BUSCH: Cup drivers add to Michigan competition

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Under normal circumstances, there would be a lot of attention paid to the battle for NASCAR's Busch Series championship at Saturday's Cabela's 250 at Michigan International Speedway. With 22 races complete and 12 to go, ...

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Under normal circumstances, there would be a lot of attention paid to the battle for NASCAR's Busch Series championship at Saturday's Cabela's 250 at Michigan International Speedway.

With 22 races complete and 12 to go, Martin Truex Jr. leads rookie Kyle Busch by 117 points with Jason Leffler, Greg Biffle and David Green rounding out the top five. And they undoubtedly will be among the drivers to watch when the green flag drops on Saturday afternoon at MIS.

However, this particular race is going to stand out for another reason.

That reason is because in addition to the championship fight amongst the Busch regulars, this year's rendition of the Cabela's 250 will have a star-studded cast with an entry list that also includes NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regulars Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, defending Cabela's 250 winner Kevin Harvick, Michael Waltrip, Kasey Kahne, Robby Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and Matt Kenseth, as well as Biffle, who is pulling full-time duty in both the Busch and NEXTEL Cup series this season.

Incredibly, Wallace has never run a Busch race at MIS, even though he has a career total of 54 starts at the track in ASA, ARCA, IROC and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events and seven victories in three of the four divisions.

Wallace's last start in a Busch car was in 1997, but MIS will mark the first of several Busch races he plans to run in the Duraflame Dodge he owns and he is taking this race very seriously.

"I figured if I was going to run in the Busch race here that we needed to come here and test," Wallace said after a recent test at MIS. "We brought a fresh car that we just built. We had a great two-day test session and did several race runs. I'm really happy with the way it was driving in race form. We did six or seven qualifying runs and it kept getting faster and faster.

"We made a shock change at the end that made a big difference. The car ran a 38.90, so that was a damn good lap for us. The conditions are good, but it will be faster when we come back. A lap at 38.90 in a qualifying run is pretty good.

"Duraflame is pretty excited to have me run the car. Jamie (McMurray) will be running in after Michigan and I'll be back in it for Phoenix. We feel like we all built a really good team with first-rate equipment and all the right things to win races and take care of our sponsors in the right way, so we're looking forward to the rest of the season."

Labonte makes his first Busch start at MIS since 1998. In 1994, he won the MIS Busch event to go along with three Cup wins at the track (both 1995 events and one in 1999). His recent test at MIS was something of a refresher course.

"Well we just have done a lot of different things," said Labonte, who will pilot the Conagra Foods Chevrolet. "We weren't really looking for speed, just trying to make the car drive better, and I think we've come up with a few things to make it drive better but, just changed. You know, it's a test. We haven't really done a good test in awhile--we haven't done a Busch car in awhile so we thought we'd just try a lot of things that we haven't tried."

Labonte, who is in the running to be one of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers in the final 10-race "Run for the Championship," sees value in running both races this weekend.

"Yeah pretty much so," Labonte continued. "We had to schedule way early in the year to run this race, not for any other reason than we have a sponsor for a Busch race, what they want to run at, which they want to run at. Timewise, it worked out right here. It definitely works in our favor that we can learn something during that Busch race on that Saturday -- and help us out Sunday, too."

Like Labonte, Martin has won at MIS in both divisions and is also making his first Busch start at the track in five years. Martin will drive a Batman Justice League Ford as he attempts to win at MIS for a ninth time. Two of those victories came in Busch Series events (1993 and 1995) and Martin is the only driver to win two Busch races at MIS since NASCAR began holding Busch races at the track in 1992.

Waltrip is another former Busch winner at MIS, having taken the checker two years ago, in the first Cabela's 250, while Kenseth is seeking his first Busch win in six starts at MIS but he has one Cup victory at the track (2002).

Stewart, a winner at MIS in Cup competition (2000) and IROC (2001), will be making his second Busch start at MIS while Gordon will be making his first-ever Busch start at the track.

Biffle, who is waging full-time campaigns in both Busch Series and NEXTEL Cup, is a two-time winner at MIS in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series. He has also made three previous Busch starts at MIS, as have Harvick and McMurray.

Kahne, this season a regular on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series tour, was runner-up last year as well as the pole winner and Busch track record holder (186.490 mph). Should Kahne's record fall, it will mark the third year in a row the Busch pole winner has a set a new track record.

And if that's not enough, there is that championship battle to consider. Truex and Busch are running their first full seasons in Busch competition and represent two more new faces to watch in a series that prides itself on a mix of stars past, present and future. The combination of newcomers and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup stars should make for one of the more interesting Busch races in a long time.

Great seats are still available for Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series Cabela's 250, featuring the AOL for Broadband post-race concert featuring Cledus T. Judd, as well as Friday's AAA Pole Day. Twelve NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers are expected to compete, including Rusty Wallace's first Busch Series race since 1997, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Michael Waltrip, Greg Biffle, Robby Gordon, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray.

The AOL for Broadband post-race concert featuring Cledus T. Judd, Driving Sideways and The Hype will follow approximately one-hour after the completion of the Cabela's 250 in the Water Tower Lot across from the Speedway's Administration building outside turn 1 of the track.

To purchase tickets for the Cabela's 250, log on to www.MISpeedway.com, or call the MIS ticket hotline at 1-800-354-1010. The MIS ticket hotline is open from 9:00A.M. -- 9 P.M., seven days a week throughout the upcoming race weekend.


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Drivers Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Robby Gordon , Casey Mears , Jamie McMurray , David Green , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Mark Martin