Countdown To Michigan International Speedway: A History Of Racing In The Irish Hills

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Countdown To Michigan: NASCAR Arrives In The Irish Hills This Week

Nestled in the lush Irish Hills of Southeastern Michigan, Michigan International Speedway is the Great Escape, a venerable NASCAR national park where fans can get away and enjoy the very best in racing and camaraderie. Plan your Michigan International Speedway experience today!

Perhaps more than any other track on the circuit, Michigan International Speedway has become known for wild, unpredictable fuel-mileage finishes.

Having enough gas, in fact, is one of the primary concerns for teams at Michigan – on top of the typical worries about speed and handling. Every driver knows that saving fuel may be the difference between stealing a win or sputtering to a 25th-place finish.

This year, though, the fuel-mileage drama has an added twist. With a new fuel can, teams are struggling to get all the gas into the car before the tire changers swap four tires. Drivers who have left their stalls early have found themselves with gas tanks running dry; waiting an extra second or two after the tires are changed may cost them position on the track, but ensure they’ll have enough fuel to finish the race.

Because of that, the new fuel can has had a greater impact than anyone thought. Greg Biffle said last week that fueling issues are “absolutely, 100 percent” affecting the outcome of Sprint Cup Series races this season.

“The issue is that the teams are faster than you can fill the car with gas – it is that simple,” he said. “The pit crews have gotten so good and trained and worked so hard that they can get the tires on the race car faster than you can get the car full of gas.

”Congrats to them for how hard they have worked and what they have accomplished. With the new fuel connection or whatever you want to call it, has slowed up the fueling of the car enough to where you can literally change tires faster than you can fuel. Not by much, but it doesn’t take much."

Biffle’s teammate Carl Edwards couldn’t help but notice what a small amount of fuel can do when he lost the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland recently. Edwards observed that just six ounces of fuel “can be the difference between winning and losing.”

Clint Bowyer said the extra second or half-second while waiting for the tank to get full can feel like an eternity.

“You see your tires guys done, no more (air guns) zinging and you’re still up on the jack and you’re like,’ What’s going on?’” he said. “You think maybe one of them hung a lug nut or something then all of a sudden it comes down and you realized it was the gas that you were waiting on.”

And at Michigan, that fuel mileage will be just as important as any other aspect of the car. But are these types of races good or bad for fans?

Quite frankly, it depends on if the fuel mileage races benefit your favorite driver or not.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last win came in a fuel mileage race at Michigan (exactly three years ago this weekend); Brian Vickers got his first win for Red Bull in a similar outcome at MIS in 2009.

If fuel mileage becomes an issue at Michigan, drivers will do anything they can to save fuel.

“Then it’s all about…what extremes will you take it to?” Jeff Gordon said. “Anything that you’re going to do is going to cost you lap times for sure and it’s going to be a nail-biter, regardless.”

Aside from the gas issue, there are a few other items of note to watch this week at Michigan:

– Will Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch “have at it” now that their probation is expired? Harvick seems to have no intention of letting their rivalry fade.

– Can Edwards retain his point lead after letting Jimmie Johnson close within seven points, or can Johnson take the top spot? It’s not out of the question that Earnhardt Jr. (10 points back) or Harvick could leave Michigan as the points leader, too.

– Will Johnson finally get his first Michigan win? MIS is one of four tracks where the five-time Sprint Cup champ has never won (the others being Homestead, Watkins Glen and Chicagoland).

– How will Trevor Bayne fare in his first Sprint Cup Series start since recovering from his mystery illness? Bayne ran the Nationwide race at Chicagoland, but Michigan will mark the first time he’s been in a Cup race since April.

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Countdown To Michigan: Preparing For My First NASCAR Camping Experience

Nestled in the lush Irish Hills of Southeastern Michigan, Michigan International Speedway is the Great Escape, a venerable NASCAR national park where fans can get away and enjoy the very best in racing and camaraderie. Plan your Michigan International Speedway experience today!

Given that I make my living covering NASCAR, I like to think I have a pretty good understanding of most aspects of the sport.

