Back in 1991, Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs ended up in the Dallas office of Interstate Batteries Chairman Norm Miller.
Gibbs was there to make his pitch to have Miller’s company sponsor the three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach’s first foray into what is now called the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The only problem was that Gibbs had no race shop, no employees, not even a driver to drive his cars. What he was selling to Miller that day was nothing more than a dream.
During his entire business career, Miller was never shy about taking chances. And while Interstate Batteries had sponsored a few races with a little-known team with Stanley Smith as the driver, Miller and Interstate Batteries agreed to sponsor Gibbs’ team more than 25 years ago, and Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) was formed. Now, a quarter of a century later, an organization that started from humble beginnings before the commitment of Interstate Batteries has now become one of the premier teams in all of NASCAR.
Not only did Gibbs gain a lifetime sponsor in Miller and Interstate Batteries, but a lifetime friendship, as well. Needless to say, it’s a relationship that cannot be overemphasized when discussing JGR’s evolution and longevity.
The team, which had less 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 car 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 (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Ironically, just as he had done during his second season with the Redskins, Gibbs won the Super Bowl in his second season as a NASCAR team owner. In 1993, Gibbs helped Jarrett and the No. 18 team to a victory in the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing” – the 35th Daytona 500.
The win legitimized JGR immediately and set the stage for the organization to become a NASCAR powerhouse, starting from just one team to the now four Sprint Cup and three Xfinity Series teams it has today.
So as the Sprint Cup Series heads to its semi-annual stop at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500, there could be no better way than to kick off the 25th anniversary celebration of JGR than a stop in Interstate Batteries’ backyard down in the Lone Star state.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for JGR, enters this weekend’s race as the hottest driver on the Sprint Cup circuit. In addition to leading a race-high 352 laps at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last Sunday and scoring his first win of the season, Busch has also scored five top-five finishes in the six races contested thus far in 2016.
The Las Vegas native will look to keep the hot hand as he sets his sights on another Texas trophy to kick off the 25th anniversary in Interstate’s backyard. The 30-year-old Busch drove the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota to victory lane at Texas back in April 2013, giving the brand its first win at its home track. The win ended a streak of 19 Sprint Cup races in which Interstate had competed at Texas without a coveted victory.
Kyle takes his trademark bow after winning the 2013 spring Texas race. Copyright 2013 NKP.
On top of his 2013 Sprint Cup win there, Busch is no stranger to victory lane at Texas in other NASCAR series, as well. He reeled off an incredible string of five consecutive Xfinity Series wins there from April 2008 to April 2010, adding two more wins in April 2013 and November 2014. Add his three Camping World Truck Series wins in November 2009, 2010, and 2014 and he enters the upcoming Duck Commander 500 race weekend with a total of 11 NASCAR wins at the 1.5-mile oval.
Some 25 years later after JGR’s humble beginnings, not only has Miller’s gamble paid off for his company, but JGR wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of Interstate Batteries. Safe to say that Busch – the 2015 Sprint Cup champion – would like nothing more than to keep adding to his hot streak and bring home another win for hometown sponsor Interstate Batteries in the Lone Star State during its 25th anniversary celebration.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Now in its 25th year, how special is the partnership between JGR and Interstate Batteries?
“It’s crazy if you think about it. If it weren’t for Norm (Miller, Interstate Batteries Chairman), JGR wouldn’t even exist today. Personally, Norm and everyone at Interstate Batteries treats me and my family like we are a part of their family. We won the race at Daytona back in 2008 and that was the first time Interstate Batteries had been 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. He had been trying for so many years and he really soaked it up the entire night. He and Joe (Gibbs) came up to the Speedway Club and told some stories about how long they had 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 at Texas. We are doing some cool stuff this year to celebrate Interstate Batteries being with the company for 25 years, so we would like to give Norm, along with all the dealers and distributors, a reason to celebrate this weekend.”
Interstate Batteries Chairman Norm Miller, left, with Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. Copyright 2011 Autostock Images
How special was it to get Interstate Batteries to victory lane in the company’s backyard back in 2013?
“It felt good to sit on the pole with a new track record and go to victory lane. On top of that, just to see the look on Norm’s (Miller, Interstate Batteries Chairman) 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 this weekend. 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.”
Do you feel as confident as you ever have in your career?
“Yes. You’ve got to have confidence and belief in what you’re doing and what your team is doing and who your team is, and I feel like we’ve got all that. Our team has got really good charisma. Everybody rallies around Adam Stevens (crew chief) and myself, and Adam is a great boss and leader, as well, and I feel like I’ve gotten better in my leadership skills over the years. Everybody just enjoys – I think they do anyways, that they enjoy – working with one another, so we have some fun. Also, I think just having good results and having adjustments go our way and the cars continue to get better when you discuss things over the radio or even in practice. The cars always improve, that’s just a huge confidence boost, too, that you have within your team that they know what they’re doing.”
Do you approach Texas differently than other mile-and-a-half racetracks?
“Texas is a really fast mile-and-a-half racetrack. Charlotte has been fast the last few years and Texas has always kind of been that way. The asphalt is getting a little bit older but, for as old as the asphalt is, it’s still really fast for a few laps and it’s still kind of a pain, sometimes, because it is so aero-dependent that, when you do run the bottom, it’s hard to pass. You’ve got to be able to move around a little bit and run the middle, run the top and show some ability to go all over the racetrack. We’re getting closer each and every time, it feels like. Sometimes not so much – you kind of go forward and then you go backward and then you kind of come back forward some. Hopefully, Texas will be good to us this time around, also, and we can get a win with our Interstate Batteries Camry.”
How fast of a racetrack is Texas Motor Speedway?
“It is a fast racetrack. Texas was really hard for me at the beginning with the Cup cars for some reason. I took to it right off the bat in the Xfinity Series stuff. We’ve kind of correlated some of that information back and forth and, having had the cars from Jason Ratcliff (Busch’s former Xfinity Series crew chief and current crew chief of the No. 20 Sprint Cup team for JGR) and from Dave Rogers (Busch’s former Sprint Cup crew chief) as good as they’d been, we got really fast there. And now that Jason is on the Cup side with Matt (Kenseth), I’m hoping they can bring back a little of that magic that helped us win five in a row there in the Xfinity car. It’s a fun place. It’s really challenging because of the flatness of the corners, getting into the corners, and then they’re so banked through the turns, and then the exits of the corners, they kind of fall off really quickly. That was always really weird for me to try to figure out because the lateral grip seems to go away so fast on the exit of the turns. You kind of want to be straight by that point. It’s an interesting facility. Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta all might look exactly the same, but they drive nothing alike. It keeps you on your toes.”