With Independence Day coming up on Monday, many Americans will be celebrating by hitting the road to spend outdoor time with family and friends over the holiday weekend.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles America Mix Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), will also be hitting the road, but one of a different sort this Fourth of July weekend, The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion heads to Wisconsin as the series returns to the 4.048-mile, 14-turn Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake for Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250.
Not long ago, road-course racing in NASCAR’s top series consisted of just two stops of 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 recent additions of Road America, Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course joining the traditional stops at Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval. With those additions, it’s more important than ever to have a strong driver and team that can turn left and right.
As the Cup Series heads to Wisconsin for just the second time in the modern era, many of the younger Cup Series competitors have raced several times at Road America with NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, which has competed there each year since 2010. While the 2021 Cup Series race at Road America was the first time Busch had raced there, he took to the historic road course very quickly, bringing home the win in last year’s Xfinity Series race before notching a solid third-place finish in Sunday’s Cup Series race.
Busch has long shown a propensity for road-course racing during his Cup Series career, well before road course occupied a larger chunk of the schedule. The Skittles America Mix 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 on the list. 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, who have seven, eight and nine career road-course wins, respectively.
To help mark America’s Independence Day celebration this weekend, Busch’s No. 18 Toyota will feature the Skittles America Mix scheme. Each bag of Skittles America Mix contains a fun, fruit-flavored and patriotic mix of red, white and blue candies. The patriotic-themed Skittles are a must-have for celebrating this weekend – and of course, a great snack while watching a Cup Series race. They’re available at retailers nationwide through the summer.
So as Busch heads to Road America this holiday weekend, he’ll get right to work in hopes of adding to his impressive road-course statistics by taking a special road trip, so to speak, straight to victory lane.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Skittles America Mix Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are you expecting at Road America as the Cup Series races there for only the second time?
“I’ve never raced there before last year, but we had a really good weekend. We were able to win the Xfinity race with our M&M’S Ice Cream Supra, and then we had a really solid race with our Skittles America Mix Camry. We had to come from the back last year, but we had a really good racecar, just not good enough to keep up with Chase (Elliott). We struggled at Sonoma (earlier this month), so hoping we learned some things not to do from Sonoma and we can have a better run there. Looking forward to getting to Road America this weekend and learning as much as we can and have a good run with our Skittles America Mix Camry and get us a win on Fourth of July weekend. That would be pretty cool.”
Is road-course racing something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on?
“It’s definitely something you have to work on. With rule changes and tire changes, it’s something you work on every year. There’s always change that you have to work on to be competitive. When I was a kid back in Las Vegas in Legends cars, that’s where I was able to learn about shifting and turning left and turning right. I had the natural instincts for it and won a couple of championships in the winter series we had out there. We actually went out to Sonoma back then and ran the national championship races two years in a row and finished third both times, so I had a little bit of experience on road courses as I came up through the ranks.”
How hard is it to recover at Road America if you miss a corner?
“With those big straightaway, the corners are important, like missing turn three, I think it’s called, and then going down along back there. That’s important. That’s a big deal. Obviously, the last corner, I think it’s 13 or 14, coming up along from straightaway. So those can be detrimental to lap time, for sure, because you’re just losing time by the distance in which it takes to get up to speed, so you really want to be strong on those turns.”
How has your view on road-course racing changed with the addition of more of those races the last couple of 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 five of them on the schedule, it’s definitely more loaded towards 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 on Sunday.”
Why do you say Joe Gibbs Racing struggled at Sonoma after being decent at COTA?
“Yeah, I mean, we struggled at COTA as well, to be honest, with raw speed and being able to be good there. You know, in the early stage of the race, I think we were running eighth, we were fading, I got spun out by Chase Elliott running 12th, you know what I mean? So we weren’t great at COTA, either, but we were able to get through some of the restarts and get positions on guys to get ourselves up front. Christopher (Bell), I think was third or fourth. I was right with him on the last lap there. And so you know, felt like with everything that kind of ensued on the last lap, we would have had a shot to run in the top two or three, for sure. But I would say both road-course events so far this year were not our strong suit. Why we missed it? I don’t know. If I could answer that, we wouldn’t struggle, we wouldn’t have been bad.”