Success in the 'Baking'

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Feb. 24, 2021) – It’s race three of the 36-race NASCAR Cup Series schedule, and Kyle Busch and new crew chief Ben Beshore are just starting to learn and grow as a new driver-crew chief pairing.

Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Fudge Brownie Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway facing the third different type of track to start the 2021 Cup Series campaign. The first race came at the mammoth 2.5-mile oval at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, and then it was back to Daytona for a race on the road course last weekend.

This weekend, Busch and Beshore will tackle their first 1.5-mile oval of the season before another test on a different type of 1.5-mile oval to follow at Busch’s hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway. So the next two weeks will go a long way for the driver and crew chief pairing to learn each other and see what they are capable of on the first two intermediate tracks on the docket.

Not only has he had plenty of success of intermediate tracks, Busch has been a huge part of several Cup Series championship battles at Homestead. He was one of the final four playoff drivers each of the last five seasons the championship race as held at Homestead until it was moved to Phoenix Raceway in 2020. Busch brought home titles in 2015 and 2019 at Homestead, along with a runner-up position in 2017. His worst finish in his five-year Championship 4 run was sixth place in the 2016 race.

With two wins and four top-five finishes there over the last five seasons, Busch has become a strong contender at the variable-banked oval. But the M&M’S Fudge Brownie driver hasn’t always been as strong on his visits to Homestead, as his first seven starts there yielded just one top-10 and only one other top-20 finish. But starting with his fourth-place run there in 2012, he has reeled off five top-five finishes and seven top-10s in his last eight starts at Homestead. His most impressive races at Homestead, of course, were his 2015 and 2019 championship-winning victories. The memory of celebrating multiple titles there will always provide fond memories for the Las Vegas native.

In addition to making his 17th Homestead start, Sunday’s 400-mile race in South Florida will mark the return of the M&M’S Fudge Brownie colors to the No. 18 Toyota as the scheme ran several times during the introduction of M&M’S Fudge Brownie in stores across the country during 2020. The popular M&M’S Fudge Brownie gives that home-baked brownie taste without the hassle of baking.

So, as Busch heads to Homestead on Sunday afternoon, the M&M’S Fudge Brownie driver won’t have the championship pressure to contend with, but that doesn’t mean he won’t aim to bring home his third Cup Series win at a place that has provided many great memories, while the relationship between Busch and crew chief Beshore and the many changes to the No. 18 team continue to “bake” this early part of the season.

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

You are heading to the third race of the season but the first 1.5-mile track this season with new crew chief Ben Beshore. What are your expectations and challenges for the season ahead with a new crew chief and some new crew members?

“It definitely does present new challenges. Working with Ben has been great, so far. We’ve had some fast racecars and things haven’t turned out like we had hoped in those races because of circumstances. Ben and I worked together when he was the engineer on my car the first four years Adam (Stevens) was my Cup crew chief. We won the championship in 2015 and we were close in 2017, and we were there with an opportunity to win it again in 2018 and it just didn’t happen. Ben went on to the Xfinity side and he and I worked together over there and won five out of seven races, blew an engine in the sixth race while leading, and had a suspension failure while leading in the seventh race, so we could have gone seven-for-seven that year. I feel like he’s got a good knack for the car and does and good job and I’ve enjoyed working with him so far as we learn each other. This weekend is a new challenge with the first 550 (horsepower) package race, so we’ll keep learning each other and hope we can get our M&M’S Fudge Brownie Toyota running up front and challenge for a win.”

What did you learn from last year that will help you improve as an organization and driver for 2021?

“We learned a lot of what not to do, it seemed like. But later in the year I felt like we needed to try some things, most notably at Texas, and we ended up getting the win there. I felt like we needed to think about the 550-package stuff a bit differently and think about how we were building the cars, think about the setups being a bit different. We’ve gone into this season with a little bit of a different mindset, although there are fewer 550 races than there were last year. But I think the overall change in mindset is a good thing.”

From your experience, how has Homestead changed over the last several years?

