Kyle Busch returns to defend his SRX win as the series heads to Berlin Raceway in Michigan

(SRX Wayne Riegle)

The SRX series heads to Michigan for its fourth race with plenty of stories in tow. The series will be racing at Berlin Raceway, a .438-mile nearly circular track with no backstretch wall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Thursday, August 3rd.

Another installment of the return of Thursday Night Thunder, the race will air on ESPN at 9 pm ET.

Once again, Kyle Busch will be competing, getting the chance to back up his win at Motor Mile in Paluski County, Virginia.

Alongside Busch, Kasey Khane, Helio Castroneves, and Kevin Harvick are the other part-time drivers, joining full-time stars Marco Andretti, Hailie Deegan, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, and Ken Schrader.

A notable name who will also be racing is Johnny Benson, Jr. The Grand Rapids native is replacing the suspended Paul Tracey for this race. Tracey, who was a full-time driver in the series, will not be returning for the remainder of the series, SRX CEO Don Hawk revealed Wednesday.

Like Benson, Busch has experience at this track, which should worry his competitors. He won the Battle of Berlin, the track’s premier race three times, so frequently that it was named the Rowdy 251 in homage to his nickname.

His goal for the SRX race, then, is going to be harnessing his experience and “learning what the car can do.”

“The cars that I’ve raced at Berlin at Berlin before are vastly different than these things,” he explained. At least having a heads up of how the track likes to be raced is a good starting point, but then figuring out how to apply the driving techniques of the other cars to this car and making my way around the speedway to make the most speed and be the fastest.”

“How hard do you attack the throttle, how hard to you push the tires, how hard do you push the brakes, all of those things.”

(SRX Wayne Riegle)

“This is a really round, sweeping racetrack so brakes aren’t really going to be that important, but tires are really going to be the thing. It’s an old, worn out surface,” he pointed out. 

Don Hawk agreed with that assessment.

“I believe this race in part is going to be decided by a good tire manager” he argued. “We found in testing here that there’s a ton of falloff. After about thirty laps in a run it’s really significant. It’s going to be one of those deals of taking care of your stuff.”

But Busch really enjoys the feel after his experience at Motor Mile, and he’s clearly able to adapt to it quickly.

“I was pleasantly surprised with how they drove,” he said of the unique cars in the series.

“I really didn’t feel any aero effects whatsoever. So I feel like when you can have the car be reliant on mechanical and the drivers be able to manipulate the mechanical grip and not be so limited by aero, I feel like that was a real step in the right direction for motorsports in general.”

To much aerodynamic reliance on short tracks is a problem in the NASCAR Cup Series currently, so much so that NASCAR tested potential changes to its package to negate those effects and improve its short track racing product this week at Richmond.

Kyle’s win at Motor Mile wasn’t entirely clean, to be fair. Busch spun then-leader Brad Keselowski off his bumper as he climbed through the pack to the lead. He blamed Koslowski for not being alert in a race without spotters.

“I think situational awareness is a big deal for drivers,” Busch said. “I think that’s what got Brad in trouble last week with me, he didn’t have any idea or expect me to be there, but you have to expect the unexpected with these cars.”

Ultimately, Busch is looking forward to getting back up to a track that he’s familiar with in a series that he’s already a winner.

“I am excited to get back there. Those fans up there, they love their short track racing, they love Berlin,” he said. 

For the seven full-time drivers, the championship hunt is also getting more intense as the season winds down with half the races complete. Of note, Paul Tracey, as a former full-time competitor, features in the standings.

Championship Standings
1. Ryan Newman – 105
2. Marco Andretti – 84 (-21)
3. Tony Stewart – 81 (-24)
4. Brad Keselowski – 72 (-33)
5. Paul Tracy – 72 (-33)
6. Bobby Labonte – 72 (-33)
7. Ken Schrader – 65 (-40)
8. Hailie Deegan – 61 (-44)

After leaving Berlin Raceway, the SRX series will head to the dirt track at Eldora Speedway and to Lucas Oil Raceway for an epic finale.

Owen Johnson