Hanging with Harley
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Feb. 6, 2020) – As the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season is set to begin with Speedweeks activities this weekend at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, two-time and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch will hope to be “Hanging with Harley” at the conclusion of the 62nd Daytona 500 on Feb. 16.
Who is Harley? Harley, of course, is the iconic Harley J. Earl Trophy that is hoisted each year by the Daytona 500 winner. Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is hoping to finally hang with Harley as he is poised to make his 15th career start in the “Great American Race."
Busch is still searching for his first victory in NASCAR’s season-opening event, which would be one of the biggest 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.
Busch added a few more milestones to an already NASCAR Hall of Fame-worthy career in 2019. Those milestones included his 200th overall NASCAR victory in March at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and his championship-winning victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, which was the 56th Cup Series win of his career and vaulted him past Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace into ninth place on the all-time series win list.
In addition to achieving his goal of winning his first Daytona 500, Busch has his sights set on back-to-back championships in 2020. For Busch, who with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson are the only active drivers who have won multiple titles, a third championship would put him in even more rarified air. Only nine drivers in the 71-year history of the NASCAR Cup Series have won three or more championships. Busch would love to become the 10th.
In pursuit of his first Daytona 500 win and third championship, the Las Vegas native will be sporting his familiar yellow M&M’S scheme on his No. 18 Toyota starting with NASCAR’s season-opening race. The M&M’S brand will be returning to Busch’s car for its 13th season in 2020, along with other Mars Wrigley Confectionary U.S. 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.
The M&M’S Toyota will be on track throughout 2020 Speedweeks, starting with Sunday’s Busch Clash, an exhibition race Busch won in 2012. It will continue through next week’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying races. Busch won his Duel qualifying race in 2009, 2013 and 2016. Then, the official NASCAR Cup Series season and official defense of his 2019 championship begin in earnest with the 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 for the latest edition of Daytona Speedweeks, his sights will be set on hanging with Harley, as he hopes to add the last important trophy to his collection by becoming 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:
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 the next week. 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.”
How important is the Clash exhibition race to learn the draft and get ready for the rest of Speedweeks?
“I think, anytime we ever go down to Daytona, whether it’s with a new car or whether it’s with a different rules package or what have you, we always look at the Clash as a race to watch to see exactly what’s going to happen and what characteristics you have in your racecar and things. It’s a learning experience for everybody, whether you’re in the race or whether you’re out of the race and not in it. For us, we’re curious to see how the car is going to race and how it’s going to handle and what it’s going to react like. I’m just looking forward to getting back to Daytona to my day job with our M&M’S Camry.”
Have you taken notes on speedway races, saying this is what I need to do here?
“You take mental notes more than you take written-down notes because the speedway races change so much, the rules change, the cars change, things change with those. But since the Gen 6, is that what we’re on, since we got to this car, especially the last three, four years, it’s been the Penske guys, especially Brad (Keselowski), that has been really, really good at this game. Denny (Hamlin) has been really, really good at this game. Those guys are who I watch.”
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.”
Notes of Interest:
- The 62nd Daytona 500 will mark Kyle Busch’s 535th career NASCAR Cup Series startand his 30th points-paying NASCAR Cup Series start at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
- Busch has career totals of 56 wins, 32 poles, 200 top-five finishes, 296 top-10s and 17,432 laps led in 534 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, resulting in his second Cup Series championship. Busch’s most recent pole, the 32nd of his career, came in November at Phoenix Raceway.
- Busch has one win, eight top-five finishes and nine top-10s and has led a total of 423 laps in 29 career Cup Series points-paying starts at Daytona. Busch’s average Daytona finish is 18.4.
- Warmup Act: Sunday afternoon’s Busch Clash at Daytona will mark Busch’s 14th appearance in the non-points event. He brought home his only Clash victory in 2012. In that race, Busch passed three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart coming to the finish line on the final lap. Busch won by .013 of a second, the closest finish in Clash history.
- Dueling at Daytona: Busch will make his 15th start in his Bluegreen Vacations Duel twin qualifying race on Feb. 14. In his previous 14 starts, Busch has led 165 laps and has three career wins in the qualifying race – in 2009, 2013, and 2016.
- Almost: Busch almost drove to his first Daytona Cup Series victory in July 2007, finishing second to race-winner Jamie McMurray by a mere 0.005 of a second in a drag race to the finish line.