Heat Check

HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Aug. 8, 2017) – As the summer heat has turned up, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Camrys of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have turned up the heat as NASCAR’s top series heads to late summer with the playoffs within sight. 

Truex and Busch sit 1-2 in several statistical categories – driver rating, average running position, average start, fastest drivers early and late in the run, fastest laps run, great-flag speed and, of course, laps led. The laps led category may be the most impressive number with Truex leading 1,315 laps thus far this season while Busch has led 1,135. Each has almost twice the number of laps led as next-best competitor, Kyle Larson, who sits third with 722.

Looking even closer at NASCAR’s summer stretch – the last 10 races on the schedule starting at June at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and through last weekend’s race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International – the laps-led differential statistic is virtually even with Busch sitting at 551 laps led and Truex at 546 during those races. 

Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is coming off a win at Pocono two weeks ago while Truex brought home the checkered flag last weekend at Watkins Glen as the Cup Series heads to the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.

In the Irish Hills of Michigan this weekend, Busch will look to keep running up front, starting with an improvement over the seventh-place finish he earned at Michigan in June. That finish doesn’t nearly tell the story as Busch led 40 laps that day and was leading late in the race when caution and subsequent restart spoiled what looked to be a breakthrough run at a facility that he had struggled with since the track was repaved heading into the 2012 season. The Las Vegas native brought home a lone top-five finish in June 2013 on the new surface, but also suffered five finishes of 30th or worse since the repave before his seventh-place effort in June. 

With Interstate Batteries returning to the No. 18 car this weekend, Busch is encouraging fans to stop by a local Interstate dealer to get their batteries checked before taking off on their late-summer vacation. Hot weather has a far greater effect on batteries than the cold, so this weekend’s race at a popular summer tourist destination like the Great Lakes state of Michigan is the perfect setting to remind fans to have their batteries checked before taking off on one final summer road trip.

Interstate Batteries has been powering the championship-winning organization for more than 25 years and is the “Official Battery of Joe Gibbs Racing.” The iconic brand is in the midst of celebrating its 65th anniversary and has featured special branding on each of the paint schemes to reflect the milestone during its 2017 campaign.

Busch had some success on the last race on the old surface at Michigan on Aug. 21, 2011, and with just four top-10 finishes in 13 previous starts at Michigan, he found himself outdueling now seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson for the win in a late-race shootout at the 2-mile oval, where he brought home his first and only Cup Series win in the Automobile State.

So, as Busch and the Interstate Batteries team head back to the Midwest this weekend with an “Outrageously Dependable” Interstate Battery under the hood, the confidence built from a strong June weekend there and a summer spent running up front will do them well this weekend. But he knows chances are that he’ll need to outduel fellow Toyota Camry driver Truex and his team yet again in order to capture his second career Cup Series victory in the Irish Hills of Michigan.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing: 

Does taking the same approach you have at the Kansas repave also benefit you at a place like Michigan?

“Our team has come a long way at Kansas, that’s for sure. To get a win there was a really big deal for our team. I give my guys a lot of credit for working hard to find something I was more comfortable with there. Our whole team has shown how well we’ve worked together, and that he (crew chief Adam Stevens) has been a really quick study, so I think the same direction can work at Michigan this weekend. We are working on improving as an organization not only on the resurfaced tracks, but overall in general and it showed there in June. We ran as well as we have since the repave there. Everyone is working their guts out to get our stuff better there and we made a lot of progress in June there. I’m looking forward to getting out there in practice and seeing what we can learn with our Interstate Batteries Camry.”

So much of the talk this year has been the strength of Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. Do you feel like you’ll be a contender for the title this year with how strong you’ve been?

“I don’t know. We normally tend to fly under the radar most times during the playoffs. But, you know, I’m not one who needs to go out and beat our chest to say that we should be in the conversations. That’s for other people to decide. I think our stats and our runs and our speed shows for itself. Those guys have just been able to capitalize on race victories. That’s what we haven’t been able to capitalize on. We haven’t been very flashy when it comes to getting through the playoffs. When our backs are against the wall, I would say we haven’t necessarily had that situation, thankfully, so we haven’t had to go out there and win. I mean, in those playoff instances, like some of these other teams have. The 4 (Kevin Harvick) has been able to do it, the 78 (Truex), a couple other guys. We just methodically go about our races and that’s our mentality. When it works for us, we go to victory lane. That’s how we’ve gotten to Homestead the last couple of years.” 

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 more and more every race there as the groove widens out. 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 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. The surface is finally starting to wear in a bit and we have learned a lot there, I would certainly like to get back to victory lane there for Norm (Miller, Interstate Chairman) and everyone at Interstate Batteries.”

How much more worn is the track surface at Michigan?

“I expect it to be fast, still. There’s still a lot of grip, but it’s starting to get worn in like Kansas did, but not quite to that level just yet. I would still expect it to be very fast this weekend. But if you’re just a little bit loose there, now you’renervous that just any little bit of getting outside the groove or having a little bit too much yaw will lead to a wreck. It was really intense last year in our tests and in the races there. You are hauling there now, for sure, and we know that corner speeds are up overall this year at other places.”