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Busch, Gibbs Want To Earn Interstate Honor At TMS

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 9 2016
Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team will be dedicating Saturday night's Sprint Cup race to long-time sponsor, Interstate Batteries. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team will be dedicating Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race to long-time sponsor, Interstate Batteries. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Norm Miller’s renowned God-fearing patience likely was challenged on the afternoon of April 6, 1997, when the checkered flag flew on the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

sprint-logo-08The chairman of Interstate Batteries, Miller watched as Jeff Burton wheeled the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford into Victory Lane…stealing the post-race publicity spotlight from its corporate competitor/title sponsor. For Miller, Burton’s first career Cup victory was the imperfect ending to a day featuring a pre-race traffic jam, muddy parking lots, a 13-car accident on the first lap…and a record 200,000 devoted NASCAR fans.

Native Texan Bobby Labonte did finish third that day in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Ford…a mantle that is being carried into Saturday night’s 500-mile race (7:30 p.m., EDT, FOX) by reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing. Dallas-based Interstate is celebrating its 25th season with JGR and 20th since sponsoring that first race at TMS _ a tribute to the values shared by Miller and team-owner Gibbs.

“It’s crazy if you think about it,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry sporting the company’s signature green-and-white colors. “If it weren’t for Norm, JGR wouldn’t even exist today. Personally, Norm and everyone at Interstate Batteries treats me and my family like we’re a part of their family.

“We won the race at Daytona back in 2008 and that was the first time Interstate Batteries had been

Kyle Busch and his team owner, Joe Gibbs, will be driving for Norm Miller. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kyle Busch and his team owner, Joe Gibbs, will be driving for Norm Miller. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

to Victory Lane in a long time, and we’ve been able to add more for them over the years. I’ll never forget how excited Norm was back a few years ago when we won the Sprint Cup race at Texas (NRA 500 on April 13, 2013). He had been trying for so many years and he really soaked it up the entire night. He and Joe came up to The Speedway Club and told some stories about how long they’d been trying to win there. So I was very proud to be able to do that for Norm.

“Would love to get him another one this weekend. We’re doing some cool stuff this year to celebrate Interstate Batteries being with the company for 25 years, so we’d like to give Norm, along with all the dealers and distributors, a reason to celebrate this weekend.”

Busch won that 2013 race from pole position after qualifying with a track record speed around the high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval of 196.299 mph. Busch qualified 15th Friday at 192.644 mph for Saturday night’s 334-lap/501-miler.

“It felt good to sit on the pole with a new track record and go to Victory Lane,” Busch said. “On top of that, just to see the look on Norm’s face was priceless and something I will never forget. Doesn’t get much better than that. It was a fast race and I expect more of that (Saturday night). Texas is fast. We were able to carry a lot of speed throughout the turns and down the straightaways throughout the whole race. It was a tough day there for a bit, getting loose, trying to slide around, trying to find grip, being able to move to the middle or move to the top. As soon as that caution came at the end, my boys stepped-up to the plate and hit a grand slam and got us to Victory Lane. I was very proud of those guys and, hopefully, they can get us another good stop on Saturday night when it’s crunch time.”

Busch _ tagged with the nickname “Rowdy” for a reason _ said he has come to appreciate Miller’s commitment to racing during their 10-year association. “Norm’s just easy-going,” Busch said. “I think he just kind of takes things as they come to him, but he’s also a smart guy. He’s passionate

Kyle Busch is hoping to take another bow at Texas. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Kyle Busch is hoping to take another bow at Texas. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

about marketing and passionate about trying to find different ways of being able to reach people in big magnitudes…and he’s just fun. We go fishing together and go go-kart racing together _ we’ve done it all.”

Miller’s partnership with Gibbs began during the latter’s tenure as head coach of the NFL’s Washington Redskins _ hated archrivals of the Dallas Cowboys. Imagine the vibe in 1991 when Gibbs walked into Miller’s Dallas office to solicit Interstate’s sponsorship for the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach’s foray into NASCAR.

“Really what happened was JD (Gibbs, JGR co-chairman) came out of school and said, ‘Dad I’d like to do something in racing,’ ” Gibbs said. “We all loved racing. JD and I went to the races all the time. So, when he brought that up, the only thing that we could do, because we didn’t have a race team or anything, we just put down everything that we had talked about on a sheet of paper. It was a dream.

“I heard a lot about Norm and gave him a phone call. They (Interstate) were already in the sport in a small way and we hit it off on the phone. I still remember he asked me on the phone, ‘Who was the driver?’ I said, ‘We don’t have one.’ He said, ‘Where’s your race shop?’ I said, ‘We don’t have one.’ I said, ‘Norm, this is a dream on paper.’ Today I still say to him _ he gets along great with Kyle, he gets along great with all of our race team and everything and he’s so creative _ I told him, ‘I’m not so sure how many people that run a corporation would be willing to jump on board with this one.’ But, he did and I was right.”

As Gibbs noted, Interstate Batteries had sponsored a few races with a little-known team featuring Stanley Smith as driver. But Miller, who began his career as a traveling salesman for Interstate, agreed to the proposal _ clearing the way for JGR to move forward.

The team, which listed fewer than 20 employees during its first season, hit the track for the first time in February 1992 with Dale Jarrett driving the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet and Jimmy Makar serving as crew chief. Under Gibbs’ leadership, the inaugural season was a success as Jarrett scored eight top-10 finishes, including a second-place result in April at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Fittingly, just as he had done during his second season with the ‘Skins, Gibbs won NASCAR’s “Super Bowl” in his second season as Cup team-owner. In February 1993, Gibbs guided Jarrett and the No. 18 team to a victory in “The Great American Race” _ the 35th annual Daytona 500 at famed Daytona International Speedway.

That win legitimized JGR and set the stage for the organization to evolve into a NASCAR powerhouse now fielding four Sprint Cup and three XFINITY series teams from its headquarters in Huntersville, N.C.

Busch, who swept last weekend’s Camping World Truck and Cup series events at Martinsville Speedway, would love for JGR to claim both driver championships in 2016 to cap the 25th anniversary celebration.

“Sure. It’s always fun to win,” said Busch, who now has finished in the top-five in five-of-six Cup races to start 2016. Friday night, Busch won the 20th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 XFINITY Series race here from pole, leading 150 of 200 laps. Busch notched his record eighth XFINITY win at TMS, and fourth of 2016.

It was more fun in 2013 when I was able to score a victory at Texas than any other time we’ve been here,” Busch said.  “That’d be pretty cool to win a championship and know that Norm was a part of that. Of course to win the Sprint Cup Series championship again, I think that would be a dream come true for all of us.  I know it would be for Joe as well. But Norm, again, he’s been a huge part of our success here at our race team for a long time.”

Gibbs reiterated that his organization’s ongoing success is directly linked to Miller’s initial decision to capitalize on NASCAR’s entry into the Dallas-Fort Worth market via TMS.

“I think Norm is just…he’s one of those guys that’s not afraid,” Gibbs said. “He tries stuff and I think that’s the reason why the company, Interstate Batteries, is where it is today. The position they have, No. 1 in aftermarket battery sales, is a tribute to the whole team. Scott, his son, now is the CEO. It’s a great story.

“I still remember our first Daytona; the first race we ever won was Daytona! Norm was rolling around in the grass and we couldn’t find where the Winner’s Circle was. We laugh about that all the time.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 9 2016
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