When Martinsville (Va.) Speedway officials began installing lights in late 2016 to be used for the 2017 season and beyond, they had aspirations to one day run a NASCAR Cup Series event 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 on the half-mile, paperclip-shaped oval in May of 2020, which subsequently was delayed until the summer due to the pandemic.
Fast forward to this weekend and, with changes in the schedule that have occurred since that 2020 debut of night racing there, Martinsville finds itself hosting the first of just three Saturday-night races this season, the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Crunchy Cookie Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to the .526-mile short track for 400 laps of racing Saturday night after a strong runner-up finish there last fall.
In addition to his most recent run there, Busch has some impressive statistics at Martinsville. In his last 14 starts there, Busch has two wins to go with nine top-five finishes and 11 top-10s as the M&M’S Crunchy Cookie driver is a staple at the front of the field at the Virginia short track. Martinsville was a much bigger challenge for Busch earlier in his career, especially during his early 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 come into his own at Martinsville, starting with his first championship season in 2015.
Busch will no doubt shine bright under the lights with the scheme for the new M&M’S Crunchy Cookie product adorning his No. 18 Toyota for the second of seven races this season. M&M’S Crunchy Cookie combines two favorite treats – M&M’S and chocolate chip cookies – and is now available nationwide. It’s bound to give race fans a fun, nostalgic snack to enjoy during this weekend’s race. M&M’S is also partnering with a cool cookie creator, Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi, to create 100, one-time-only, limited-edition cookies that will be made available to race fans on a first-come, first-served basis. Fans can sign up at MMS.com to find out when they’ll drop.
So as Busch and the rest of his NASCAR Cup Series competitors head to Martinsville for first night race of the season, the two-time Cup Series champion is hoping to be in the spot that will shine brightest at Martinsville – victory lane.
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. Hoping we can just be there at the end and have a shot to with our M&M’S Crunchy Cookie Camry.”
What’s unique about Martinsville that makes for good racing there?
“Typically, you are off the throttle more than you are on the throttle at Martinsville, so your time is lost or made when you are off the gas. That lends itself to guys dive-bombing and making moves and being light on the brake and running into the back of guys, or rooting them out of the bottom and getting them shuffled back. The more that track becomes a bottom feeder-type racetrack and you can go and get a guy shuffled out, there’s no worry to you because he can’t get back in line. If he goes back five spots, then you have that cushion again. There are all kinds of different ways Martinsville has always put on really good and exciting racing, and we’ll see how things look with the new car and trying to adapt as best we can.”
What do you feel is the biggest key to performing well in 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 races. This one is a bit shorter with 400 laps instead of the 500 laps we are used to there, but there are still going to be some long hauls, for sure.”
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).”