“The track seems to have aged a little more in recent years, for sure. Definitely a lot of grip for the first few laps, and then it really tapers off, and then everybody is running up next to the fence. I think that’s what we saw in years past. As it got darker in the November races, the track seemed to widen out. It’s just during the day, when it’s hot out and it’s slick out, that the best you can do is run right next to the wall, so expecting some of that this weekend with it being a different time of year. It’s definitely still a racey joint, but track temperatures are very conducive to that. It was definitely different racing there last year and not having it be for a championship, but it’s always going to be a place where it would be nice to get our M&M’S Fudge Brownie Camry to victory lane.”

Has Homestead always been a fun track for you?

“Homestead is a fun racetrack, for sure. I didn’t run well there early in my career, but definitely when Adam (Stevens, former crew chief) came on board, we were able to really step up our performance there and we had some big wins there to show for it. It’s real challenging because of the way the race changes from the beginning to the end, and the way things change from the beginning to the end of your runs. You run the bottom, then you go to the top. You’re always moving around. You’re always thinking.”

Event Overview:

● Event: Dixie Vodka 400 (Round 3 of 36)

Time/Date: 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 28

Location: Homestead-Miami Speedway

Layout: 1.5-mile oval

Laps/Miles: 267 laps/400 miles

Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 80 laps / Stage 2: 80 laps / Final Stage: 107 laps

TV/Radio: FOX / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Notes of Interest:

Homestead Turnaround: Busch did not take to the 1.5-mile South Florida oval very well at the start of his career. In fact, Busch didn’t record a top-five finish during his first seven starts there, including six finishes of 19th or worse in those races. In 2012, Busch started to turn the corner there as he recorded his first top-five finish. The Las Vegas native took it to a whole new level in 2015 when he not only won his first race at Homestead, but brought home his first Cup Series title that day. Starting with his 2015 victory at Homestead, Busch has not finished worse than sixth in those six starts, which includes four top-five finishes and two victories that helped him achieve his two Cup Series titles.

● Despite two races having already been run, most competitors believe this weekend is when the 2021 season really gets started. After beginning this year’s NASCAR Cup Series calendar with back-to-back races at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – first on the mammoth 2.5-mile oval and then on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile road course – competitors feel now is when the real Cup Series schedule begins. Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5-mile oval that is considered an intermediate-style track. Intermediate tracks make up the bulk of the Cup Series schedule – eight to be exact – making Homestead a bit of a barometer with regard to how teams will perform at the rest of the intermediate tracks, most notably next week’s stop at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

1.5-Mile Success: The two-time Cup Series champion has brought home 15 wins at 1.5-mile tracks among his 57 career wins in the NASCAR’s top series. Two of those victories have come at Homestead while one came at Busch’s hometown at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the Cup Series will race next week.

First Title Memories: Despite not winning at Homestead prior to his championship feat in 2015, Busch showed a lot of heart and confidence leading into the finale that season. Busch had missed the first 11 races of 2015 while recovering from leg and foot injuries suffered in the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona in February. The M&M’S Fudge Brownie driver rallied back to not only make enough points to qualify for the playoffs, but won four regular-season races in the process. Just being able to be Championship 4 eligible at Homestead was quite the feat for Busch and the No. 18 team. Playing with house money, Busch drove impressively that day in 2015, leading six times for a total of 41 laps and bringing home the title that seemed so unlikely earlier in the year.

Close Calls: While Cup Series championships in 2015 and 2019 were memorable for Busch, he also had some close calls that could have netted him additional championships to celebrate at Homestead. In 2016, championship contenders Carl Edwards and Joey Logano got into a late-race accident that opened the door for another title for Busch. However, he came down pit road on the last stop of the day and rejoined the race too far back to win with only a two-lap shootout left to go. Things looked good again in 2017, when Busch led 43 laps, but an untimely caution flag waved while he was a half-lap ahead of the next title contender. Busch rallied from just inside the top-10 but could not catch his now-JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr., who won the race with Busch finishing in the runner-up spot.