Checking the Final Box
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Feb. 4, 2021) – As the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is set to begin with on-track activities starting Tuesday, Feb. 9 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Kyle Busch has turned his attention to checking the most important remaining box on his career to-do list.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is hoping to check the box of Daytona 500 champion by finally securing the Harley J. Earl Trophy that goes annually to the Daytona 500 winner as he makes his 16th career start in The Great American Race slated for Sunday, Feb. 14.
Busch is still searching for his first victory in NASCAR’s season-opening event, which would be one of the most noteworthy accomplishments on his already impressive resume. The important race wins and accomplishments already checked off his list are housed in a large trophy case built at his Kyle Busch Motorsports race shop. The list starts with his two Cup Series championship trophies from 2015 and 2019, along with his wins in crown jewel races starting with the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in 2008, back-to-back Brickyard 400s at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2015 and 2016, his first points-paying Cup Series win at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend in 2018, and his first All-Star Race victory coming at Charlotte in 2017. While Busch will have his sights set on notching wins at a handful of new venues in 2021, the Daytona 500 trophy remains at the top of his list.
The Las Vegas native begins the pursuit of his first Daytona 500 win and third championship sporting the familiar yellow M&M’S scheme on his No. 18 Toyota. The M&M’S brand will be returning to Busch’s car for its 14th season in 2021, along with other Mars Wrigley products highlighted on the car throughout the year, which include a mix of new and also familiar products from the SNICKERS, SKITTLES and PEDIGREE brands. With M&M’S always bringing along the fun throughout the year in its marketing platforms, the brand also recently opened up a new M&M’S store just an hour down the road from Daytona in Orlando at Disney Springs. The 10,000-square-foot M&M’S World store features an iconic Wall of Chocolate, larger-than-life character moments, and the ability for guests to create their very own custom M&M'S candies.
The M&M’S Toyota will be on track the week leading up to the Daytona 500, starting with Tuesday night’s Busch Clash, an exhibition race Busch won in 2012. It will continue with single-lap qualifying Wednesday night, then Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying races. Busch won his Duel qualifying race in 2009, 2013 and 2016. And the official NASCAR Cup Series season begins in earnest with the Sunday’s Daytona 500 for Busch, who in addition to his three non-points race wins at Daytona captured his first and only points-paying Cup Series win at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in July 2008.
So, as Busch and his No. 18 M&M’S Camry head back to Daytona next week, his sights will be set on winning The Great American Race and hoping to become the 40th driver to grace the Harley J. Earl Trophy as Daytona 500 champion.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You are still going after that first Daytona 500 trophy. Is this the year you are able to get to Daytona 500 victory lane?
“I don’t know if this this is the year or not, but we’ll all have to find out together. It’s been a long time, obviously. I’ve been doing it for quite a while. It’s the last trophy to check off the box. I’ve certainly been close a few times and have been way far away at other times. I feel like the superspeedway thing has not been my knack over the last few years for whatever reason. I’ve been trying to learn on it and watch film and getting better at it in those situations. We had a fast car last year and we had a fast car for all the speedway races. We were up front and leading last year’s race with 15 or so laps to go and had an engine let go. It’s a mix of a lot of luck and some skill, as well. You can be leading going down the backstretch and have someone drill you from behind and crash you, so it’s never over till it’s over and you can get to the finish line and finally put our M&M’S Camry in victory lane there. Our friends at M&M’S have also been trying for years and I’m also hope we can get it done for them as well as myself.”
What would winning the Daytona 500 mean to you?
“Winning the Daytona 500 would be huge. It’s essentially the last trophy on my checklist that I really need. I also want to win COTA, Nashville, and all the new tracks, as well, but the Daytona 500 is one that has eluded me, and many others for that matter. I would certainly like to think I could get that race checked off my list before it’s all said and done and to also be known as a Daytona 500 champion in addition to my championships and other race wins.”
You’ll have new crew chief Ben Beshore atop the pitbox this season. What are your expectations and challenges for the season ahead with a new crew chief and some new crew members?
“It definitely does present new challenges. Working with Ben is going to be cool. Ben and I worked together when he was the engineer on my car the first four years Adam (Stevens) was my Cup crew chief. We won the championship in 2015 and we were close in 2017 and we were there again with an opportunity to win it again in 2018 and it just didn’t happen. Ben went on to the Xfinity side and he and I worked together over there and won five out of seven races, blew an engine in the sixth race while leading and had a suspension failure while leading in the seventh race, so we could have gone seven for seven that year. I feel like he’s got a good knack for the car and does and good job and I’m looking forward to being able to have the opportunity to work with him again, but as a crew chief on the Cup side this time.”
How are you preparing for your Duel qualifying race?
“I think the biggest thing about that race is that you’ve got to go for points, be smart, get some points out of that race if you can. Obviously, it’s a big deal to have stage points. We kind of saw that the last couple of years with everything going on. Even if you can win the thing, obviously that would be even better to get that stage bonus point. But to have the points collection just kind of starting with that race is going to be important. So you’ve got to be cautious and mindful of what you’ve got going on, what you’re doing, because that’s the car you want to start the Daytona 500 with. It’s also the car that you’ve qualified with. You’re not allowed to touch it after qualifying. Everybody has speed dialed in. I wouldn’t say a lot of guys have a whole lot of comfort dialed into their cars. You might see some exciting moments. Hopefully, we won’t get caught up in any of that.”
Why is the Daytona 500 so difficult to win?