But the truth is, there's one major part of racing that I know very little about (some would argue there's more than one, but I digress). Though I've been to more than 150 Sprint Cup races and followed the circuit around the country for portions of eight seasons, I've always been missing a key element of the NASCAR experience.

I've never camped at a racetrack.

Camping is a huge part of the NASCAR lifestyle, but aside from driving through the occasional campground or talking to fans about where they're staying, I don't have any understanding of what it's like to stay at a racetrack.

That will change at Michigan in two weeks, when I'll be staying at the Graves Farm Campground for the Heluva Good! 400 weekend.

And to be honest, I have no idea what to expect. At all.

Michigan has nine campgrounds and 9,000 camp sites – making it the largest campground in the state – and I hear the Graves Campground is one of the nicest.

Graves, as I understand it, has walking trails, horseshoes, volleyball courts, fire pits and even movie nights. That doesn't sound too shabby.

And, as it turns out, I'm not exactly going to be roughing it. I'll be staying in a 27-foot RV that already has everything set up.

Michigan offers a turn-key program (through MIScamping.com) where you can reserve an RV that will be placed on site with everything you need – pillows, towels, sheets, etc. – already inside.

Obviously, that's good for a rookie like me. Maybe it'll be like a rustic hotel – without the room service, of course.

My temporary home away from home – a Keystone Hideout – is described on the MIScamping.com site as "a smaller RV but very efficient." It's listed as $1,799 for the week – though all the RV rentals appear to be sold out for the June race (there are still regular campsites available for this race, but if you want a turn-key RV, you'll have to wait until August).

Apparently, I also have an electricity hookup (I still need power to write blog posts during the weekend) and a fridge to store food and drinks.

Important note: If any of my bosses are reading this, all of the drinks in the refrigerator will be water and soda (the rest of you know better).

Anyway, despite those luxuries, I'm still anxious about how it will all turn out. As a first-time NASCAR camper, I have a lot of questions.

For example:

• What's the proper etiquette with my camping neighbors? Does everyone wander around and be social, or mostly stick to their own sites?

• What kind of food should I bring? Enough for just me, or is there going to be a party outside my RV every night?

• Is camping at a NASCAR track a relaxing experience or a draining one? Will I get any sleep?

• Am I going to smell like campfires and beer when I walk into the media center every day?

• Will I get destroyed at cornhole?

Any advice from you veteran NASCAR campers would be appreciated. And if you're staying at the Graves Farm Campground, let me know so we can meet up and hang out.

If you have any tips about camping at Michigan – or NASCAR camping in general – feel free to leave some advice in the comments section below.

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Countdown To Michigan: Bill Elliott Was His Most Awesome At MIS

Nestled in the lush Irish Hills of Southeastern Michigan, Michigan International Speedway is the Great Escape, a venerable NASCAR national park where fans can get away and enjoy the very best in racing and camaraderie. Plan your Michigan International Speedway experience today!

They call him Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, and for a period in the 1980s, Bill Elliott was the most awesome at Michigan International Speedway.

Elliott has won at Michigan seven times, the most he's won anywhere in a championship career that continues today part-time, even as he shepherds son Chase through the racing ranks.

But his one-time dominance at Michigan makes for a great case study of how NASCAR's evolution can affect a driver's track record.

Beginning in the second Michigan race of 1983, Elliott tallied an incredible 11 top-three finishes in 12 Michigan races. And he recorded all seven of his Michigan victories during that period, from 1984-1989.

"I just loved it," he said recently via phone. "Even the first time we went up there and ran it in the 70's. I fell in love with that place, for whatever reason."

Winning, of course, has a great deal to do with it. Check out Elliott's stats at Michigan in the period we're talking about:

YEAR RESULT

1983 (2) Third

1984 (1) WON

1984 (2) Third

1985 (1) WON

1985 (2) WON

1986 (1) WON

1986 (2) WON

1987 (1) 34th (engine failure)

1987 (2) WON

1988 (1) Second

1988 (2) Third

1989 (1) WON

Crazy, right? Driving the Coors-sponsored No. 9 car for Michigan native Harry Melling, Elliott was virtually unstoppable in those years. Elliott's Ford Thunderbird, coupled with his driving style, was a good fit for the 2-mile track in the Irish Hills.

