HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Despite the fact the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited Pocono (Pa.) Raceway just seven weeks ago, Kyle Busch is more than eager to make a return trip in an effort to continue moving forward with another strong run in Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 at the 2.5-mile triangle.
When the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) last visited Pocono, it marked the second race in what evolved into a frustrating midseason streak of bad luck as mechanical issues just short of the halfway point of the 400-mile race sent him to the sidelines.
It was just one of a plethora of issues that kept Busch from recording a top-five finish over a seven-race stretch following his third-place finish in May’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. But last weekend, the talented 27-year-old finally broke through by notching his first top-five since Charlotte with a strong runner-up finish in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With the monkey finally off his back, the Las Vegas native and his M&M’s team are as energized as ever to make a strong push all the way through the final six-race stretch before the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field is locked in Sept. 9 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Busch gained two spots in the standings with his runner-up finish at Indianapolis and now sits 11th.That position, coupled with his April victory at Richmond, puts him in the last of 12 Chase spots as the driver with the highest ranking with one series win. Kasey Kahne, despite his 13th position in the points, occupies the 11th Chase spot by virtue of his two victories this season. Nonetheless, Busch remains ahead of a handful of drivers also within the top-20 who also have a win, including JGR teammate Joey Logano and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Newman.
So, with six races to go before the Chase, Busch and the No. 18 team know it would be foolish to cruise toward the playoffs. Rather, their plan is to win their way in. And by looking at the upcoming schedule and some recent history, it’s understandable that they are excited about the next six races.
While he has yet to win at Pocono, Busch had finishes of second and third there in 2011, he has one Sprint Cup win at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and is the defending winner of the August race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Then, it’s on to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where Busch has a whopping five career Sprint Cup wins, followed by Atlanta Motor Speedway, where Busch also has a win to his credit. How about the last-chance race at Richmond? Well, in addition to last April’s victory three, Busch has four career wins in all and an astounding 4.7 average finish at the .75-mile short track.
Thus, with a half-dozen of their best racetracks next up on the schedule and a Chase berth at stake, Busch and the entire M&M’s team head to the Pocono Mountains not with their recent seven-race bad luck streak on their minds, but rather Toyota Motor Company’s uplifting tagline: Moving Forward.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What did the runner-up finish at Indianapolis last weekend do for your and the team’s outlook?
“We’ve had a lot of frustrating days the last seven weeks. It’s been really hard on us and hard on our team. Indy was a great run for us and I really appreciate all the guys – Dave Rogers (crew chief) and all these guys on our M&M’s Camry – to give me a good piece to qualify well and run up front like we did and come out of there with a solid day. It felt like a win for us and I’m hoping we can carry that momentum to Pocono this weekend, where we use a lot of the same things to make our car go fast as we do at Indy. Pocono this weekend and Watkins Glen next weekend are two places our team is really looking forward to. We didn’t get to run the whole race at Pocono in June, so I’m hoping we can show we are a contender there when we don’t have any issues.”
Did the repaving of the track at Pocono improve the racing in June?
“I thought the racing there was kind of the same, not much different. It was a little bit harder to pass because it seems like, when you’re out front in clean air, you have so much more of an advantage than being back in traffic than what it used to be – slightly, not much. To me, it was always a hard, tricky place, but it’s actually finally started becoming a two-lane racetrack in turn three. You could run the bottom and you could run the top with what we call ‘the grip strip.’ Now, it’s all grip, so it’s all back to the bottom again and you can’t really make much time up on the outside anymore.”
How did you like the job they did repaving the track at Pocono?
“The pavement job was great. They did a really nice job. They took out a lot of bumps. There are still a few little bumps in it, which is fine. It’s only going to get worse over time, which is fine. It gives the track character.”
What are your thoughts on the shorter distance at Pocono?
“I would have liked to have made the whole 400 miles the first time around there this year. But I do think the distance change was a positive one and I hope to be around at the end this time around. You know, certainly sometimes I felt like it might have been a bit long there or drawn out. Now, it might add less of a lull during the middle part of the race. So, you’ll have the beginning and people trying to make moves and get themselves in position. Then you’ll have guys working it and getting themselves in position for the final pit stop and the final run, thereafter. Hopefully, we’ll finally get that win at Pocono with our M&M’s Camry.”
Until the last two seasons, Pocono seemed to be a place you struggled. What changed there to help you be in contention for wins the last two years?
“Pocono used to be a place I didn’t look forward to going to but, lately, I’ve been looking forward to it because of Dave Rogers (crew chief). I struggled there and Dave does a really good job of working with our teammates. With Denny (Hamlin) being so good there, we used some of the baseline stuff from the 11 car and tweaked it more to my liking. Denny’s still way better than I am there, but Dave, along with everyone on the M&M’s team and JGR, have done a good job of giving me solid racecars and it’s given me more confidence. We have a good baseline and hopefully we can continue to be as competitive on the repaved track as we have been on the old surface over the last couple of years.”
Pocono is the most unique track on the circuit with three distinct corners. What’s the most difficult part of the track for you?
“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest. Turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down. We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside, and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway.”
Source: True Speed Communication