“Yes Michigan” became a famous tourism slogan when the Great Lakes State produced a commercial around the theme in 1986 for its 150thbirthday.
Fast-forward to some 26 years later and Michigan’s tourism board, Travel Michigan, has flourished with its most recent memorable campaign, “Pure Michigan,” which also happens to be the title sponsor of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
What does this have to do with Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR)? Well, the talented 27-year-old hopes he’ll be saying, “Yes, Michigan,” by weekend’s end and that his chances of making this year’s edition of the 10-race, 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship are much more solidified.
After a heartbreaking end to last weekend’s race on the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, where Busch got spun from behind while leading on the last lap, the Las Vegas native is looking ahead to Sunday’s 400-miler on the Michigan oval, for which he is the defending race-winner. He’s currently in a five-driver battle for two precious wild-card berths into this year’s Chase with four events remaining before the Chase starts Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The top-10 drivers in the point standings are locked into the Chase. Kasey Kahne currently holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories this season, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Ryan Newman assumed the 12th-place wild-card spot last weekend by virtue of his April 1 victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway combined with his 13th position in the standings, which is higher than his fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points –Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano.
Busch’s win in the Pure Michigan 400 last August was his first Sprint Cup win at the 2-mile oval. He also finished third in the June 2011 race, and led a total of 81 laps in the two events last year. By contrast, in his previous 12 Sprint Cup starts at Michigan, he had no wins, one top-five finish and led a total of 88 laps. So, recent history certainly bodes well for Busch’s outlook this weekend.
Including this weekend’s race at Michigan, Busch’s record at the four tracks that comprise the remainder of the Sprint Cup “regular season” is quite impressive. He has a whopping 11 career wins at those four tracks with at least one race win at each. Busch has five career wins at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and four wins at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway to go with his one win apiece at Michigan and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
So, as Busch heads back to Michigan for the second of two Sprint Cup stops this season, he’ll hope to resurrect the old “Yes, Michigan” tagline as his fate with regard to the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship stays very much alive.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
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. For me, coming to Michigan, I tend to run well there. For whatever reason, I haven’t had too many great finishes to show for it until last year, and then we had a great year there and got our first win last August.”
You got to participate in the tire test at Michigan the day after the Brickyard 400. How do you feel about your car after the test?
“I felt like we were pretty good. Even though we had an extra day of testing in June, we didn’t get to race for the win because of one of our engine issues. We ended up fixing the car and getting it back out there, so we tried some things that we brought back to use in the test and that we could bring back to race this weekend. We didn’t qualify well in June, which is something you would like to do on a repave. We were able to move on up through the field, but we ended up with our engine issue and never got to see how good we really were. I’m looking forward to going back there with our Interstate Batteries Camry and, hopefully, we learned enough in June and in the test that will help us have a shot at the win.”
Do you feel you can pick up another win before the Chase?
I thought that maybe it was going to be last weekend, but that wasn’t meant to be. Yeah, we still have some good tracks coming up.
Hopefully, we can get our Interstate Batteries Camry to victory lane this weekend. If we do that, we’ll have that second win for the wild card and we’ll go on into the last three races and see if we can’t either keep ourselves in front of the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the 39 (Ryan Newman) in points, in case one of them does get another win, or maybe even get ourselves another win.”
How many wins will it take to lock up a position in the Chase?
“Hard to say exactly, but I think three wins would be a lock. But, you can have two and just try to keep yourselves in front of the guys who do have one win, in case they do get a win. Like right now, us having one win, Jeff Gordon having one win – that’s who I feel like we’re really racing, is the 24 car. If we pass him back in points, obviously that will get us back in the Chase. He runs really, really well
at Atlanta and he also runs well at Bristol, too. There’s an opportunity there for him to get another win, which would make it two. If he gets two and we’re in front of him in points with only one win, then he’s in and we’re out. If we have two, I think we’ll be OK.”