When Martinsville (Va.) Speedway installed lights starting in late 2016 to be used for the 2017 season and beyond, track officials had aspirations to one day run a NASCAR Cup Series race that started and ended under those lights. That vision became a reality in 2019 when it was announced that there would be a true night race in May of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic had other ideas. While the race did happen at night last season, instead of a Saturday night in May, it was run on a Wednesday night in June with no fans in the stands.
For 2021, fans, albeit a limited number of them, are finally able to see the first Martinsville Saturday night race and the first night points-paying race of the Cup Series season as NASCAR’s top series heads to the .526-mile short track for the 500-lap Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Peanut Brownie Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), hopes to build on some impressive recent statistics at the Virginia short track. At the pinnacle of recent Martinsville success for Busch and the SNICKERS Peanut Brownie team is the two-time Cup Series champion’s first career win at the paperclip-shaped oval in April 2016. Not only did he bring home his first Martinsville grandfather clock trophy in the Cup Series, he did it in dominating fashion, leading five times for a race-high 352 laps en route to victory lane.
In fact, in his 11 starts there, Busch has two wins and two runner-up finishes among his eight consecutive top-five finishes from October 2015 through April 2019, making SNICKERS Peanut Brownie driver a staple at the front of the Martinsville field. The tight, tricky oval was a much bigger challenge for Busch earlier in his career, especially during his first years racing under the JGR banner. In fact, Busch finished outside the top-10 in three of his first four races there with JGR in 2008 and 2009, but has certainly come into his own there in recent years.
Busch will no doubt shine bright under the lights with the scheme for the SNICKERS Peanut Brownie product adorning his No. 18 Toyota for the first time. The SNICKERS Peanut Brownie launched late last year and is in stores nationwide now. It combines two great treats – peanut butter and brownies – and comes in two individual squares. Proudly made in the Mars Wrigley plant in Waco, Texas, SNICKERS Peanut Brownie is also available in ice cream bars.
So as Busch and the rest of his NASCAR Cup Series competitors head to Martinsville for the first Saturday night race of the season, the two-time Series champion is hoping to be in the spot that will shine brightest – in victory lane with his first win of 2021.
|KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 SNICKERS Peanut Brownie Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:|
| Do you feel like you are finally turning things around with the No. 18 team? “Yes and no. Certainly, I don’t want to get too far ahead of anything, but I will say the guys – Ben (Beshore, crew chief) and Jaik (Halpainy, race engineer) and Seth (Chavka, race engineer) did a great job of working on a good setup at Atlanta, and we had a good car at Bristol but didn’t have the finish to show for it. At Atlanta, we were fast right at the start of the race. We drove our way up toward the front. We kept clawing all day long. Every time we had setbacks, too, we’d get back toward the front. It was nice to have that speed in our racecar that we could perform like that. We’re trying to figure all of this out together right now and make sure we can continue to improve as the year goes along in order to be the best when it matters most.” |
How do you feel about your program going into Martinsville? “I look forward getting to Martinsville. Ben (Beshore, crew chief) last year was crew chief for Harrison Burton, and it was the first time the Xfinity cars had been to Martinsville in a long time, so there was no practice. They literally just lined it up and raced at Martinsville, and they were super-fast. Harrison was able to win that race. Ben was with me when we were successful at Martinsville, the years that we won in ’15 and ’17, so I’m looking forward to getting there, and hopefully we have some things in store for us to be fast and go for the win with our SNICKERS Peanut Brownie Toyota. There are a lot of great associates who make SNICKERS Peanut Brownie in Waco, Texas, so I’m hoping we can make them proud at Martinsville this weekend.”
With virtually no practice or qualifying before the races this year, you’re more dependent that ever on the time you spend in the simulator. Just how helpful is that? “We’ve certainly built our notebook so far and we will continue to build our notebook. (Martin) Truex (Jr.) and I looked really close in the first run of the race at Phoenix, where we were handling the same. He hit the wall off of turn two about two laps after I hit the wall off of turn two, so they just came to pit road and made some wholesale adjustments to their car that really made it take off. We made some adjustments to our car three weekends ago in Atlanta that literally was a half a round out of the right rear during the race and we went from being kind of OK, like a fourth-place car, to a 12th-place car with half round adjustments. There’s a lot that can happen with those adjustments on pit road, so we are learning that stuff right now. I know Ben (Beshore, crew chief) is learning that stuff. He doesn’t have that experience. Jaik (Halpainy) and Seth (Chavka), my engineers, they’ve been in the Cup Series for a couple years on the 20, so we are all debriefing and talking about each and every thing we do and what magnitude those things feel like to me so they can help build their knowledge base as far as what we need to do going forward.”
What is the key to you getting a win at Martinsville? “It’s a tough racetrack and, any time you come in the pits and make an adjustment on your car, you certainly hope it goes the right way, or you make enough of it, or you don’t make too much of an adjustment. The last run can be tricky, too, because you can be coming off a 50-lap run on right-side tires and take four and you’ve only got 30 (laps) to go, or you could have 80 to go and you know you have to manage that run all the way to the end.”
What do you feel is the biggest key to performing well in the longer races like this week at Martinsville? “I think just being able to get comfortable, get settled, and make sure that you’re good to go for those long hauls. Don’t worry about what lap it is, ever, during a race. That’s the worst thing that could happen to you. You just try to not ever worry about what lap you’re on or what’s going on around you. You just keep battling, keep driving, keep your focus forward on what you’re doing. That’s the best way to go about those long, long races.”
Where have you put the Martinsville Speedway grandfather clocks you’ve won? “One’s at home in the foyer and I had to turn off the buzzer because it’s close to (son) Brexton’s room, so we don’t get to hear it. We heard it a couple of times while it went off, but then I turned it off. And then, the other ones, we have at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports).”