KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Rolling hills with lush green grass, expansive lakes and small, quaint villages are in full view on the drive along U.S. Highway 12 in southern Michigan. Golf courses and vast, farmed land also are part of the otherwise tranquil scene. It’s a serene setting and one conducive to the quiet country life many enjoy in the area. Any thundering noises that may disturb this quiet setting are typically the tell-tale signs of an impending storm. It’s all part of an area referred to as the Irish Hills of Michigan.
Named in homage to the Irish immigrants who settled in the area in the early to mid-1800s, today the area is known for its resorts that attract numerous tourists with its state parks and its multitude of lakes. It is a laid-back atmosphere conducive to families seeking to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
That all changes this weekend when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into town for the second time in 2015. As the winner of the track’s June race, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will attempt to become the fifth driver to sweep the 2-mile, D-shaped oval. The feat was most recently accomplished in 1995 by Bobby Labonte. The other four drivers to win both Michigan races in a single season are Bobby Allison in 1971, David Pearson in 1972 and 1976, Cale Yarborough in 1983, and Bill Elliott in 1985 and 1986.
Since winning at Michigan, in June, Busch’s hot streak has cooled off a bit. That’s not to say he’s lost steam, however.
The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champ has three top-five finishes and six top-10s in the seven races since winning in the Irish Hills. But the 56 laps led in just two of the races in that same stretch pales in comparison to the 665 laps he led in the previous 12 events. Being a three-time winner at Michigan is sufficient cause for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 being the perfect event for Busch to add another check in the win column in advance of the start of the 2015 edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs.
Busch scored his first Michigan win during the track’s June race in 2003, leading 23 laps along the way. He scored his second Michigan win with more of an exclamation point by leading a race-high 92 laps on Aug. 21, 2007. In his most recent win, Busch overcame adversity by winning the rain-shortened Michigan 400 after starting 24th in a backup racecar.
In addition to his three victories, Busch has a pair of poles, having earned the top starting spot for the track’s June races in both 2010 and 2011.
Another win this weekend would greatly improve his standing in the Chase field as the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point totals reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the Chase. Busch and the Haas Automation team will put all their energy, focus and determination into finding their way to victory lane once again.
It would help their cause greatly if they were able capture at least one more win. Luckily, the Las Vegas native and his No. 41 team have proven that they are no strangers to victory lane at Michigan International Speedway.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is the key to getting around Michigan?
“Michigan is a tough place because of the way the cars have that grip level on fresh tires versus old tires. What I mean by that is when you put on fresh tires, your tires are cold and they don’t grab the asphalt as well. A lot of guys try to stay out at Michigan with the hot tires on and they get better restarts. Restarts at Michigan are already pretty wild with how wide the track is and how many lanes there are for options. It comes down to just trying to put yourself in the best position with the best-percentage chance on whether it’s fresh tires, or it’s staying out, or it’s making spots up on restarts.”
What is the toughest part of the track for you?
“The toughest part I think is turn three. It seems like the cars do this weird, four-wheel, light drift getting down in there. If your car is dialed in, and I’ve won there three times, it feels like turn three is the easiest corner. Turn three to me is the challenge each time I go there.”
What kind of race do you think we’ll see with the new aero package?
“The aero package I think that Brain France is trying to gear up toward would be better suited for Michigan with the high-drag and high-drafting probability at a track that is wider and can produce side-by-side-type racing. Michigan should be a way better show than what we saw at Indy. We will see how it plays out. I’m excited about it because I think that package will marry the Michigan racetrack well.”
Is there anything that you can take from what you learned at Indy that can be applied to Michigan this weekend?
“Just the fact that we have done it before with the rules package. There are little things that pop up on how the cars drove in traffic. That has been the biggest thing. We did a great job at Stewart-Haas Racing to prepare for that Indy race with extra components, extra time, people, effort – the whole thing going into Indy. Now we can really butter that up and button it up for when we go to Michigan.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine