019) – The carousel, which later evolved into one of the oldest forms of amusement park rides, was actually first developed in the 12th century to be a high-intensity training exercise. Horsemen would ride around in circles trying to wack their opponents with a perfume-infused ball, much different than what we know a modern carousel to be.

The modern carousel, originated in the early 19th century, is a rotating circular platform whose “seats” are made to look like horses and various other animals, vehicles, and other imaginative objects. They are common staples at amusement parks, zoos and other family entertainment areas throughout the United States and the world.

While carousels were very popular in the United States at the 20th century, the Great Depression caused many to cease operation and others to be destroyed. When the economy finally recovered, technology allowed carousels to be made from aluminum and synthetic materials and, instead of steam-powering them, electric motors were used and many older carousels were refurbished. Of the 4,000 or so carousels built in the United States prior to the Depression, less than 150 survived. 

With this relatively short history in mind, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350k with a much different type of carousel the main topic of discussion as changes to one of the series’ two road courses will be something to watch. 

The full Sonoma layout, which was originally unveiled when it opened in 1968, incorporates the raceway’s signature sweeping downhill sequence of corners known as “The Carousel.” It plunges from turn four down through turns five and six and navigates a more than 200-degree radius turn before dropping onto Sonoma’s longest straightaway from the turn-seven hairpin. NASCAR first utilized the full 12-turn road course during its first Pacific Coast Late Model Division race at what was then called Sears Point Raceway in 1969 and on through numerous Cup Series, West Series, Southwest Series and Truck Series events until 1997. Since 1998, NASCAR had competed on a shorter, 1.99-mile configuration that bypassed The Carousel by connecting turns four and seven and calling it “The Chute.” 

With the addition of The Carousel to its configuration, the scenic track in Northern California’s Wine Country grows from a 1.99-mile 10 turn road course into a 12-turn, 2.25 mile configuration. Kyle Busch is one of the few active Cup Series drivers to have competed on this weekend’s layout, albeit his experience was in a 1998 Legends race when he was just 13 years old.

No matter the configuration, Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is known to be someone who really enjoys making right and left turns on NASCAR’s road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. To him, it feels like somewhat of a vacation as it’s a vast departure from the ovals that make up the majority of the Cup Series schedule. 

Sonoma is one of numerous road courses where Busch has won as he has evolved into a constant threat to win. Before 2008, he received hardly a mention as a threat to win at Sonoma or Watkins Glen. But that changed shortly after his arrival at JGR at the start of 2008, when he promptly dominated the road-course scene, leading 130 of the 202 road-course laps run that year and captured victories at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen. He quickly established himself as a routine road-course contender and has been in the hunt for race wins on road courses ever since. In addition to his two wins at Sonoma in 2008 and 2015, Busch led 29 laps en route bringing home his second win at Watkins Glen in August 2013.

While his road-course success is well documented, Busch’s most memorable road-course win was the 2015 Sonoma event. After sitting out the first 11 NASCAR Cup Series races that season because of injury, he and the M&M’S team had 15 races to meet two requirements in order to make the 2015 playoffs. He needed to have at least one victory, and also needed to make it into the top-30 in driver points.

Busch’s Sonoma race that year was a turning point in his season as he snuck past seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson on a late-race restart to bring home an unlikely win, considering he had to deal with all the shifting and footwork that is required on the tight, twisty road course while still recovering from his leg injuries. It started a remarkable streak of four wins in five weeks, including three in a row at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the season culminated with his first Cup Series championship.

Just 15 races into the 2019 season, Busch has already put together another championship-contending effort with four wins, featuring back-to-back victories at ISM Raceway near Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, along with his wins at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Along with those wins, Busch and the M&M’S Hazelnut Spread team have been incredibly consistent, posting nine top-five finishes and 14 top-10s in the first 15 races as the Cup Series season starts to approach its halfway mark. 

So, as they head to their annual stop in Wine Country, Busch and the No. 18 team look to lead the way on the “Carousel of Progress” onto the newly expanded Sonoma road course, hoping it leads to more success throughout the summer months.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 

What are your expectations for Sonoma with the addition of The Carousel, and will you visit the TRD simulator before the Sonoma race weekend?

