HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (June 25, 2019) – Without a doubt, the most exciting finish of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season came one year ago this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles® America Mix Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), battled it out with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson on a final lap to remember as Larson slid up in front of Busch attempting a “slide job” coming out of turn two, putting Busch into the wall and Larson into the lead. Despite some damage to his car, Busch caught Larson between turns three and four and made contact, spinning Larson sideways and going on to take the checkered flag.
The sequence also was a memorable on-air moment for former-driver-turned-NBC-announcer Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose call of the last lap slide job perfectly captured the excitement of the finish and was a memorable clip that will be replayed not only this weekend, but for years to come. For Busch and Larson’s part after the race, Larson graciously went to victory lane to congratulate Busch and both smiled and laughed about one of the most memorable finishes in recent years.
With a repeat of last year’s win on his mind and July 4 on the horizon, Busch will again sport a special Skittles scheme that will proudly show off the Red, White, and Blue for this Sunday’s Camping World 400 that is sure to be a hit with NASCAR’s patriotic fans. The Skittles America Mix is a must-have for summer gatherings, road trips and, of course, a great snack while watching a NASCAR Cup Series race either in-person or on television. Every bag contains red, white and blue Skittles with fruit flavors that include strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, wild berry and “yumberry” – the first white, fruit-flavored Skittles candy – and are available at retailers nationwide throughout the summer.
In addition to its Hackettstown, New Jersey headquarters near its home track of Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Mars Wrigley Confectionary U.S. has offices in Chicago, as well, and Busch would like nothing more than to score another “home” win like last year for the Mars Wrigley associates located downtown, especially after his recent win at Pocono that gave him three wins in his last four outings at the Pennsylvania triangle.
Last year’s win at Chicagoland was the second of Busch’s career at the 1.5-mile oval, his first coming in 2008. In the latter race, a late caution set up a green-white-checkered finish in which the Las Vegas native lined up behind now seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. On the final restart, Busch made a bold and surprising move to the outside in turns one and two, passing Johnson and holding him off to bring home the win. In addition to his two wins in the Cup Series, Busch has four NASCAR Xfinity Series and five Gander Outdoors Truck Series wins there.
So as Busch heads back to Chicagoland this weekend, he hopes the Skittles America Mix Red, White, and Blue colors will propel him to a third career Chicagoland win. There would be no better place to kick off the July 4 celebration than in victory lane at the 1.5-mile oval in the backyard of one of the main hubs for his primary backers. And wouldn’t it be nice if it was just as exciting as last year’s finish?
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles America Mix Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How do you feel about how you’ve run at Chicagoland in recent years?
“Chicago is all about being good at the start, but also good in the long run since tire longevity is a big deal there. The key is to have a good car on the front side of the run while also saving enough tires to be fast on the back side of the run. Tire longevity is a big deal there. It’s not quite as bad as California or Atlanta. It’s one of those places that’s very similar to Homestead. It’s a fun place where you can run the bottom, middle, top, and you can race all around there. It’s gotten a lot bumpier over the years and you have to get the setup to go over the bumps in turn three. It’s definitely a place where the guys who have been good there over the years have been rewarded each and every year they go back with their experience and what they’ve learned. Back when we first started racing there in the summer, it was a night race, so with a hot track now and the surface worn out more now, it certainly tends to play to my strengths and, as we saw last year, we can put on a really good race with the heat, combined with the worn-out surface. Chicago is another home for Mars Wrigley Confectionary U.S., now, so we’re hoping to have a strong run with our Skittles America Mix Camry and hopefully give them something to celebrate up there in the Chicago offices.”
Has your experience helped you get through situations like the last lap at Chicagoland last year?
“I mean, the wall obviously helped me in (turn) two when (Kyle) Larson got into me a bit. He didn’t bump me and send me to the bottom, he bumped me upward, which got me into the wall, which caught the car and maybe I could have caught the car if the situation was a bit differentl. Whatever, I don’t know. But then, getting into (turn) three, it was just – I drove it so far into three that I drove it tight, so you can watch a wall come at you a heck of a lot easier than you can back into one, right? So it really wasn’t all that spectacular as far as driving goes, I guess. It didn’t take a lot of talent to do that. But I was able to get back by him and win the race.”
Both of your Chicago Cup Series wins have been quite memorable. Where does the 2008 win at Chicagoland rank in terms of special wins for you, knowing how you made a spectacular move on the outside to win?
“Winning both (Xfinity Series and Cup Series) races at Chicago that year, it was just a great weekend. It was special, but there have been several special wins the last few years. Obviously, winning twice at the Brickyard was very special and, of course, winning the championship at Homestead in 2015 was a big highlight, as well. But winning Chicago in 2008 was a highlight in those early years at JGR, for sure. Beating Jimmie (Johnson) was definitely really cool. Ultimately, I have a lot of respect for him, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and a lot of guys who have given a lot to this sport over the years, since it’s been so competitive and those were guys you had to beat back in those days to win races. To go out and beat guys like that, it’s something pretty special and I really cherished that, for sure.”
Do you kind of bring an “us against the world” mentality to the racetrack?
“Absolutely, yeah. I would agree with that. I think when you come to the racetrack and you have a team like my 18 team, it is ‘us,’ collectively, as a group. But we have ‘us’ as Joe Gibbs Racing, as well, who we work with and we try to help make each other better and stronger, and I feel like we have a strong team in doing that. I’ve pushed Denny (Hamlin) an awful lot over the years, and Denny has pushed me an awful lot over the years, and it’s made us a pretty good duo. Now you add Martin (Truex Jr.) and Cole (Pearn, crew chief) into the mix and you have another team pushing us, as well, and I think it’s making us very strong as a company. But once you get on to the racetrack on Sunday and you strap your helmet on and you come down, especially toward the end of the race, it’s every man for himself. It’s me against the world. It’s me against everybody else. Sometimes you’re against your critics that you have to deal with, as well, and I think all of us have those. And it seems as though those voices have gotten louder over the last few years, just with ‘reachability,’ let’s call it, with social media and things like that. I don’t think you necessarily saw those in the ’90s, in the ’80s and in the ’70s, but I could say the philosophy of us against the world has been around about forever in sports.”
Notes of Interest:
- The Camping World 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 515th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 15th NASCAR Cup Series start at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
- Busch has career totals of 55 wins, 31 poles, 193 top-five finishes, 284 top-10s and 16,616 laps led in 514 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came three 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, five top-five finishes and eight top-10s and has led a total of 573 laps in 14 Cup Series starts at Chicagoland. Busch’s average Chicagoland finish is10.6.