Trying to Go 10-for-10
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (April 23, 2019) – Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Chocolate Bar Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has been on quite the roll during the early part of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
While his series-high three wins and six top-five finishes in the nine races contested so far this season are impressive enough, Busch aims to extend his top-10 streak to start the season to 10 races as the series comes off the Easter off-weekend for Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Morgan Shepherd holds the record for most consecutive top-10 finishes to start a season when he scored top-10s in the first 11 races of 1990. Going back to last season, Busch has notched 11 top-10s in a row, a streak he hopes to continue this weekend.
While Busch and his No. 18 M&M’S Chocolate Bar team are capable of winning at any track, it will be a particular challenge for him this weekend at the mammoth, 2.66-mile Talladega oval, where he’s had a career of ups and downs. Compared to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where he has eight Cup Series wins including one earlier this season, and Richmond, where he has six, Busch has won just once in 27 career starts at Talladega. His lone win came in April 2008, and he has accumulated 12 other top-15 finishes at the track but also exited five outings early due to accidents.
The M&M’S Chocolate Bar scheme on Busch’s No. 18 Toyota this weekend appears for the fourth time this season. The new permanent addition to the brand’s iconic candy lineup will be highlighted Sunday as Busch looks to continue an impressive showing in M&M’S Chocolate Bar Camry livery, having already notched a runner-up finish at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and third-place finishes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The M&M’S Chocolate Bar consists of smooth milk chocolate with whole M&M’S® Minis visible in a large bar, and it’s available nationwide in five flavors: Peanut, Milk Chocolate, Crispy, Almond and Crispy Mint
So as Busch heads to Talladega this weekend, he would like nothing more than to keep his top-10 streak alive. But, in order to do so, he’ll have to somehow stay out of the inevitable multicar Talladega accident and be running at the end to put himself in position to continue one of the best starts to a season in his Cup Series career.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Chocolate Bar Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Is there such a thing as momentum in racing?
“There’s no question there’s momentum. Absolutely. You can go through the whole beginning stretch of the season, and we’ve had a really good stretch to the beginning of this season but we’re coming up to one of my toughest racetracks, Talladega. That can certainly end that momentum at any particular moment and knock you down off your pedestal, or whatever you want to call it. Then you have to figure out how to rebound and get back. I think that’s where our strength is, and we’ve had some moments in some of these races that we’ve kind of been knocked off that we’ve been able to rebound and come back up through. Just treat it like anything else and focus forward and hopefully we can bring home another top-10 finish this weekend in our M&M’S Chocolate Bar Camry. We’ve been so close to winning in the M&M’S Chocolate Bar car so far this season, so we’re hoping we can get some good fortune on our side and get a win this weekend.”
What can a driver still control at Talladega?
“You kind of look at what Denny (Hamlin) does and what Brad (Keselowski) does, the guys who are good racers at Daytona and Talladega and the guys who are fast right now. Denny makes the most out of what he’s got for equipment and I’ve got the same stuff and I’m not quite as forceful in situations as he is and he makes that work for him. We certainly gained a lot of confidence from Daytona. Our cars were better there and I’m hoping we can carry that momentum at Talladega. I won’t try to put myself in a bad spot to cause something, but it’s always a challenge and it’s always different. I feel like, every time you go to Talladega it’s the same, but it’s different and you just don’t know what to expect. A lot of new drivers who are out there don’t have wins yet in our series who are going to be hungry and looking for wins, so they’re going to be trying to punch their tickets to the playoffs and be very aggressive. You’ve got to be mindful of that, too.”
What is a typical plan for the entire race weekend once you get to Talladega?
“It’s different for everybody but, for us, we just kind of go out there and probably get in the first pack in practice because the first pack is always the biggest, so you have to be ready when practice first starts. You just kind of feel out your car and see what it’s doing. Is it into the racetrack? Is it on top of the racetrack? Are you sliding around too much? If we have some things we wanted to continue to try to feel out and get better with, we sometimes run some of the second session where other guys feel like they’re good in the first one and just quit. You definitely don’t want to take a chance on wrecking your car, and you don’t want to be put in a weird spot out there and have somebody get together in front of you and you drive into it and crash a racecar. You want to get through practice by checking to see what you have but not getting it torn up, either. Your starting position doesn’t mean a whole lot so, wherever you start, you just want to make sure your racecar checks out in practice and you’re ready to race 500 miles and hope we can get our M&M’S Chocolate Bar Camry to victory lane. That’s what it’s all about.”
Is it an advantage being a former winner at Talladega?
“It doesn’t matter at all. It’s such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from.”
What is the key to pulling off a victory at Talladega?
“The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble. You stay where the pack is, generally, and we get up single file on the wall at times until it’s time to go, and you can pretty much run wide open every single lap. Everyone can run up on top of each other. When you get single file at the bottom, sometimes it’s hard to get a lane on the outside with enough good cars to get something going. It can be frustrating at times because of that. It also seems to still put on a good race each time we go there. If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy.”
Notes of Interest:
- The Geico 500 will mark Kyle Busch’s 508th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 28th NASCAR Cup Series start at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
- Busch has career totals of 54 wins, 31 poles, 189 top-five finishes, 278 top-10s and 16,449 laps led in 507 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came two races ago at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came in October at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
- Busch has one win, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led a total of 234 laps in 27 career Cup Series starts at Talladega. Busch’s average Talladega finish is 20.7.
- 54 Career Cup Series Wins: With his Cup Series win at Bristol two races ago, the 54th points-paying win of his career, Busch sits tied for 10th all-time in Cup Series wins with NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty. With his 40th Cup Series victory at Bristol 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.
- Nine-for-Nine: Busch has notched top-10 finishes in each of the nine races contested so far this season in NASCAR’s top series. Six of those were top-fives, along with three victories, with the lone “blemishes” being his sixth-place finish the second week of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a 10th-place result at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and an eighth-place finish at Richmond (Va.) Raceway two weekends ago. Morgan Shepherd finished in the top-10 for the first 11 races of the 1990 season, which is the record for NASCAR’s modern era.