The list of racetracks where Kyle Busch has yet to win in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck – is not long.
In fact, there are only three left on that list – Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, the site of Sunday’s Pocono 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Of the 28 tracks that will host NASCAR’s top three divisions in 2012, Busch has competed at every circuit but Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and he has won at 24 of them.
Busch makes it no secret that Pocono has given him fits, as he has four top-10 finishes in 14 previous starts there, along with six finishes of 22nd or worse. But, three of those top-five finishes have come during his last four outings at the 2.5-mile triangle.
In fact, not only did the Las Vegas native bring home his best Pocono finish a year ago this month, he also started from the pole – his first at Pocono – and was beaten across the finish line only by teammate and Pocono master Denny Hamlin, who has four wins there to his credit. Last August, Busch lead 27 laps late in the race before equaling his career-best Pocono finish of second behind race-winner Brad Keselowski.
Despite the momentum Busch and the M&M’s team have gained in recent races at Pocono, Sunday’s race has two big factors that could shake up the outcome of the race. First, Pocono underwent a repaving project during the spring, and all teams will be able to test on the new surface Wednesday and Thursday this week before the official Friday-through-Sunday race weekend schedule kicks in. Also, for the first time in the history of Pocono Raceway, Sunday’s scheduled distance will be 400 miles – 100 miles shorter than the traditional 500-milers held there since the Sprint Cup Series took up residence at Pocono in 1974.
So, as the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains for Sunday’s Pocono 400, Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers and the entire M&M’s team will look to take the very same approach that has yielded three top-five finishes in the last four races there. They hope the added variables of a new racing surface and a shorter race distance help them find the extra little bit needed to make it to victory lane at Pocono for the first time.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your thoughts on the shorter distance at Pocono?
“I think that’s a positive change. You know, certainly sometimes I felt like it may be 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 is 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. I have no idea how the repave will change things for us, but we do have some extra time on Wednesday and Thursday to hopefully get a good baseline and 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.”
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, 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). 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.”
Did anything change last August at Pocono with the addition of shifting?
“Nothing changed since we were there last time, for us, anyway. Everything was the same and we had a really good run and almost won the thing. We were real comfortable with it the last time we were there and things went really well for us with it. We seemed like we could gain a little bit of time in the areas we were shifting. On restarts, you do a couple things differently than you did there in the past.”Follow paulmbanks