HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – During the 19th century, the Irish Hills area of Michigan – located near U.S. 12 just about halfway between Detroit and Chicago – was a well-known stopping point during the five-day stagecoach trip between the two large Midwest cities.
At the turn of the century, the Irish Hills turned into an enjoyable tourist destination with its plush, green landscape and more than 30 lakes for vacationers and residents to enjoy in peace and quiet.
For the last several decades, the Irish Hills come to life two weekends per year and become anything but peaceful and quiet when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn for the state’s largest sporting events.
Kyle Busch, driver of the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), hopes his colorful green-and-white-striped paint scheme brings a little bit of good fortune his way during his stopover in the Irish Hills for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.
Busch won the Pure Michigan 400 in August 2011 for his first Sprint Cup triumph at the 2-mile oval. However, the track was repaved prior to the 2012 season and, while he scored a solid fourth-place finish on the surface in June 2013, he has had three finishes of 30th or worse in the other four races contested on the fresh pavement. This weekend, Busch looks to overcome that recent string of bad luck at Michigan and turn his fortunes around on the blazing fast oval.
One day prior to Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, Busch will achieve a milestone 500th start in a Toyota racing vehicle when he takes the green flag for Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the track. In his 499 career starts driving Toyota equipment among NASCAR’s top three series, Busch has scored 114 wins.
So, as Busch and the Interstate Batteries team head to the Midwest this weekend, they’ll hope to luck of the Irish is on their side and that the green-and-white-striped Camry can score a second Sprint Cup victory of the season Sunday afternoon in the Irish Hills of Michigan.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What do you think the speeds will be like at Michigan this weekend, and what did you learn in the season’s first race there in June?
“Speeds at Michigan are up and they’re fast. It’s hard for Goodyear to make a tire that feels like it has enough grip to withstand the amount of speed we do carry, the amount of load we carry, the amount of temperature that they develop because we are going so fast. It’s not a favorable tire to the drivers, I don’t think, but it’s just because the cars are so darn fast. What we learned last time at Michigan – I felt like we ran well. We were running fourth to sixth or so and having a decent day, and then that was one of the races where we had a rear-wheel bearing failure, so I essentially finished, I think, 41st or something. Not such a good day for us but I felt like our car was fast enough to be capable of running in the top-10, and so I look forward to going back there and trying to see if we can’t do that again. It’s a place that you learn a little bit for Kansas because they’re both fresh repaves and I think you run on the same tire at both tracks – I can’t remember. But, it’s a place that you can learn some stuff for Kansas, so we like that.”
Most drivers really seem to enjoy racing at Michigan International Speedway. Why is that?
“Regardless of new pavement or not, it’s wide-open racing and you can run from top to bottom. The biggest thing used to be to find grip there. But, with the new surface, there is a ton of grip now. Before, you had grip for maybe five laps and then you’d just be out to lunch. But now, the tire wear is all out the window and the racetrack is going to be very fast. And the wide racetrack is good. That’s what makes Michigan so exciting and so fun. That’s the biggest deal about it.”
What does it mean to get your 500th start in a Toyota in the Saturday’s Truck Series race at Michigan?
“It just means I’ve been running too many races. But, I’m excited about it. It’s obviously a bit of a milestone whether you run just Cup races and reach 500 or whether you run all three series and you reach 500. There’s been a lot of success in-between those 500 starts and, yet, some heartache, too. It’s exciting to have as many wins as I do have across all three series of NASCAR with the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series. In those 500 starts in a Toyota, 114 of those are wins. That’s a pretty good number.”
What does it mean to be the winningest Toyota driver with the most starts?
“I think it’s pretty neat to be as successful as we’ve been in these NASCAR series, but also behind the wheel of a Toyota. Toyota pours a lot of heart and soul into this sport. It’s helped make it what it is today with constant improvements from 2007 when it joined the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It’s been an instrumental part of helping the sport evolve with the cars and everything else, so it’s been pretty good.”
Are you hoping to lock yourself into the Chase here, soon?
“Yeah, no doubt. You definitely want to be locked in. I feel like we’re sure enough to make the Chase but we want to be able to win. I felt like we had a chance last week to get ourselves locked in, but that obviously was cut short and so here we are this week just doing what we typically try to do. You want to be further up in the point standings and it can be very frustrating to be here because I know that’s not our capabilities. But, to be honest, you look on the flip side of the coin and it really doesn’t matter where you are. It just matters where you end up and how well you do in the final 10 races.”
You won the last race before the Michigan track was resurfaced. How much did the track change over the winters since the first race there on the new pavement?
“I think it has aged a bit and widened out a little bit more and we were better there in June. We just had some unfortunate luck with a rear-end gear issue. We struggled on the repaved tracks the last couple of years, but we were much improved at Kansas than we were there last year, so that gives me hope that we can do the same at Michigan this week. We just have to keep working hard and chip away at it like we approached the race at Kansas. I’m hoping we can learn enough in practice that we can have a good run there this weekend. One of the biggest things on repaved tracks is track position. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the Interstate Batteries guys have worked really hard on our qualifying setup, and I think we’ve improved on that as an organization with the new qualifying format. It will have to start with a good qualifying effort and seeing what we can learn in practice Saturday.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine