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Miller Put Charge Into Texas Hall Of Fame Night

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 7 2014

Kyle Busch started his weekend at Texas by being honored at the Motorsports Hall of Fame – and Norm Miller. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Extended into Monday because of inclement weather, NASCAR’s spring weekend at Texas Motor Speedway began on a similarly rainy Thursday evening with the annual Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala awards ceremony and charity fundraiser.

Sunday’s day-long rain and cold conditions forced NASCAR to postpone the originally scheduled 18th annual Duck Commander 500 Sprint Cup Series race until today at 11 a.m. (CDT). The 334-lap/501-mile event will be televised by FOX at 11 a.m. and broadcast on PRN radio.

Team-owner Roger Penske was the headliner as the lone, and 16th, inductee into the TMHOF. But the festivities morphed into racing’s version of “A Night at the Improv,” courtesy of long-time Cup Series sponsor Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries, and driver Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Busch was honored as Texas Motor Speedway Racer of the Year. Busch became the first driver to sweep the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races in the same weekend last spring via victories in the NRA 500 and O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, respectively. Busch’s victory in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 was the sixth Nationwide Series win of his career at TMS, moving him past Kevin Harvick for most in that series at “The Great American Speedway!” Busch’s weekend included a Sprint Cup qualifying track record speed of 196.299 mph.

But those stats paled in comparison to the detailed list Miller, as Busch’s presenter, carried onto a stage set “in-the-round” inside The Grand Ballroom of The Speedway Club. “I’ll have to say this is the first time in my life I’ve ever worked in-the-round,” said Miller, microphone in-hand and spinning to address a roomful of industry executives, Cup drivers, fans and media. “I feel like I need to adjust my pants in back, and keep turning.”

Miller noted that Busch has led 9,960 laps in NASCAR, leaving him 40 short of 10,000, a total that would place him 15th in the history of the sanctioning body. Miller added that Busch has won one out of every 12 starts. “Five or six years ago, when Kyle said his goal was to win 200 races in NASCAR, I had to say I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of arrogant – 200 races in NASCAR,’ ” Miller said. “Well, here we are now and he’s at 130. I did the math and if he makes it 12 more years, he’s pushing 250. So that would be interesting to see how that works out.

“But for us, the biggest thing about Kyle Busch as far as I’m concerned is that…can anybody here name the (sponsor’s) name of the first race at Texas Motor Speedway?” Miller’s Irving-based company sponsored the Interstate Batteries 500 on April 6, 1997.

“And who won it?” Miller asked. Jeff Burton posted his first Cup victory in the crash-marred event while driving the No. 99 Ford fielded by Roush Fenway Racing and sponsored by Exide Batteries.

“Can you believe that?” Miller continued. “Only race we’ve ever sponsored and our biggest competitor wins it. Who do you think had to give the trophy? Moi! So Kyle Busch gave us the first winning race for NASCAR in the Cup Series (at TMS) last year…he won for Interstate Batteries and that was super big-time for me. Kyle, come up here and receive whatever I’m supposed to hand you.”

Busch thanked Miller and joked, “Wasn’t sure who had the handle to jerk him off – to get him off the stage. He went on a little lengthy there but it’s all good, it’s all in fun. It’s an honor to have Norm here and to have him introduce me. The relationship we’ve had over the years (since 2008) has been pretty amazing. I guess I owe him all the 10 percent I paid other people for getting me my job with Joe, right? To have the relationship we have with a guy like Norm and the folks with Interstate Batteries and Joe…it’s fun to pick on my bosses, always nice to have that opportunity; when the light’s shining on me I guess I get the chance to do that. But I’m sure it’ll come back at me some time or another.”

Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s continued support for Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter in North Texas earned him the Maj. General Thomas Sadler Award. With Junior’s assistance, Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter delivered its most successful event of 2013 during the “BBQ Pit Stop with Dale Jr.” last fall. The event allowed members of “Junior Nation” to enjoy an evening with the Hendrick Motorsports superstar at Hard Eight BBQ in Roanoke while raising more than $38,000 for SCC-Texas Chapter.

