Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday May 11, 2010
On the surface, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the most unlikely of teammates.
They’re as different as a quiet, leisurely summer drive on country roads versus 500 miles of beating and banging under the lights at The Lady in Black. As different as a flawless 12.5-second pit stop and missing your pit box, then running over the hose and getting a pit road speeding penalty the second time around.
Denny dutifully thanks his team, his pit crew and all his sponsors when he wins races. Kyle smashes lovingly hand crafted custom-made trophies into hundreds of pieces, by comparison.
Certainly, you could make a forthright argument that the irascible and combustible Kyle Busch and any other driver you care to mention would also seem unlikely teammates.
But for these two in particular, it’s their differences that make them work.
And much of it is down to that all important word: Communication. That wasn’t something that came easy – far from it.
Said Hamlin, prior to Busch’s victory at Richmond and his own, relatively disappointing, eleventh-place effort at a track he tends to dominate: “It’s tough at times to have a conversation with Kyle, but we make it work.”
If making it work isn’t at the heart of the definition of what it takes to succeed in NASCAR, I don’t know what is. Put simply, Hamlin and Busch have learned to communicate and that, it seems, is starting to pay dividends for both teams.
Hamlin went on to add, “Half of my entertainment in this sport comes from Kyle Busch, so I love having him as a teammate.”
Now before they both sit down around the campfire, holding hands and start warbling “Kum ba yah”, it’s crucial to point out the importance of teammates – even ones you bicker with.
Last season, in the Chase, Jimmie J had two of them — Gordon and Martin. Hamlin had none. Now, that’s not to say the Virginia native would have performed better with a wing man — Jimmie would still have won his fourth straight crown.
Rather, it’s an “intangible” type factor. Just as with communication, it’s the intangibles that separate you in stock car racing from the snarling pack of chasers.
To become a Cup Champion is one of the most difficult tasks in all of sport – any sport. Only 28 drivers have won the Championship in 61 years. Thirteen of those drivers have just one solitary title.
Yet Hamlin and Busch are both drivers who have been labeled with the moniker “Future Cup Champion” at one point or another. Heck, their teammate Joey Logano has been called that since just about the time he first started wearing long pants.
In sport, just as in life, talk of “future potential” can be ephemeral: Here one day and absolutely gone, quicker than a heartbeat, the next.
But both Joe Gibbs racers appear to be ready to translate that optimism and promise into something much more tangible — namely a seat at the big boys table at the Sprint Cup banquet this November.
Speaking of Cup champions, it’s hugely revealing to look back at the six most recent winners to see how quickly they achieved their triumph. Jeff Gordon won his first in his third full season, while Tony Stewart, the ever riveting Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch won their respective titles in their fourth full season. Jimmie took five full years to win his first (and can’t stop winning since) while the 2000 Champion, Bobby Labonte, won his only title at the eighth time of asking.
In short, then, it seems that the drivers who get it done, do it early.
Kyle is now in his sixth full season, while Denny is working on his fifth – in other words, just about the optimal time to take that next step. For two such different drivers, though, it’s interesting to note the similarities in their overall records thus far. Hamlin has raced some 35 races less (essentially a full season) – 162 to Busch’s 197 – but otherwise their records are eerily comparable. Busch has 17 wins, 58 Top 5s and 91 Top 10s to Hamlin’s 11 wins, 53 Top 5’s and 83 Top 10’s. Busch has six poles, Hamlin seven and in terms of average finish, the Chesterfield, VA native (13.9) eclipses the Vegas-born Busch (16.0) by a scant margin.
What is also interesting to note is how both drivers’ results have improved – markedly – since the exit of the maligned, unloved “Fast and the Furious” style wing and the return of the spoiler. In the first five “winged” races of the year, Busch had a highest run of 9th and an average finish of 15.4, Hamlin, meanwhile, had a best finish of 17th and an average finish of 21.9.
But since Martinsville, when the spoiler was reintroduced, much to the delight of just about everyone with any kind of rooting interest in NASCAR, Busch has won at Richmond and has finishes of 3rd, 7th, 8th, 9th and 22nd – an average of 8.3. Hamlin’s record has also improved – and then some — he’s won three races and finished 4th, 11th and 30th (nine days after ACL surgery) for an average finish of eighth place.
Now it’s fair to say this is a sliver of a sample size and there is plenty of racing still to be done, but given we’ve visited a real smorgasbord of different tracks (restrictor plate, flat one-miler, short track, intermediate, and the unique egg shape of Darlington) it’s not a stretch to conclude that both are running better post-wing and more importantly – will continue to do so.