"I really loved the racetrack, and at that point in time, the way the Thunderbird drove and the way we had our stuff set up, it all complemented what I did," he said. "Everything just fell together."

Elliott said the track's wide layout suited his style, and once the team found a good setup, it was able to keep being successful.

In NASCAR, though, things change. No one can dominate at one track forever.

"As time went on, people got better and changed the way they did stuff," he said. "But at the time we did it, we worked well."

So what happened to make Elliott's Michigan success gradually fade? In short, everything.

"At the time, what was good for me and bad for somebody else is now just the opposite," he said. "What I ran well with and the way I looked at it is so much different today than it was back in that era."

When he was winning at Michigan, Elliott said, he was driving a Banjo Matthews-built car with rear steer. Today, all the cars are front steer and the chassis, geometry and tires are completely different.

"To me, that's why things change – why some guy dominates for a period of time at a track, and then somebody else comes along," Elliott said. "Too many things change: The aero balance of the car, the construction of the tire, the compound of the tire, the evolution of the chassis. There are so many things that dictate how a person runs."

Though the past decade hasn't been as kind to him at Michigan – his last top-10 finish at MIS was in 2001 – the 16-time Most Popular Driver said his enthusiasm for the track lives on.

"Now, sometimes I struggle there," he said. "But to me, I still like racing there – it's still one of the best tracks for racing that we go to."

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Countdown To Michigan: NASCAR Hall Of Famer David Pearson Dominated At MIS

Nestled in the lush Irish Hills of Southeastern Michigan, Michigan International Speedway is the Great Escape, a venerable NASCAR national park where fans can get away and enjoy the very best in racing and camaraderie. Plan your Michigan International Speedway experience today!

If you watched any of the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony coverage on Monday, you know David Pearson is an absolute badass.

Of course, you may have realized that well before Monday. Pearson is considered by many to be the greatest driver in NASCAR history – which is exactly what Leonard Wood called him when introducing Pearson to the crowd.

Pearson is awesomely old-school, which means he excelled at Darlington, Daytona and Richmond. But guess what one of his very best tracks was?

Yep, Michigan International Speedway.

The Silver Fox won nine times at Michigan, more than any other track except for Darlington (10 wins). And his Michigan success came in 18 fewer starts than he had at Darlington.

Pearson won races at Michigan for both Holman-Moody and the Wood Brothers, although all but one of the victories was with the latter.

Anyway, since Pearson went to Victory Lane at Michigan more than any other driver in the track's 42-year history, I figured I'd ask him about it for this series.

Opportunities to interview Pearson on Hall of Fame induction night were going to be few and far between, though. Would we find time to chat about his ties to Michigan?

At the very moment that thought was running through my head before Monday night's ceremony, Pearson suddenly walked right by me in a back hallway of the Charlotte Convention Center.

I hesitated to charge him with my tape recorder and questions right then and there – the man commands immense respect, after all – but then was prodded by a colleague to not miss the opportunity.

By the time I turned around, though, Pearson had disappeared into the men's room.

Darn it! Now what?

Should I try to catch him at another point in the evening? Or should I stand outside the bathroom and wait for him to come out?

Since I really wanted to hear his thoughts on Michigan, I waited. I stood outside the restroom, recorder at the ready and a bit embarrassed to be bathroom-stalking a 76-year-old man.

Who knows how long the elderly take in there, anyway?

After a couple minutes, though, Pearson emerged from the restroom and started to walk toward me. We'd never met, so I extended my hand.

He shook it. And his hand was wet. I withdrew my hand rather quickly, and he seemed to notice my surprise.

"Just finished washing my hands," he explained in his South Carolina accent.

"Well, I guess I have some Hall of Fame germs now," I joked.

I'm not sure he got the humor.

"Well, I told you I just washed 'em!" he replied.

Anyway, once I mentioned Michigan, we were just fine. He seemed pleased to talk about his memories of the Irish Hills.

"Oh, I just liked it," he said. "It was big, fast. What I liked about it was it was so smooth. I don't know how it is now, but back then it was. It was wide enough where you could actually get in trouble and straighten it up before you ever hit the wall. It was a good track."

