Three In A Row at Pocono?
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (July 22, 2019) – Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, is nicknamed “Tricky Triangle” for a reason. The only three-turn track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit presents drivers and crew chiefs with the most unique setup challenges in their efforts to get their racecars to make it around the 2.5-mile circuit quickly and efficiently.
For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), the Tricky Triangle has been much less tricky of late with three victories in the last four Cup Series races there, including the most recent two – last August and this past June.
As the 2015 Cup Series champion heads into Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 NASCAR Cup Series race, he’s hoping the return of the Skittles scheme will be just what he needs to help him earn a sweep of the 2019 Pocono events and make it three wins in a row there. It would make Busch just the third driver to win three races in a row at Pocono – the other two being Bobby Allison in 1982 and 1983, Tim Richmond in 1986 and 1987.
In addition to getting his third consecutive Pocono win, Busch is also looking to become only the eighth driver since NASCAR began racing in the Pocono Mountains in 1974 to sweep both races at Pocono in a season, joining Bill Elliott in 1985, Bobby Labonte in 1999, Jimmie Johnson in 2004, Denny Hamlin in 2006, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in 2014, and Allison and Richmond.
Busch’s fortunes have recently made a turn for the better at the 2.5-mile Pocono oval. After narrowly missing a victory in June 2017, Busch returned in late July looking for his first Cup Series win there. He bring home his first career Pocono Cup Series win behind some clever strategy by crew chief Adam Stevens, as well as his own smart driving. While the top competitors headed to pit road for their final scheduled fuel-and-tire stops late in the race, Stevens elected to leave Busch out longer than the rest. The others were clearly faster on newer tires, but Busch took advantage of a clean track to make up time and, when he was finally called to pit road, he had much fresher tires than his fellow competitors for the closing stages of the race. He eventually drove by Kevin Harvick for an impressive first Pocono victory.
Busch will find plenty of encouragement this week during his usual pre-Pocono visit to Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S. headquarters in Hackettstown, New Jersey. There, the Skittles driver will have the opportunity to meet with hundreds of Mars Wrigley associates, many of whom will make the one-hour drive to Pocono Sunday to cheer for Busch and his Skittles Toyota.
In addition to the good fortune at Pocono, the Skittles brand has been red hot in recent years when it’s adorned Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, with wins so far this season at ISM Raceway near Phoenix and Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in the familiar Skittles colors, and six wins in all since 2015 with Skittles on board.
So, as the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains, Busch, crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire Skittles team will aim for three in-a-row at Pocono as teams head toward the end of summer and into the homestretch of NASCAR’s regular season.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Do you feel like you have a good notebook with the new car configuration that you can take back to Pocono and be successful with it?
“I’d like to think so. We were pretty good there last time. There were a couple of guys who were as fast as we were. It was kind of hard to pass in certain situations. There were some unique opportunities on restarts that didn’t really seem to present themselves like we all expected them to. Past all that, for as good as we were, we’re not going back with the PJ1 being sprayed on lane two in all three corners or lane two and three in all three corners, so that’ll be a different variable than we’ve had there in the past, and we’ll just have to play it all out and see what happens when we get there. Typically at those places, and like any mile-and-a-half that we go to where you have to get out of the gas just a little bit, it seems like us – the 18 – all the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) cars, we can run OK with those guys. But anywhere that we go that you have to run wide open all the way around, like Kansas or Chicago, we sort of struggle and there are some other teams that are better than us. Like California, we were super-fast because you had to get out of the gas and play with it some, and then Pocono was that same way, so we were really fast there. So I feel good about that, at least, going back with our Skittles Camry.”
How do you think the PJ1 will affect Pocono?
“I don’t know if it will. You would like to think that it’s going to present more opportunities to just get out of the wake of the guy in front of you. I think what we’re expecting it to do is, if you go off into the corner and you follow somebody, you have to lose ground to them in order to maintain the same line that they’re running. You can’t gain on them following them. You have less downforce. You’re just not going to make that time. If you can offset yourself wider than them, you can at least maintain that gap and you can come off the corner kind of with a little bit of a momentum from the high side that it typically gives you. Then you can make a run on the straightaways and you have a chance to be able to race with the guy you’re following and you don’t just have to be stuck behind him. That’s the theory, anyway. We’ll see how that works.”
What’s the trickiest part about racing at Pocono?
“Trying to pass people is the trickiest part because it’s so finicky there after getting your car setup to run by yourself in practice, but also getting it good for the traffic during the race and being able to out-corner guys out there. Having a lot of horsepower is important there, as well. Hoping we can have all of those things go right for us this week with our Skittles Toyota. We won this race last year with a good car and some good calls by Adam Stevens up on the pit box. Mars Confectionary U.S. is just down the road and I know we will have a lot of Mars associates out at the track rooting us on. We’d like to get another win there in their backyard.”
Since the track is unique, where is the best place to make a pass at Pocono?
“Most of your passing is going to be done probably through turn one and off of turn one and getting into turn two, and if somebody can get a good run off of turn two, get back up high and get in line to get on that patch, getting into turn three. Besides that, in turn one, we just can’t get the cars to turn down there because there’s so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a ‘buck-40’ (140 mph). Turn two is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you’ve got to maneuver through the tunnel turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”
Notes of Interest:
- The Gander Outdoors 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 519th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 30th NASCAR Cup Series start at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
- Busch has career totals of 55 wins, 31 poles, 194 top-five finishes, 286 top-10s and 16,809 laps led in 518 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came last month at Pocono. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came in October at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
- Busch has three wins, eight top-five finishes and 14 top-10s and has led a total of 404 laps in 29 Cup Series starts at Pocono. Busch’s average Pocono finish is 15.9.
- 55 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Pocono this past June, the 55th points-paying win of his career, Busch sits tied for ninth all-time in Cup Series wins with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. 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.