Kyle Busch remembers the day well. It was Aug. 21, 2011, and with just four top-10 finishes to that point in his career at Michigan International Speedway, he found himself outdueling now six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson for the win in a late-race shootout at the 2-mile oval.
But, during the offseason that followed, the heavily worn Michigan racing surface was repaved because of the toll the harsh Upper Midwest winters wreaked on the pavement. In the four races since, Busch has two finishes outside the top-30, but also one top-five finish there last June.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), hopes to use the same approach he and crew chief Dave Rogers used on the repaved Kansas Speedway in Kansas City surface last month while making this weekend’s stopover in the Irish Hills for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Quicken Loans 400.
Even though the Kansas boxscore showed a result of 15th for Busch, he and Rogers felt they benefitted from a dramatically different approach there than in the past. They started from a blank sheet of paper and raced strongly at times. But a pit-road speeding penalty, coupled with alternate fuel strategies employed by others, proved costly. Anyone who has ever followed Busch knows he has never been into moral victories. However, the team overcame its past issues and posted that 15th-place finish at Kansas, where it failed to finish at each of the last four races.
As the M&M’s team struggled similarly on Michigan’s now-smooth asphalt surface last August, it’ll use the approach this weekend that it did at Kansas. On newer surfaces, grip level is greatly increased, which makes the speeds faster than usual. But, the racing groove remains narrower than usual as the track continues to take time taking Goodyear tire rubber. Eventually, the groove will widen and competitors will have more options for three- and four-wide racing. In the meantime, sound tire and fuel strategy will be the key to making sure this trip to the Automobile State is a successful one.
So, as Busch and the M&M’s team head to the Upper Midwest this weekend, they’ll hope to benefit from the same approach they used on other repaves and that it will bear fruit with a second Sprint Cup victory of the season Sunday afternoon in the Irish Hills of Michigan.