Friday, Aug 19

Kurt Busch Sweeping Through the Irish Hills

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.

Named in homage to the Irish immigrants who settled in the area in the early to mid-1800s, today the area is known for its resorts that attract 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 town for the second time in 2015. As the winner of the track’s June race, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will attempt to become the fifth driver to sweep the 2-mile, D-shaped oval. The feat was most recently accomplished in 1995 by Bobby Labonte. The other four drivers to win both Michigan races in a single season are Bobby Allison in 1971, David Pearson in 1972 and 1976, Cale Yarborough in 1983, and Bill Elliott in 1985 and 1986.

Since winning at Michigan, in June, Busch’s hot streak has cooled off a bit. That’s not to say he’s lost steam, however.

The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champ has three top-five finishes and six top-10s in the seven races since winning in the Irish Hills. But the 56 laps led in just two of the races in that same stretch pales in comparison to the 665 laps he led in the previous 12 events. Being a three-time winner at Michigan is sufficient cause for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 being the perfect event for Busch to add another check in the win column in advance of the start of the 2015 edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs.

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 92 laps on Aug. 21, 2007. In his most recent win, Busch overcame adversity by winning the rain-shortened Michigan 400 after starting 24th in a backup racecar.

In addition to his three victories, Busch has a pair of poles, having earned the top starting spot for the track’s June races in both 2010 and 2011.

Another win this weekend would greatly improve his standing in the Chase field as the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point totals reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the Chase. Busch and the Haas Automation team will put all their energy, focus and determination into finding their way to victory lane once again.

It would help their cause greatly if they were able capture at least one more win. Luckily, the Las Vegas native and his No. 41 team have proven that they are no strangers to victory lane at Michigan International Speedway.



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