Wild horses couldn’t keep 3 Doors Down away from Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., on Aug. 16.

Sure, the NASCAR Busch Series event will be spellbinding enough to watch, but the Mississippi rock quintet has a special intertest in this particular race: Defending Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart will be at the wheel of a Chevrolet Monte Carlo decked out in a 3 Doors Down paint scheme.

“We’re on the front hood and each of us has a quarter panel,” guitarist Chris Henderson said recently. “They’re making up diecast models and T-shirts and selling them at shows.”

It’s a marketing strategy that came about simply over beers between the band – Henderson, singer Brad Arnold, bassist Todd Harrell, guitarist Matt Roberts, drummer Daniel Adair – and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“Dale Jr. and we share a sponsor,” Henderson said. “He’s got Budweiser and we’ve got Bud Light, so we’ve ended up at a lot of the same corporate functions. He’s a big fan of the band, and we’re big fans of NASCAR and him as well.

“Over the years, we’ve become friends with him. One day, we said, ‘How’d you like to be in a video?’ So he and Tony Stewart are in our video for ‘The Road I’m On.’ While we were doing the video, we were sitting in the trailer hanging around together, and Dale said, ‘Why don’t we make a car, put you guys on it and put it in a Busch race?’

“How awesome is that?”

“The Road I’m On” is the latest single off 3 Doors Down’s second multiplatinum album, “Away From the Sun” (released last November). The album got an unexpected boost from the war in Iraq, when Republic/Universal issued “When I’m Gone” as a single and the U.S. military and their families latched on to it to help them through difficult times.

“The association with the military has helped us,” Henderson said. “You can’t deny that, but I think the song can stand alone. It did stand alone for quite a while before the video even came out and people made the military connection. It was already No. 1 on all the rock formats.

“Then we were lucky that the military kind of adopted it as a theme song for everything that they were doing. I’m proud and glad of that, especially today when so many artists speak out against the government, the president and what this country is all about.”

The song was written two years ago, Henderson says, when it meant something else.

“Now it means something totally different,” he said. “It means ‘love me when I’m gone. I’ve got a job to do. I’m coming home; don’t forget me.’ ”

For anyone to suggest that the song was released to capitalize on the war is absurd, Henderson says.

“Nobody was calling the secretary of state and asking when the war was going to start,” he said. “It was just one of those freak things. I think it did some good overall for not only me and my family and the band, it did some good for those guys over there who had something to cling on to.”

Now in the midst of a mammoth tour with Our Lady Peace, Seether and Shinedown, 3 Doors Down still found time recently to go into the studio and create new music.

“We actually demoed three new songs and we’re playing one of them live,” Henderson said. “Writing music’s not easy, and people think you can create whenever. I’m not one of them. I take them when I can get them. If I write three songs in six months, I’m a happy guy. If I write three in one day, I’m even happier.”

Where the next album will lead them is anyone’s guess, but Henderson is looking forward to finding out.

“That’s the beautiful thing about it,” he said. “That’s the reason we changed the direction on this second record a little bit, without really forcing it. Luckily, the album went a little softer and a little more mature. That’s a good thing; I don’t think people know what to expect from us.

“All I know is, it should happen naturally. You can’t force rock ‘n’ roll … unless you’re Paul McCartney and can write a thousand songs in one day.”

Whenever 3 Doors Down calls it a career, Henderson says “as long as I still have my four best friends, I’ll be okay.”

“I want to stay in the music business as long as I can,” he said. “I’m actually a producer on the side; I’ve done some local projects. I’m making a little noise in the industry, so we’ll see what happens. I’m still young; I’m not afraid to work, even if I have to go back to working in the shipyard.”

THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Motley Crue’s ‘Shout at the Devil,’ and I think at the same time I bought Def Leppard’s ‘Pyromania.’ My brother was a big jazz head, so I was listening to a lot of jazz when I was a kid, but I really just didn’t get it. I have a lot of respect for it, but there’s not enough melody there for me. With the hair bands and the big hook choruses, that’s where my heart was.”

THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I saw Bon Jovi and Cinderella in Biloxi in ’86 or ’87 on their ‘Slippery When Wet’ tour.”

THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I worked in a kennel for like three days. I was in charge of all the dogs with Parvo, that disease that kills so many dogs. When one dog gets it, it spreads throughout the community. I had to clean the cages daily with bleach and wash each dog every day and keep the ones who had it quarantined. It was rough. I left because of the way (the boss) treated the animals, but that’s another story.”

ON THE WEB: www.3doorsdown.com.

BWF (before we forget): Upcoming tour dates (with Our Lady Peace, Seether, Shinedown) – Aug. 28, Pueblo, Colo., Colorado State Fair; Aug. 29, Lincoln, Neb., Nebraska State Fair; Aug. 30, Eau Claire, Wis., Summer Jam at Country Jam USA grounds; Aug. 31, St. Paul, Minn., Minnesota State Fair; Sept. 3, Post Falls, Idaho, Greyhound Park Amphitheatre; Sept. 4, Blackfoot, Idaho, Eastern Idaho State Fair; Sept. 5, Salt Lake City, Utah State Fairpark; Sept. 7, Mesa, Ariz., Mesa Amphitheatre; Sept. 8, Albuquerque, New Mexico State Fair; Sept. 9, Tucson, Anselmo Valencia Amphitheatre; Sept. 12, Reno, Reno Hilton Amphitheatre; Sept. 13, San Francisco, The Warfield; Sept. 16, Austin, The Backyard; Sept. 18, The Woodlands, Texas, C.W. Mitchell Pavilion; Sept. 19, San Antonio, Sunken Garden Amphitheater; Sept. 20, Grand Prairie, Texas, Next Stage at Grand Prairie.