“I probably will. I’ve been to the simulator before and I’ve been to the racetrack and it’s hurt me, and I’ve been to the simulator before and been to the racetrack and it’s helped me. It can go either way, just kind of depends. The Carousel coming back, it’s kind of interesting. I thought back about it earlier, or when they made the announcement – you look back to 1998 when they added The Chute and, that was a lot of wasted money because now we’re going back to what it was. Overall, just having The Carousel coming back, I don’t think it’s going to change the racing dynamic a whole lot from what that race looks like. It’s just going to add in – there’s a ramp almost kind of getting into The Carousel. You have to be out of the gas before going up and over that hill, then throttle back into the turn, and that’s what I remember when I ran the course back in 1998 with Legends cars. But these cars are entirely different from Legends cars, so we’re definitely going to have some new learning to do. At least I know where I’m going when I’m down there.” 

How challenging is it to race on a road course when you don’t do that on a regular basis? 

“It’s different, for sure. There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do. The neat thing about road racing is just being able to have – it’s like – a vacation weekend. You just go out there and have fun and do the best you can and you’ll either do really well or you’ll do really badly and you just go on to the next one. We don’t have a lot of testing for it and you try to pick up on it but, with respect to who you’re racing, you can expect to race a little bit of a different crowd. I think the biggest thing you do for Sonoma is watch some film, look at things from the past few years that have worked and some things that haven’t, and look at what has made you better there. You always have to be mindful of what has made you good there and what you can improve on. Looking forward to heading out there and getting back in the M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry and having some fun.” 

Is road-course racing something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on? 

“It’s definitely something you have to work on. With rule changes and tire changes, it’s something you work on every year. There’s always change that you have to work on to be competitive. When I was a kid back in Las Vegas in Legends cars, that’s where I was able to learn about shifting and turning left and turning right. I had the natural instincts for it and won a couple of championships in the winter series we had out there. We actually went to Sonoma back then and ran the national championship races two years in a row and finished third both times, so I had a little bit of experience on road courses as I came up through the ranks.”

How special was your 2015 Sonoma win, and what do you remember about it? 

“That weekend was certainly a good start to our championship run. To go out there and win the race after where we were after Michigan the previous week, it all gave us the confidence that we still had a shot to win the championship. We thought getting the win would be the hardest part, but it was really not expected at Sonoma. My feet and legs were still recovering and there was a lot of shifting and it was hard on them. With 30 laps to go, it was hurting pretty bad but, when you realize you have a chance to win, it doesn’t hurt as bad. We’ve had times at Sonoma where we’ve been up front and haven’t been able to hold onto it, and other times when we had the right strategy and we were in the right place at the right time. We’ve had some bad luck at times there, as well, so we’re hoping we can get a good run with our M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry at Sonoma.” 

Describe what it’s like to race at Sonoma and what challenges you face there?

“Sonoma is a neat place. It’s a cool area to go to up into Wine Country. I’ve always enjoyed road-course racing. Even when I was in Legends cars, I would enjoy going up there during the days that I raced there. Now that I’m on the Cup tour, it’s cool to go there every June. It’s a fun racetrack. The cars get grouped a lot closer together there than at Watkins Glen, so braking there is a lot tougher getting into turn four, turn seven, and especially turn 11. There are some opportunities in those corners to pass people. Forward bite seems to have become an issue as you get going there during the run. And you need to make sure you keep the rear tires underneath you because it’s really easy to burn them babies off when you try and pass somebody. You go to pass somebody and hit the gas and all your rear tires want to do is spin and you can’t get alongside that guy. So, from that respect, Sonoma can be frustrating at times, as well. We just want to get in a position to win with our M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry, then see how the strategy plays out.”

Notes of Interest:

  • The Toyota/Save Mart 350k will mark Kyle Busch’s 514th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 15th NASCAR Cup Series start at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
  • Busch has career totals of 55 wins, 31 poles, 192 top-five finishes, 283 top-10s and 16,613 laps led in 513 career Cup Series racesHis most recent Cup Series win came two races ago at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came in October at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
  • Busch has two wins, four top-five finishes and six top-10s and has led a total of 110 laps in 14 Cup Series starts at Sonoma. Busch’s average Sonoma finish is 18.4
  • 55 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Pocono, the 55th points-paying win of his career, Busch sits tied for ninth all-time in Cup Series wins with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. With his 40th Cup Series victory at Bristol in August 2017, Busch became the fourth-youngest driver to reach 40 Cup Series wins at 32 years, 109 days, behind only Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Herb Thomas. 
  • All-Time JGR Wins Leader: With his Brickyard 400 win in July 2016, Busch passed Tony Stewart for most all-time Cup Series wins for JGR. Busch now has 51 wins for JGR to Stewart’s 33 following his most recent win at Bristol, along with besting Stewart’s Cup Series career win total.
  • 206: Busch enters the weekend at Sonoma with 206 wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions – Cup (55), Xfinity (95) and Truck (56) – following his Cup Series win at Pocono earlier this month.

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