HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (June 19, 2018) – As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is coming off a rare off weekend, many drivers and team personnel took the time to take a much-needed vacation from the 36-race Cup Series schedule.
Even though the Cup Series competitors and the NASCAR industry are headed back to work this weekend after their well-deserved rest, they have something to look forward to as the next stop on the tour takes them to the scenic views of Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in Northern California’s Wine Country.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is on the record as someone who really enjoys making right and left turns on the 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 schedule.
The 1.99-mile Sonoma circuit is one of numerous road courses where Busch has won as he has evolved into a constant threat to win at the road courses each year. Before 2008, Busch was never mentioned as a threat to win at Sonoma or Watkins Glen. But that changed shortly after his arrival at JGR at the start of 2008, and he promptly dominated the road-course scene that year, leading 130 of the 202 road-course laps run and capturing 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, Busch 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 sneaked past now 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 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 2018 season, Busch has already put together a championship effort with four wins – three of which came back-to-back-to-back at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Richmond (Va.) Raceway in the spring. His fourth victory of the season was the crown jewel Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The Charlotte win made Busch the first driver in NASCAR history to win at all 23 current Cup Series tracks. Along with wins, Busch and the M&M’S Caramel team have been incredibly consistent, posting three poles, 10 top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in the first 15 races.
So, as the Cup Series heads to its annual stop in Wine Country, Busch looks to continue his hot start to the season during this weekend’s “racing vacation” on the Sonoma road course, hoping it leads to more success throughout the summer.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
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 Caramel 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 Caramel Camry at Sonoma and maybe finally get that win we’ve been looking for.”
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 Caramel Camry, then see how the strategy plays out.”
Notes of Interest:
- The Toyota/Save Mart 350k will mark Kyle Busch’s 478th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 14th NASCAR Cup Series start at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
- Busch has career totals of 47 wins, 30 poles, 171 top-five finishes, 253 top-10s and 15,269 laps led in 477 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came last month at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, also came that weekend at Charlotte.
- Busch has two wins, three top-five finishes and five top-10s and has led a total of 110 laps in 13 career Cup Series starts at Sonoma. Busch’s average Sonoma finish is 17.1.