We walked slowly down the corridor toward the ballroom where he would soon be officially inducted into the Hall. The man who once won seven times in nine Michigan races said MIS "was one of the best ones I'd run on."

I asked Pearson where exactly Michigan ranked among the tracks where he excelled the most.

"Well, I won a lot of races there," he said matter-of-factly. "But I won a lot just about everywhere I went."

"Sure," I replied. "That's why you're about to become a Hall of Famer."

He nodded.

"It was good," he said. "You know, I enjoyed it."

With that, we shook hands again – by now his were dry – and off he went to the induction ceremony.

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Countdown To Michigan: At MIS, Kyle Busch And Kevin Harvick Can 'Have At It' Again

Nestled in the lush Irish Hills of Southeastern Michigan, Michigan International Speedway is the Great Escape, a venerable NASCAR national park where fans can get away and enjoy the very best in racing and camaraderie. Plan your Michigan International Speedway experience today!

Our "Countdown to Michigan" series will touch on several different angles and stories about Michigan International Speedway ahead of the track's June 19 Sprint Cup Series race. And in full disclosure, we planned out which ones to write about long ago.

But suddenly, another Michigan-related storyline suddenly popped up when Kevin Harvick tried to pop Kyle Busch at Darlington.

The drivers' resulting probation lasts for all NASCAR races through June 15. So what's the first race where Harvick and Busch will be able to "Have at it" again without fear of getting a more severe penalty?

Yep, you guessed it: Michigan.

While it's easy to dismiss NASCAR probation as a light penalty, Harvick said NASCAR made it clear that the drivers can't engage in any funny business until Michigan – unless they want to empty their wallets or cost themselves points. 

"(Probation) definitely affects how you race for the next four weeks," Harvick said at Dover. "We got the ultimatum yesterday – an explanation of how probation works and how NASCAR expected us to race on the racetrack was put to us very clearly yesterday. How the next four weeks are expected to go was dictated to us yesterday very clearly in the NASCAR trailer."

So now, our "Countdown to Michigan" is also a "Countdown to No More Probation." When the probation tag comes off, perhaps the gloves will, too.

It's kind of appropriate, if you think about it. Over the years, Michigan has had its fair share of driver conflicts and disagreements.

The most obvious one that comes to mind is the infamous 2003 Kurt Busch/Jimmy Spencer incident in the Michigan garage. For those who may not recall, the two hard racers were involved in an ongoing feud that reached its pinnacle when Spencer punched Busch in the face while the brash young driver sat in his car following the race.

But there have been more recent incidents as well. Remember when Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun Carl Edwards in a 2006 Nationwide race at Michigan? Edwards then rammed Earnhardt Jr.'s car after the latter driver won the race – nearly taking Earnhardt Jr.'s hand off – and went to Victory Lane to confront the sport's most popular driver. It was probably the only time in Earnhardt Jr.'s career where he heard boos after winning.

Check out the video to refresh your memory:

Another Michigan moment that seems mostly forgotten – but still juicy nonetheless – was the near-fight between Ron Hornaday and Kyle Busch after the 2008 Truck Series race there.

Busch wrecked Hornaday on the final lap – it seemed intentional in Hornaday's mind – which drew the ire of both Hornaday and team owner Kevin Harvick (Hmm...Harvick and Busch. Sound familiar?).

Check out the end of this clip when Hornaday and Busch have to be separated from one another.

One of my favorite Michigan controversies involved Busch again – in the 2009 Nationwide race with Brian Vickers.

In that race, Vickers tried to run Busch to the bottom of the track as the two drivers came off Turn 4, failing to see the third-place car of Brad Keselowski charging hard on the outside.

Keselowski ended up winning the race, and Busch was livid with Vickers. If you've ever heard the term "Kyle Busch Show," the post-race interview in the clip from Vickers below is where those words rose to prominence.

And of course, the 2010 season wasn't without controversy at Michigan, either. During the August race there last year, Joey Logano simply got loose and lost control of his car, and bobbled up the track – taking out Ryan Newman in the process.

