Thinking of the month of March from a foregone time in Indiana, it is Regional Week.
If one notices the term “regional,” think back to the old Indiana High School basketball championship, which was contested in a single classification for all schools until 1997. It took four rounds to get the final four – or state championship – weekend. The format went sectional, regional, semi-state and final four.
The “sectionals” were last week at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Kurt Busch finished an impressive sixth. There are three weeks left, so this week’s AAA Texas 500 can be considered regional week. Pre-1997, teams in Indiana had to win two games in one day at the regional, semi-state and state finals. And the 16 regional sites were massive events at some of the largest high school gymnasiums in the world. Facilities like the one at East Chicago, which held 8,926 people, or Anderson at 8,996, Washington at 7,090, Michigan City at 7,304 and Seymour at 8,110.
One particular regional was always held in the largest gym in the world – New Castle Fieldhouse. It was built in 1959 and can seat 9,325. So New Castle would always host the sectionals and regionals, which always gave its team a great home court advantage.
Busch, driver of the No. 41 State Water Heaters Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is from Las Vegas but is looking for a little “home court” advantage in this week’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Busch has three poles, one win, three top-five finishes and 18 top-10s at the 1.5-mile oval. Additionally, the 40-year-old driver has led 335 laps, has an average starting position of 13.7, an average finish of 14.8, and has completed 98.5 percent – 10,179 of 10,337 – of the laps he’s contested there.
And Busch and his car have a bit of a different look this week as State Water Heaters is his sponsor on the No. 41 Ford Fusion.
In 1946, State Water Heaters was founded by Herbert Lindahl as a small entrepreneurial company producing coal- and wood-burning stoves in a garage in Nashville, Tennessee. In the years that followed, State expanded and became a leader in the water-heating industry through steadfast commitments to seeking new materials, new technology and innovative engineering techniques.
This weekend, the first 30,000 fans to arrive at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday will receive at Kurt Busch State Water Heaters bobblehead.
If Busch is to score a victory, he’ll bobble all the way to victory lane – and to Homestead-Miami Speedway as part of the Final Four, or as it is known in racing circles, the Championship 4.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 State Water Heaters Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about how challenging Texas Motor Speedway is. You still hold the track record you set last November.
“It was an incredible qualifying run last year and it set a track record. The feel of the tire and the asphalt were better in the fall than the spring. And, what I saw last year during the playoff race at Texas was a textbook pass for the lead with Kevin Harvick passing (Martin) Truex (Jr.) going into turn one. He was able to cut underneath him in turn two. Then you get that run through the fast sections between turns three and four. Texas Motor Speedway has a very unique layout with the speed differences between (turns) three and four and one and two.”
Talk about your record-setting lap last year at Texas.
“(Turns) three and four are an incredible sensation. Once the car goes into the banking, it travels. The suspension collapses in the car and it gets lower to the ground and picks up speed because you are lower to the ground and have less drag. It’s a sensation that is hard to describe. When you have that grip level in the car, it gives you the feeling that you can just put it down to the floor and there won’t be any consequences. Turns one and two are where I think the lap times come from – if you can get it to hook and stay right on the bottom because that end of the track is a lot flatter. You have to back out of the gas all the way. Then, in three and four, you can hold it wide open. Both ends of the track are very different. It is a cool sensation going through three and four almost holding it wide open.”
Overall thoughts heading to Texas this week?
“Texas is a good track for us and a good market. I always enjoy coming out to Texas. Hopefully, the weather will look perfect for this weekend. It’s a great track and a big weekend for us as we have State Water Heaters on our car. They are a great partner. And Eddie Gossage (president of Texas Motor Speedway) and State Waters Heaters have worked together to give out 30,000 bobbleheads of me, as well. It’s going to be a fun weekend.”