E‘Norm’ous Win at Texas
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Interstate Batteries and Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) enjoy a partnership that stretches back more than 20 years to 1992, JGR’s first full NASCAR season, and it’s an association that long ago evolved past the typical sponsor-race team connection. If asked, owner Joe Gibbs would refer to Norm Miller, Chairman of Interstate Batteries, as family.
Needless to say, it’s a relationship that is never in fear of being overstated when it comes to discussing JGR’s evolution and longevity. And that affiliation is never celebrated more than when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its annual trek to the Lone Star state, home to Interstate Batteries.
One year ago, driver Kyle Busch provided yet another reason to celebrate the long-time alliance when he drove the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota to victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, giving the brand its first win at its home track.
After sweeping the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races there last April, Busch hopes he can at least equal that impressive weekend, which saw him lead eight times for a race-high 171 laps and bring home what was his first career Texas win in NASCAR’s top series.
While last April’s Sprint Cup win was his first there, Busch is no stranger to victory lane at Texas. He reeled off an incredible string of five consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series wins there from April 2008 to April 2010. Add his two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins in November 2009 and 2010 and he enters the upcoming Duck Commander 500 race weekend with a total of nine wins at the 1.5-mile oval.
And for anyone keeping score, the stars are seemingly in alignment for an encore.
Busch scored his first win of the 2014 season three weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in what turned out to be the 29th of his Sprint Cup career, giving the 28-year old sole possession of 23rd place on the series’ all-time win list. In what can only be a slight case of déjà vu, Busch scored the win in Interstate Batteries colors – just like he did one year ago when a win at Fontana preceded the dominating win in Texas.
A second consecutive win in the spring race at Texas in the Interstate Batteries Toyota could be one of those rare instances during which the sequel outshines the original. Interstate Batteries dealers and distributors across the country know if there’s anyone capable of delivering a repeat performance in Texas, it’s Busch.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How special was it to get your first Texas win last April, especially for Interstate Batteries in the company’s backyard?
“It felt good to sit on the pole with a new track record and go to victory lane. On top of that, just to see the look on Norm’s (Miller, Interstate Batteries Chairman) face was priceless and something I will never forget. Doesn’t get much better than that. It was a fast race and I expect more of that this weekend. Texas is fast. We’re able to carry a lot of speed throughout the turns and down the straightaways throughout the whole race. It was a tough day there for a bit, getting loose, trying to slide around, trying to find grip, being able to move to the middle or move to the top. As soon as that caution came at the end, my boys stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam and got us to victory lane. I was very proud of those guys and, hopefully, they can get us another good stop on Sunday when it’s crunch time.”
Looking back at last April, and even a few races ago at Fontana, what do you think of the numbers you’ve put up in your career with 29 wins by the age of 28?
“There’s a guy named Jimmie Johnson out there who has absolutely shredded the stat book for the rest of us. It’s great for what I’ve been able to accomplish in this sport and I’m thankful for that. And I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and a lot of people to be thankful to, including Joe Gibbs (team owner) and Dave Rogers (crew chief), just to name two. I’m a competitor so, of course, you always wish your stats were a little bit better. I’d love to say I’ve had 50 wins by now, or something near that. But you take everything in stride as best you can, and we’ll continue to work hard. Hopefully, we can continue to increase that number for many years to come.”
Do you approach Texas differently than other mile-and-a-half racetracks?
“Texas is a really fast mile-and-a-half racetrack. Charlotte has been fast the last few years and Texas has always kind of been that way. The asphalt is getting a little bit older but, for as old as the asphalt is, it’s still really fast for a few laps and it’s still kind of a pain, sometimes, because it is so aero-dependent that, when you do run the bottom, it’s hard to pass. You’ve got to be able to move around a little bit and run the middle, run the top and show some ability to go all over the racetrack. We’re getting closer each and every time, it feels like. Sometimes not so much – you kind of go forward and then you go backward and then you kind of come back forward some. Hopefully, Texas will be good to us this time around, also, and we can get a win with our Interstate Batteries Camry like at Fontana.”
How fast of a racetrack is Texas Motor Speedway?
“It is a fast racetrack. Texas was really hard for me at the beginning with the Cup cars for some reason. I took to it right off the bat in the Nationwide stuff. We’ve kind of correlated some of that information back and forth and, having the cars from Jason Ratcliff (former Nationwide Series crew chief and current crew chief of the No. 20 Sprint Cup team for JGR) and from Dave Rogers (Busch’s Sprint Cup crew chief) being as good as they’ve been, we’ve been really fast there. And now that Jason is on the Cup side with Matt (Kenseth), I’m hoping they can bring back a little of that magic that helped us win five in a row there in the Nationwide car. It’s a fun place. It’s really challenging because of the flatness of the corners, getting into the corners, and then they’re so banked through the turns, and then the exits of the corners, they kind of fall off real quickly. That was always really weird for me to try to figure out because the lateral grip seems to go away so fast on the exit of the turns. You kind of want to be straight by that point. It’s an interesting facility. Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta all might look exactly the same, but they drive nothing alike. It keeps you on your toes.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine