While Kyle Busch is a two-time Brickyard 400 champion on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, he’s poised to take on a different challenge as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Indianapolis for Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard.
For the second year in a row, instead of taking on the iconic 2.5-mile oval. NASCAR’s top series will again compete on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Peanut Butter Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), won his Brickyard 400s back-to-back in 2015 and 2016. They are among his five top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 16 career starts on the historic oval. Busch and his fellow Cup Series competitors had to wipe the slate clean a year ago when they first tackled the road course. And this weekend, they will be faced with the unknown once again as it will be the first event on the circuit with the NextGen car.
Not long ago, road-course racing in NASCAR’s top series consisted of just two stops on the 36-race schedule with its yearly visits to Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. An annual trip to the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval was added to the schedule in 2018. Now, road-course racing has taken on even more importance in the Cup Series with the additions of Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and the Indianapolis road course. With six road-course races on the schedule this year, it’s more important than ever to have a strong driver and team that can turn left and right.
Busch has long shown a propensity for road-course racing during his Cup Series career, well before road courses occupied a larger chunk of the schedule. The M&M’S Peanut Butter driver’s four road-course wins tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson and Mark Martin on the all-time Cup Series road-course wins list. That’s some pretty elite company, already. A fifth road-course win would tie Busch with Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond and Dan Gurney. There is a bit of distance from there to the top three spots on the all-time road-course wins list, however, as Chase Elliott, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, have seven, eight and nine career road-course wins, respectively.
So as Busch heads to the Indianapolis road course for the second time and first with the NextGen car, he’ll hope that Indy will be as smooth as peanut butter and turn out to be just a successful for him and the M&M’S Peanut Butter Camry team as the historic oval has been.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Peanut Butter Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What does it mean to the prestige of NASCAR Cup Series racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway now that it’s contested on the road course instead of the 2.5-mile oval?
“It’s definitely not what the oval is, certainly not the Indy 500 or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that was always known for being the 2.5-mile oval, and all the history that came along with that from the 500 to the Brickyard 400 over the years, as well. It’s another racetrack where it’s a different racetrack at the same venue. We had a good run going there last year and obviously the rumble strips coming up really hurt our finish. No matter what course it is, you go out there and race it the best you can and hope for a good run. We’ll go out there with our M&M’S Peanut Butter Camry and try to learn a bit more in practice and hopefully be in a position at the end for a good finish.”
What do you think are the challenges with the NextGen car on the road courses?
“This car is faster on the road courses because it has more grip. It is a more central-built racecar, meaning that it’s not just built to go left. I think the race should be competitive. All of the cars are the same, right? So, it should be more competitive. It’s just a matter of who runs over who – if we look like the local go-kart track or we look like professionals. We will see how things go in that regard this weekend.”
How has your view on road-course racing changed with the addition of more of those races in recent years?
“I’ve always enjoyed the road racing. Back years ago, when we had two on the schedule – Sonoma and Watkins Glen – it was kind of fun because it was like an off week. You would go and enjoy the experience and try to learn and get better at it each time that you would do it, but now that there are six of them on the schedule, it’s definitely more loaded toward needing to be good at it – not wanting to but needing to with the amount of road-course races we have. I feel like I’m a decent road racer and would love to have a chance to showcase that this weekend. Obviously, we’ve been missing something on these road courses as far as the NextGen car, so hoping we can gain some ground this weekend and improve from our last couple of road-course races.”