Wednesday, Aug 10

Kyle Busch Appreciating Pocono

Mars Wrigley’s involvement with the sport of NASCAR goes all the way back to 1990, when the SNICKERS brand first fielded a car for Bobby Hillin Jr., at Stavola Brothers Racing. The partnership continued the next couple of seasons with Rick Wilson behind the wheel in 1991 and Dick Trickle in 1992.

 

The Mars brands dabbled as an associate sponsor at Hendrick Motorsports for several seasons before signing on with MB2 Motorsports in 1998 as a fulltime sponsor of driver Ernie Irvan, whose paint schemes most of the season featured SKITTLES brand. It was during that same season that Irvan drove a special scheme featuring Mars’ trademark brand M&M’S® to celebrate the opening of the M&M’S World® store in Las Vegas.

 

The response to the colorful M&M’S® paint scheme was one of excitement from motorsports and chocolate fans alike. For the 1999 season, Mars unveiled M&M’S® as its on-track focal point. At that year’s season opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, M&M’S® began a decades-long tenure as a primary sponsor in the NASCAR Cup Series.

 

Fast forward to 2022 as Kyle Busch and the M&M’S brand finish off a successful 15-year run together. Since the partnership began in 2008, Busch has scored 56 victories in NASCAR’s top series, including 34 while sporting the colors of M&M’S. This weekend, Mars continues to thank the fans for all their support during its time in NASCAR with its first-ever race entitlement – Sunday’s M&M’S Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.  

 

Pocono is important to M&M’S and to Busch for several reasons. Firstly, Mars Wrigley’s offices and its plant in Hackettstown, New Jersey,  are less than an hour’s drive east of the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle,” making it a home track of sorts for those two facilities, as well as the company’s plant another 30 minutes to the east in Newark, New Jersey. In addition to its first-ever race entitlement, M&M’S is maximizing its opportunity to thank the fans for their support of the brand with special events throughout the weekend, including a Q&A session in the fan midway on race day featuring former M&M’S drivers Irvan, Ken Schrader and David Gilliland, as well as Busch, of course.

 

As for Busch, for years he dreaded making the trip to Pocono. But things changed dramatically for the Las Vegas native during the 2017 season, when he and the No. 18 team seemed to turn the corner there. Busch led 100 laps in the June race before coming back in late July and winning his first Pocono Cup Series race. Those two performances sparked a run of 10 Pocono races during which Busch scored four wins, seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s. And his 436 laps led in the last 10 Pocono races is almost 30 percent of all 1,507 laps possible. That’s quite the turnaround from his previous 10 starts there that netted zero wins or top-fives and just four top-10s. In his most recent visit to Pocono during a doubleheader race weekend in June 2021, Busch finished second in the Saturday race and went one better on Sunday by driving to his second victory of the season.

 

So as Busch and the M&M’S brand head to the Poconos together for a final time, not only will M&M’S be showing its appreciation for its more than three decades in the sport of NASCAR, it hopes to be celebrating with Busch with another Pocono victory in Sunday’s M&M’S Fan Appreciation 400.

 

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 

 

Pocono was a place you didn’t take to right away, but you seemed to turn the corner there over the last 10 races. What are you expecting this weekend?

 

“I get asked a lot what my favorite track is and my answer is usually Bristol, but Pocono is one of those places that has really moved up much higher on that list. It’s always, ‘What have you done for me lately,’ so Pocono has been a really good place for us and a place we started running well starting in 2013, 2014, but really didn’t see the actual results from that until the 2017 season. We were able to make the pit strategy work last year and had enough fuel to get to the finish line first even though we had transmission issues, so it would be great to be able to go back there with this new car and get back to victory lane with our M&M’S Camry. For all that M&M’s has done for the fans over the years, and the cool schemes I’ve been able to drive, it’s also cool to see them sponsor a race and certainly would be pretty cool for them to have the opportunity to hand over the M&M’S Fan Appreciation 400 trophy to me this weekend.”

 

You make Pocono look easy, but what is still tough about Pocono even for you?

 

“Every time you go there, it’s a bit different. The bumps change, the characteristics change, where the bumps are. Are they getting bigger? Are they getting worse? Are there more? That turn-two tunnel turn is always a culprit for the bumps, and the harsh winters up there really change the racetrack. Then, what happens in turn three, where the wind is blowing and stuff like that, is always kind of a convoluted piece to Pocono, and how you get through turn three versus turn one versus two. There are three distinctly different corners, there’s definitely going to be compromise.”

 

How do you learn to get better at a track, like you have at Pocono?

 

“There are so many different ways you can do it. You can look at data, you can look at the driving technique. Talking is kind of the best resource, just being able to ask a guy, ‘Hey, when you do this, why do you do this, or what do you expect when you get into a run and you’re going this far, and tire wear, and how do you get around turn two,’ whatever it might be. Lots of different things there, being teammates with Denny (Hamlin) for this long, it’s lended itself to myself improving at Pocono and Martinsville, places like that, and him improving at places like Bristol and Charlotte from myself.”

 

Is missing it as an organization at one track and hitting it at others just a function of this new NextGen racecar?

 

“A little bit. I would argue to that the Penske guys weren’t great at Kansas. But they’ve been super strong at the flatter tracks. They’re really fast at Martinsville, Phoenix. They’ve been good. They were good at Gateway, as well. They qualified really strong, so as far as their packages there, it seems that these teams or organizations kind of have what it takes to be good at these particular tracks. And so I think as we all continue to learn and grow, it feels like the good teams will be the good teams everywhere. But you know, it is kind of patchy right now with just getting an understanding built around this car. We’ve struggled on the road courses, but we ran well at Gateway, and pretty well New Hampshire, so hopefully that will translate over to Pocono, as well, with all of them being flatter tracks.”

 

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