MOORESVILLE, N.C. – 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.
The Irish Hills were named in homage to the Irish immigrants that settled in the area in the early to mid-1800s. Today, the area is known for its resorts that attracts 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 the Irish Hills for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. It is the second time the series will be competing at Michigan as part of the 2012 schedule. The one thing everyone learned the last time the series visited the 2-mile track? It is superfast after the repaving project the track completed during the offseason. Teams will be looking forward to taking advantage of that speed during this second go-round at Michigan.
Kurt Busch and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team, however, will be looking for more than just speed this weekend. Three races have taken place since the last off-weekend the series enjoyed, but each of those events have been plagued with plain, old bad racing luck for Busch & Company. From an engine failure at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to a blown tire at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway to the mechanical failure at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, each race transformed promising performances into nothing but disappointing results. A trip to the Irish Hills may be just what the team needs to turn its luck around in the hopes of picking up a little bit of the luck of the Irish.
While an added dash of luck could provide a big assist, the team will rely on Busch’s previous experience and success at Michigan just as much. The 2004 Sprint Cup champion goes to Michigan as a two-time winner at the 2-mile oval. 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 95 laps on Aug. 21, 2007. In addition to the two victories, Busch has a pair of poles. He earned the top starting spot for the track’s June races in both 2010 and 2011. Combining Busch’s success at Michigan with a little bit of luck just might yield the recipe needed for the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services team to capture desired results on Sunday.
Yes, the calm, serenity of the Irish Hills will be under siege by thundering racecars once again this weekend. While Busch and Phoenix Racing will be very much a part of the disruption, they are hoping to catch a break in the luck department and have Irish eyes smiling on them.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing:
What did you learn at Michigan last time that will help this time around? “Well, we learned it was fast. I’m sure it will be more of the same this time around, but the unknown for us a little bit is the tire. We weren’t able to do the tire test there after Indianapolis just for the simple reason of not having enough manpower. We felt like we were in good shape going into the race there in June but we made some changes that just sent us to the back. So we did learn some things about what not to do and hopefully that will be enough to help us. We are taking a great car with us this weekend. It’s the same car we ran in the top-five with at Kansas in the spring so, hopefully between that and what we learned in June, we’ll be in a competitive position this weekend.”
Do you think there will be the same tire issues this time around at Michigan? “It’s hard to say. Even though it’s only been two months since we last raced at Michigan, the track will have changed somewhat. I know a lot of guys who had issues with the tires blistering but, since we didn’t participate in the tire test, it’s really hard for me to talk about what to expect from the tires this time around. But there has been a test since we last raced there. We have a handful of practice sessions, and the Truck Series is there this weekend with their practice sessions and race. All of that should result in the track getting a good bit more rubber down since the last time we raced at Michigan, and history tells us we can anticipate that all of that will result in changes to the track’s surface and the way the cars respond to the track.”
Does it help to go back to a track where you’ve had success? “I think there is a boost in confidence any time you visit a track where you’ve won, just for the simple fact you have the confidence knowing what it takes to be successful at that track.”
It’s been a tough three weeks going into this weekend’s race. How hard is it to have good performance hindered by freak incidents? “It’s unfortunate because our results really don’t do a good job of describing the performance. Indianapolis has always been a tough track for me, but we go there and make our way into the top-10 before we have problems on pit road and then the engine issue. We qualify well and run strong at Pocono, but a blown tire literally kills our day. I put us in a hole at Watkins Glen with qualifying but, even starting out at a bit of a deficit, we felt like we had both the car and strategy to put ourselves in position for a good run and then had the part failure. It’s definitely been tough and probably not any tougher on anyone than the guys. I’ve said this all season but I don’t feel like I can say it too much. This Phoenix Racing team has a really hard-working group of guys and they probably end up doing twice the work as everyone else. I’m disappointed when we have problems, but they’re just as disappointed because they put everything they have into these cars. Good finishes and wins are important to me, but I really just want to have a complete race for these guys.”
You’ll be competing in the Camping World Truck Series for the first time since 2001 this weekend. Talk about getting back in a truck for the first time in 11 years. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since I’ve raced a truck but, yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’s a fun series with great racing and it’ll be like old-school weekend a little bit for me.”