Staying Hot in the Valley of the Sun
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (March 6, 2019) – As the “NASCAR Goes West” swing continues in what is already known as the “Valley of the Sun” this weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, Kyle Busch is bringing back the rainbow for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500k Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Busch and company will head to the outskirts of Phoenix with the sharp-looking Skittles scheme as the only driver to score top-10 finishes in each of the first three races of 2019. The Skittles brand made its NASCAR debut in 1998 in partnership with MB2 Motorsports on the No. 36 Pontiac for driver Derrike Cope. In 1999, driver Ernie Irvan took the wheel of the Skittles No. 36 Pontiac and went on to take the top starting spot in the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Busch delivered back-to-back Brickyard 400 victories for Skittles in 2015 and 2016 with candy-splashed victory lane celebrations for the Skittles brand, and he returned Skittles to victory lane in 2018 by winning in March at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
After bringing home a strong third-place finish last weekend at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch is looking to score his first Cup Series win of the season and automatically seal a berth in this year’s NASCAR playoffs.
The desert setting of Phoenix was a favorite place to wheel a racecar for Busch long before he joined the Cup Series ranks. Starting with a solid eighth-place finish in his very first Cup Series outing there in the spring of 2005, followed by just his second career Cup Series victory in his very next start there that fall, he’s had many strong runs at the mile oval. Coincidentally, Busch’s first Cup Series win came just 10 races prior in another desert-like setting not far from his hometown of Las Vegas – Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, where NASCAR’s Western swing will conclude next week.
In 27 Cup Series starts at the Phoenix oval known as the “Diamond in the Desert,” Busch has two wins and an impressive 19 top-10 finishes, including four in a row from the spring 2007 through fall 2008 events, and he won the pole for the spring 2006 race. Last November, in the first race on a newly configured ISM Raceway layout that saw the start-finish line relocated as part of a large infield renovation project, Busch went to victory lane after leading 117 laps.
With his participation in both the Cup Series and Xfinity Series races this weekend, Busch will look to get closer to 200 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three national series. He won both the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and Xfinity Series races at Las Vegas last weekend and now sits just three wins away from the 200-win milestone.
So as the Cup Series moves on to the second of three consecutive races out West, Busch hopes his Skittles scheme will be just what he needs to help deliver his first victory of the season and continue his hot streak racing in the Valley of the Sun.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How different were the restarts at Phoenix last November, and how will the new rules package affect that this weekend?
“Restarts were for sure different last time – a lot of guys cutting the dogleg and stuff like that. It made for some interesting moments and things. You saw that in the Truck Series race and Xfinity Series race, then the Cup race. We won that one, which was great for us as a team and being able to secure our spot for the final four. Now we come back here in the springtime. It will be, I am sure, a little bit different of a track. Obviously, a way different aero package that we’ll have to figure out and what’s in store for us when we get there with our Skittles Camry this weekend.”
How different will these cars be at Phoenix?
“I am not sure, exactly. Phoenix being a short track, everywhere we have been so far, it’s getting into throttle-on time. Making sure you’re in the gas. Sometimes it’s making sure you don’t get out of the gas. Being at a short track is going to be an interesting thing because we’re used to being out of the gas and on the brakes and pedaling the vehicle through turn four and making sure you’re not too loose or whatever it might be. I don’t really know how the cars are going to react in traffic. The cars, with more downforce now, you get a bigger wake. The spoilers are taller, so the air coming over the top of the car hits that spoiler and goes higher. So, it’s taking longer for the vehicle behind it to see that air, the closer it’s getting to the car in front of it. The aero effects are going to be greater. We’ll have to see how all of that translates to Phoenix and a flat, mile racetrack.”
Will you like having throttle response?
“You mean, with the 750 package? Yeah, Denny (Hamlin) tested out there in Phoenix and he said it feels restricted. It doesn’t feel like a 750 like we’re used to. I would say maybe 830 last year or whatever it was. But still a little bit of a reduction on what we’re used to having.”
What does it take to be successful at Phoenix?
“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes. You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch. There’s a lot involved at Phoenix, but heading there with our Skittles Sweet Heat Toyota Camry will be interesting to see how the race plays out and if it’s changed at all since last year.”
In addition to 10 Xfinity Series wins at Phoenix, you also won in your second Cup Series start at the mile oval and added a win last fall. Do you enjoy racing at Phoenix?
“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave. The track has worn in with racing and the sun, so it’s getting back to a fun place again. It was interesting to see how the place raced last fall with the change in where the start-finish line is and how that changed the racing. For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you’ve always had two distinctly different corners at Phoenix, which makes it fun and challenging all at the same time.”
Notes of Interest:
- The TicketGuardian 500k will mark Kyle Busch’s 502nd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 28th NASCAR Cup Series start at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.
- Busch has career totals of 51 wins, 31 poles, 185 top-five finishes, 272 top-10s and 15,900 laps led in 501 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in November at Phoenix. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came in October at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
- Busch has two wins, nine top-five finishes and 19 top-10s and has led a total of 944 laps in 27 career Cup Series starts at Phoenix. Busch’s average Phoenix finish is 11.4.
- 51 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Phoenix in November, the 51st points-paying win of his career, Busch surpassed NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson to now sit all alone in 11th on the all-time wins list. Next up for Busch on the list is Lee Petty, who had 54 wins during his Hall of Fame career. With his 40th Cup Series victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in August 2017, Busch became the fourth-youngest driver to reach 40 Cup Series wins at 32 years, 109 days, behind only Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Herb Thomas.