Busch and Hamlin are also helped by the fact they’re with the last organization that beat out Rick Hendrick and crew to a Championship: Smoke in 2005. Having a proven winner such as Coach Gibbs at the helm and the experience and knowledge of his son J.D. only enhances the opportunities in front of the two drivers. Plus, they’re the number one team for Toyota in the Cup Series, and you have to make the logical conclusion that the support they receive outweighs (even only a little) the other teams that run the Japanese automaker.
While we’re on the topic, let’s not forget li’l Joey Logano either who, with each passing week, is looking more and more like a (dare I say it) future Cup champ. His form, setup notes and ever-increasing experience can only make him more valuable as a teammate in terms of information sharing. This, too, is something that will only get better as the long season draws to its inexorable conclusion in November.
Logano’s youth now combines with the experience of two battle-tested playoff veterans. It’s often said that in Cup you need to lose one to win one; Johnson can attest to that in both 2004 and 2005, before he finally crested the hump and started blowing everyone away these past few years. It’s a sentiment that rings true for both Gibbs’ boys as well.
Hamlin, who has made the Chase in all four full seasons, had a golden opportunity in his rookie year of 2006, when he finished third a scant 68 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Last season, Hamlin won at Richmond – the Chase cutoff race – and then again at Martinsville and Miami. Were it not for two DNFs (Charlotte/Talladega – where he was running well) and his self-confessed driver error when leading at a restart at Fontana, 2009 might have had a very different look.
Busch, meanwhile, has made the Chase three times out of five, missing out last season by just eight points – the closest ever margin. In 2008, he won eight times in the first 26 races but imploded in the first few weeks of the Chase fading to a hideously disappointing 10th-place finish.
Both drivers, then, know the pain of losing one. Will 2010 be the year one of them rectifies it all and finally claims another Cup title for Joe Gibbs Racing?
Maybe. And if it is the case, there’s another single word that speaks volumes for why: Maturation.
We’ve heard a lot, of late, about the “new” improved Kyle Busch and there are really two schools of thought.
Denny Hamlin was initially succinct. “There is no new Kyle. That’s just a complete myth,” he said with a smile. Hamlin then expanded, “I think you all need to look back in your stories over the last two years and every time he wins you all say, ‘It’s the new Kyle’ and whenever he loses, you say, ‘It’s the same ol’ Kyle, I think we only hear about it when he wins.”
Kyle’s older brother and 2004 Cup champ Kurt adds perspective. Commenting on his younger brother’s recent engagement and Truck Series team ownership Busch said, “Those things that happen to you in life make you grow up a little quicker. I’m happy for him. He’s still going to continue to charge hard. He’s going to go after those wins. You just can’t write that was, ‘Hey, a good Kyle Busch or bad Kyle Busch’ when things happen. The things that you get to write are that he’s going through life changes and he’s maturing. He’s not 22 years old anymore.”
Denny’s path to enlightenment, if you will, has really come since the Richmond cutoff race last season. Since then, Hamlin’s won 6 of the 22 races – an impressive 27% clip. It’s almost as if a light switch went off in his head, as he finally found a way to win races he should win (having lost in his estimation at least 10 prior victories.) Then, after an ACL tear on the verge of Daytona, and a very rough start to the season, Hamlin injured his already ailing knee further and opted for surgery. I firmly believe you have no idea how bad an ACL surgery is until you’ve experienced it yourself, a procedure that could have easily sidelined him for several races. Instead, since he’s come back – and gritted it out two laps down for his team at Phoenix – Hamlin has driven like a man possessed. As he said when he crossed the stripe under the green flag at Darlington, “All we do is win.” And on the evidence of the last 20 some races, he’s right on the money with that theory.
There is still a long way to go in 2010. 15 more races until the Chase field is set. But it’s telling how much both Joe Gibbs racers have developed this year. Kyle has got rid of his Ricky Bobby “checkers or wreckers” approach and Hamlin has found a way to close the deal, dispelling the myth that he’s just a “flat track bully.” How it will all play out for the odd couple remains to be seen – and like I say, there’s a bucket load of miles to run first – but on the early evidence of 2010, expect Hamlin and Busch to be right there by the time the circuit swings into Homestead for the Championship weekend.
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Any long term communication with Kyle will be very difficult. At least until he matures. He is of an age that from a psychological point of view, he has barely left adolescence behind. There is tons of raw talent, but he continues to act like an arrogant, entitled brat more often than not. The test will be if Denny is in a position to win a championship and Kyle must play the supporting role, will he? Time will tell.
You can’t win the championship in the first 3 months of the season.
You can however win the championship in the last 10 races. If someone figures out how to win the championship before the chase starts they may have a shot of dethroning JJ. But I don’t see that happening.
DansMom doesn’t like Denny. I guess that means he’ll never win any races.