From Spooky to Solid at Kansas Speedway

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Oct. 16, 2018) – It’s October and, as usual this time of year, M&M’S has brought back its Halloween-themed No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for driver Kyle Busch during the next two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races – this weekend at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City and the following weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway – during one of M&M’S busiest seasons.

In keeping with the Halloween theme, if one were to look at Busch’s three-race stretch at Kansas in NASCAR’s top series following the summer 2012 repave of the 1.5-mile oval, the result sheet was downright spooky for the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). Starting with the October race in 2012, Busch finished 31st, 38th, and 34th, respectively, with all three races ending in an accident.

The 1.5-mile oval built in 2001, which originally featured a constant 15 degrees of banking in the turns, underwent a massive renovation project leading into the aforementioned October 2012 Cup Series event. The changes included repaving of the track surface, reconfiguration of the oval, and the addition of a new infield road course. The oval’s geometric shape also was changed to feature variable banking of 17 to 20 degrees in the turns.

Feeling snakebit on the new Kansas surface after those three consecutive accidents, Busch and his M&M’S Halloween team took a different approach starting with the April 2014 race there by starting from scratch with a brand new car. They attacked the track in the Heartland of America with hope that a fresh outlook would produce vastly different results. While a pit-road speeding penalty cost them precious track position and an even better finish in the race, the result of 15th was still much different than the three previous trips. They began to turn the corner in terms of competitiveness and results.

Starting with the October 2014 Kansas Cup Series race, Busch brought home his first-ever top-five finish at the track. Anyone who has ever followed Busch’s career knows the 2015 Cup Series champion never cared much for moral victories. However, the momentum carried over from the October 2014 top-five to his next Kansas race in October 2015, when he finished a solid third. It was a finish that helped vault him through to the next round of the Cup Series playoffs and eventually to the championship stage.

Busch has kept making strides each time he goes back to the Heartland, where he broke through for his first Cup Series win at the 1.5-mile oval in May 2016 as the surface finally started to wear and become more agreeable to Busch’s driving style as he now has seven consecutive top-10 finishes there, a streak that at one point included five consecutive top-five finishes. 

Sunday afternoon in Kansas, Busch and the M&M’S Halloween team will look to tackle the final race of the Round of 12 of the 2018 playoffs. Busch has a 43-point advantage over the all-important cutoff spot for the Round of 8, a gap he hopes to keep in order to make it through to the next round. The Las Vegas native hopes for two strong finishes in the first two stages, along with a solid result in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 to make his advancement to the next round a formality. 

So, as the Cup Series heads to the Heartland of America Sunday, an eighth top-10 finish in a row at Kansas could be just what Busch needs to move on to the next playoff round. And even though Halloween is fast approaching, Kansas has been solid – not scary – for Busch and his colorful M&M’S Halloween Toyota.

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

What difference have the bonus points for stage wins and race wins made for you so far in the playoffs? 

“We’ve obviously not had the round we wanted, but we had some similar issues in this round last year. If we didn’t have those bonus points, this weekend might look a lot different heading into the race. So I’m thankful that the system is in place that rewards the good runs we had during the regular season. We’ll just have to do what we’ve been doing all year and see where that puts us, and if we have a shot to go for the win, then we’ll obviously try to do that, as well, like we do every week with our M&M’S Halloween scheme. This is one of the biggest times of the year for M&M’S and hopefully we can get to victory lane this weekend and get a chance to celebrate.”

Are you looking forward to racing at Kansas more now that you’ve won there?

“I am. Also, it was – even the last few times before we won there a few years ago, we’ve had some really strong runs there. We finished in the top-10, I think, the last seven races there. We seem to have gotten a setup or a hold of this place I’d say and hopefully we don’t screw that up this time around and we can continue our strong runs and our fast pace of being able to have a shot to win.”

Talk about this weekend at Kansas Speedway and your expectations on the track.

“Kansas has been a good place to come for our sport. You know the crowd, the reception, the racetrack, the community has really built up around the racetrack there over the last 10 years, or so. It’s been a lot of fun to see all that happen and I’m looking forward to the race. It’s been a great racetrack for us, lately. We’ve had some good runs there once the track aged. We’ve kind of seemed to maybe have figured out the place a little bit better. And, you know, we’re looking forward to the opportunity of being able to go out there and hopefully get ourselves with our M&M’s Halloween Camry in victory lane."

How much does the racetrack at Kansas change from the night race in the spring to the day race in the fall?

“For me, it behaved a lot different last year. The night race, it just seemed like you had grip the entire run. You could really abuse the car and abuse the tires and everything just kind of stayed with you. But then, in the fall race when it was sunny and warmer out, you really had to take care of your tires and kind of keep the heat out of them so you weren’t sliding around as much and then falling back on the longer run.”

Kansas had been a frustrating place for you during your career, but have you and your team turned the corner there with seven top-10 finishes in a row there?

“I think so. We ran third there in the fall of 2014. I wasn’t there in the spring race of 2015 since that was the last race I was recovering from my injury, but (Erik) Jones ran up front until he ended up wrecking. The last several races there, the track really has started to change and the groove is starting to spread out, and it makes me more comfortable when a track gets worn in. Adam and the guys have been bringing really good racecars to the track every weekend and, when you have great cars and run up front, good things are going to happen."

Notes of Interest:
  • The Hollywood Casino 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 494th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 22nd NASCAR Cup Series start at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
  • Busch has career totals of 50 wins, 30 poles, 179 top-five finishes, 265 top-10s and 15,612 laps led in 493 career Cup Series racesHis most recent Cup Series win came last month at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came on the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May.
  • Busch has one win, five top-five finishes and nine top-10s and has led a total of 327 laps in 21 career Cup Series starts at Kansas. Busch’s average Kansas finish is 17.0.