“Because everybody else wants to win it and it’s on all their bucket lists and, of course, it’s a race that 40 people have a chance to go out there and win. I wouldn’t say the same for a race like Vegas. You go to Vegas and obviously that’s a race where probably 10, 12 guys are going to have a chance to win but, when you show up to Daytona, all 40 people will believe they have a chance to win.”
How would you explain the feeling of starting the Daytona 500?
“It’s crazy because I might not have felt this way as a rookie or maybe my second year, but I feel it’s like another race. But, it is the first race of the year and you want to start it off well. Are you always really ready for the start of the season? Who knows? If the Daytona 500 was the fifth or sixth race of the year, would it be better for me or better for somebody else? Maybe, or maybe not. The only way I can explain it to people is, if you ever get excited or the adrenaline starts pumping and you don’t necessarily have any feelings, it’s just excitement. It could be for people experiencing the birth of a kid or something like that, or seeing their kid go through graduation or something like that. That’s sort of the feeling of getting ready to start the Daytona 500. To me, I get nervous or pumped up or excited for the start of the Super Bowl just watching it. I’m excited and I’m jacked up for it, so I can only imagine what the players feel, and that’s sort of the feeling you get.”
Notes of Interest:
● Is This The Year?: Busch heads into his 16th Daytona 500th start still looking for his first victory in The Great American Race. He isn’t the first multi-time champion a Daytona 500 race win has eluded. Past champions such as Buck Baker, brothers Bobby and Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, and Tony Stewart all had fantastic careers but were never able to bring home the Harley J. Earl trophy. Notable drivers who went far into their careers before their first Daytona 500 victories were Dale Earnhardt winning on his 20th attempt, and Michael Waltrip bringing home the hardware on his 15th try. Ironically, Busch’s older brother Kurt Busch went for most of his career before winning his first Daytona 500 in 2017 in his 17th attempt. Will that be an omen for Kyle Busch in this year’s race?
● New Look Daytona Schedule: The schedule of activities leading into the Daytona 500 looks much different than it has in recent years as it has been compacted. Instead of starting during the previous weekend, the new-look Busch Clash will take on the road course for the first time in the 42-year history of the exhibition race and will be run on Tuesday night. Daytona 500 qualifying moves to Wednesday night, the Duel twin 150-mile qualifying races to Thursday night, Feb. 11 and the week culminates with the 63rd Daytona 500 on Sunday Feb. 14.
● Dueling at Daytona: Busch will make his 16th start in his Bluegreen Vacations Duel twin qualifying races. In his previous 14 starts, Busch has led 168 laps and has three career wins in the qualifying event – 2009, 2013, and 2016.
● Almost: Busch almost drove to his first Daytona Cup Series victory in July 2007, when he finished second to race-winner Jamie McMurray by a mere .005 of a second in a drag race to the finish line.
● No More ‘Almost:’ Busch finally notched his first and only Cup Series points-paying win at Daytona in the July 2008 Coke Zero 400. Busch was just ahead of Carl Edwards when the caution flag came out for a multicar accident in turn one on lap 162 during a green-white-checkered finish. Busch was declared the winner by NASCAR officials when it was determined his car was in the lead when the caution came out to end the race.
● Sparks Will Fly: While the Busch Clash has more than 40 years of history at Daytona, this will be the first Busch Clash on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile Daytona road course. While there have been plenty of memorable moments in the season-opening exhibition race typically held on the 2.5-mile oval, one of the more exciting moments came courtesy of Busch in 2012. In that race, Busch was able to recover from two jaw-dropping, spark-inducing saves earlier in the race. He recovered from those near misses to pass three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart coming to the finish line on the final lap to win the race by .013 of a second, the closest finish in Clash history.
● Near Misses: The 2021 Daytona 500 will be Busch’s 16th attempt to win The Great American Race. While he’s had good runs with some heartbreak experienced over the years, such as a late-race blown engine in 2020, there have been three occasions where Busch has been in the running for the win on the last lap. In his debut with JGR in 2008, Busch and then-teammate Stewart drafted together but were bested by Team Penske teammates Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman as Newman took the checkered flag, and Kyle Busch came home fourth. In the 2016 edition of the race, it was the JGR Toyotas who worked together to dominate the event as teammate Denny Hamlin made a bold move on the last lap to pass Matt Kenseth on the high side of Busch (who finished third) for the victory. Finally, Busch battled Hamlin late in the 2019 race and brought home the runner-up spot in an emotional 1-2-3 finish for JGR just weeks after the passing of team president J.D. Gibbs.
● New Venues: When Busch brought home his first points-paying win at Charlotte in 2018, he became the first driver to win at all active venues on the Cup Series circuit. However, there have been some changes since then with the addition of the roval circuit at Charlotte in late 2018 and the move to the Daytona road course in 2020 to replace Watkins Glen for one season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with setting his sights on winning the aforementioned events for the first time, there are several new venues and even a new surface Busch will hope to add to his vast resume of race wins beginning this year. Those new circuits include Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, a track where he found victory lane in the NASCAR’s Xfinity and Camping World Truck series, along with the road courses at Circuit of America’s in Austin Texas, Road America in Elkart Lake, Wisconsin, and the infield circuit at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Finally, the series will run on dirt for the first time in the modern era with dirt covering the concrete surface at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
● Super Bowl Before NASCAR’s Super Bowl: Along with the recent debut of M&M’S World in Disney Springs in Orlando, M&M’S will also be have a commercial running during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast. The ad, featuring actor Dan Levy, will be sure to bring some laughs to those watching. One week later, M&M’S attention will turn to being the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 18 M&M’S Toyota in NASCAR’s Super Bowl – the 63rd Daytona 500.