After the race, Logano and Newman had an animated discussion in the garage that ended with Newman giving the younger driver a little push and saying, "Don't touch me."

Why do drivers seem to get so upset with one another at Michigan? The 2-mile track is a far cry from the smaller confines of a short track, so you wouldn't necessarily think Michigan would have so many incidents of flared tempers.

But clearly, MIS seems to have at least one instance of hurt feelings every year. One theory is the track is so wide and there are so many lanes that drivers can go all out and drive aggressively – sometimes running into one another in the process.

Either way, it's certainly made for some memorable moments over the years. Will Harvick and Busch add to the list this season?

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Countdown To Michigan International Speedway: Wood Brothers Racing's Long And Successful History At MIS

Nestled in the lush Irish Hills of Southeastern Michigan, Michigan International Speedway is the Great Escape, a venerable NASCAR national park where fans can get away and enjoy the very best in racing and camaraderie. Plan your Michigan International Speedway experience today!

When Eddie Wood finished college in June 1972, he didn't go to his graduation ceremony. He went to Michigan International Speedway, where he officially joined his family's race team – Wood Brothers Racing – as a full-time employee for the first time.

Eddie, one of the sons of team co-founder Glen Wood, rode up from Virginia to Michigan in a small truck with the No. 21 car in tow – teams didn't fly to races in those days – and, upon arrival, laid his eyes on the 2-mile track for the first time.

"That was my first real race," he said. "I'd been going to races since the late 60s – on the pit crew or just being in the pits – but this was the first time I really got to work on the car."

Behind the wheel that day was the team's new driver – David Pearson – and he led 155 of the 200 laps to help the Wood Brothers beat Bobby Allison and Richard Petty to the finish line.

In his first "official" race of a long career in NASCAR – which continues today – Eddie was suddenly one-for-one.

"I'm sure they would have won the race anyway," Eddie said with a laugh. "It wasn't like I did anything, I'm sure."

Pearson's Michigan win was one of 11 total Wood Brothers victories at MIS (the team also won at Michigan with Cale Yarborough and, years later, Dale Jarrett). In fact, from 1972-76, the team won seven of the nine races at Michigan.

Why do we bring this up? Because for many fans, Michigan wouldn't be the first place that might come to mind when asked to recall historic tracks.

But you need look no further than the famed Wood Brothers to realize Michigan ranks among the most venerable of NASCAR venues.

"It's been around a lot longer than you've probably thought about," said Eddie, who now runs Wood Brothers Racing with his brother, Len. "Our team won a lot of races there. To me, Michigan is right up there with Daytona and Darlington and Talladega – the places that were always good to us."

Michigan – which has been on the NASCAR schedule since 1969 – is behind only Daytona (15 wins) and Atlanta (12) in Wood Brothers Racing's history.

So why was the team so successful at Michigan?

"Michigan is the type of racetrack with long, sweeping corners that you're in the throttle so long there," Eddie said. "And we always had really good engines. It just fit."

Eddie noted Michigan's significance to the sport because it was the "first big race up north," he said. At the time, Dover was as far north as NASCAR got – which is to say it was still very much a Southern sport.

"You didn't really have anything else up there," he said. "What I remember is they always sold the place out. I don't know how many seats they had, but it was kind of the state-of-the-art racetrack then. It was a 2-mile, high-banked oval. And there weren't any like that.

"It's just always been a special place."
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Countdown To Michigan International Speedway: A History Of Racing In The Irish Hills

Nestled in the lush Irish Hills of Southeastern Michigan, Michigan International Speedway is the Great Escape, a venerable NASCAR national park where fans can get away and enjoy the very best in racing and camaraderie. Plan your Michigan International Speedway experience today!

We're counting down to the June 19 Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway – the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 – starting today and continuing every week until we arrive in the Irish Hills.

It's our hope that through this closer look at one of the mainstays of the NASCAR schedule (and long one of the most important tracks to race teams, given the proximity to the Detroit manufacturers), we can shed a little light on why Michigan is held in high regard by both fans and drivers.

To start things off, we'll be exploring Michigan's place in NASCAR history. So, without further ado, let's get started!

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