Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth head to Michigan International Speedway for the Pure Michigan 400 in Sunday, August 18th. All three JGR drivers have wins at the 2-mile oval, but none have visited victory lane since the track was repaved in 2012.
Hamlin, in the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, has two wins at MIS, in the spring events in 2010 and 2011. He has seven top 10 finishes in 15 starts at the track, but could only muster up a 30th-place finish in June.
“Michigan is certainly a track that has gone through a lot of changes after the repave,” said Hamlin on the JGR website. “It’s very fast and has a lot of grip, and that has made it difficult to get a tire that we can run and pass with. We have had a couple wins at Michigan, but haven’t seemed to get the handle on it like we would like to since they repaved it. Earlier this year, we were just so loose entering the corner that we couldn’t make any speed. I’m confident that the guys have worked hard to get a good setup in the car heading back to the track this weekend.”
Busch, in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, won the August 2011 race at MIS after finishing third in the spring race that year. This year, he already earned a fourth-place finish there in June, and is looking to add his fourth win of the season this weekend, coming off his third win at Watkins Glen last weekend.
“Regardless of new pavement or not, it’s wide-open racing and you can run from top to bottom,” said Busch. “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 two years ago, and then we had a great year there and got our first win that August.”
Kenseth, in the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota, has two wins and 18 top 10 finishes in 28 races at MIS, and an average finish of 9.4 – second among all active drivers at the track. Kenseth’s wins came in the June 2002 and August 2006 races, and like his teammates, he’s noticed the changes there since the repave.
“Michigan has totally changed since the repave, but it’s starting to get a little better, and starting to come into its own,” said Kenseth. “We were pretty decent last time we were here in June and thought we should have ran second or third at worst. We had that one restart where we got pushed up into the marbles and lost all our track position though. I’m looking forward to going back there this weekend, and I think we’ve learned a lot since we’ve been there, and our cars will be faster going back.”
Cup Series qualifying for the Pure Michigan 400 takes place Friday, August 16th at 3:40 p.m. ET, while the race goes green on Sunday, august 18th at 1 p.m. ET. Keep up with the action at www.nascar.com and joegibbsracing.com.
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