“I can just imagine there’s countless people that deserve this recognition besides myself,” said Junior, NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver and winner of the 2014 Daytona 500. “Speedway Children’s Charities has been around for so long and it’s something we’ve always been involved in, something I enjoy doing. I want to thank the staff at Speedway Children’s Charities for what they do, all the fans that participate and support the charity, all the drivers – we all pitch-in one way or another.

“You didn’t have to twist my arm too much when you told me we was going to have barbecue over there in Roanoke, so anytime y’all want to do that I’m in, every year. That was a lot of fun. It was a great night and I’m glad we were able to raise a lot of money.”

Asked for the secret to good barbecue, Junior said, “Taking your time. You know, there’s a lot of steps in there and if you drink too much beer you forget a step or two. So it’s real important to make sure you write it all down before you start.”

Earlier, native Texan and Nationwide Series driver James Buescher of RAB Racing accepted the Texas Motor Speedway Sportsmanship Award. Buescher’s efforts to help during the cleanup process following the tornadoes that devastated Moore, Okla., last spring epitomized the ideals of sportsmanship. Taking full advantage of his off-week, Buescher and wife, Kris, helped move mountains of debris from devastated neighborhoods. The destruction hit close to home for Buescher, whose brother lives in Oklahoma City.

“We didn’t go to Moore to do a publicity stunt,” said Buescher, NASCAR’s 2012 Craftsman Truck Series champion who began his racing career at Lil’ Texas Motor Speedway. “It’s something my wife and I felt like we needed to go help out the community in their desperate time. We did what we could to help; we played a very small part in the very big chore of rebuilding a city. So I feel honored to be recognized for it and appreciate everybody that voted for it.”

Penske is the only car-owner to score victories on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval in NASCAR and INDYCAR-sanctioned events. Penske’s drivers have won 12 combined races at TMS, including a record seven in the Verizon IndyCar Series after Helio Castroneves’ victory last June. Penske’s success at TMS is the latest chapter of an organization that has produced 23 motorsports national championships in 48 years. Team Penske is the most successful Indy-car organization in history with 169 wins and 12 national titles.

Penske joined a list of accomplished drivers from various series and innovative motorsports leaders inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame since its inception in 2003. Previous inductees: A.J. Foyt Jr. (2003), Johnny Rutherford (’03), Terry Labonte (’04), Lee Shepherd (’04), Kenny Bernstein (’05), Jim Hall (’05), Eddie Hill (’06), Mark Martin (’07), Jim McElreath (’07), Bobby Labonte (’08), Bruton Smith (’08), Joe Gibbs (’09), John Force (’10), Lanny Edwards (’11) and Jack Roush (’12).

Penske, on business in Europe, was represented by longtime business partner Walt Czarnecki, executive vice president of Penske Corporation, who noted the company founded and overseen by “The Captain” remains committed to the sport.

“Roger couldn’t be here but if he was here, I know precisely what he would say,” Czarnecki said, “(on) being elected to the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame…’I’m the public face of our company but it’s really the people of our organizations _ they’re the ones that did all the work, they’re the ones that have the desire, they’re the ones that are committed, they’re the ones who are proud of the organization and that’s why we’ve been able to achieve the results that we have. To them goes all the credit.’^”

In addition, four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, who retired from open-wheel racing in November due to injury after a stellar 16-year career, received the Bruton Smith Legend Award.

A three-time Indy 500 champion, Franchitti scored 31 victories during a career featuring IndyCar Series championships with Andretti Green Racing in 2007 and Target Chip Ganassi Racing from 2009-11. Franchitti won Indy 500s with Andretti Green in 2007 and with Ganassi’s organization in 2010 and 2012. With that third victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the native of Scotland became just the 10th driver to score three or more wins in open-wheel racing’s premier event.

Franchitti addressed the attendees via video recorded during a preseason Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park in his new role as advisor to team-owner Chip Ganassi.

Located in the outdoor atrium adjacent to The Speedway Club, the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame is open free to the public year-round. The Hall of Fame atrium features pedestals of the inductees with a portrait painting and career highlights.

The Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala is one of many fundraisers conducted by Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter throughout the year. Its mission is to care for children in educational, financial, social and medical need and help them lead productive lives. SCC-Texas Chapter has awarded more than $9.4-million in grants and touched the lives of more than three million children since 1997.

– John Sturbin, who is also enshrined in the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame as a racing journalist, can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 7 2014
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