What Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver will be the next to sign a new contract?
On Thursday morning, Feb. 28, Joe Gibbs Racing officially announced multi-year extensions for both 2015 Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and Mars, Incorporated (the makers of M&Ms and Snickers).
There was no word on how many years these extensions will last for, as per the norm today. Contract lengths used to be more openly discussed in announcements, but these days, those are mostly left to one-year deals and whenever Hendrick Motorsports signs somebody to an extension.
Anyway, the Busch extension and how quickly it came together is interesting. There have been rumors through the last few years that drivers have had to take pay cuts, and we’ve seen some former champions (Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch) spend months upon months in negotiations to try to get the best possible deal they can get.
Kyle Busch, on the other hand, got off the market ASAP. So either Busch didn’t ask for a lot, in which case he should fire his agent, or he brought a big number to the table and there wasn’t much negotiating it down. It tells us that, as great as Keselowski and Kurt Busch are, Kyle Busch probably brings more leverage than just about any driver to the negotiating table.
And honestly, why shouldn’t he? Love him or hate him, Busch has been one of the most gifted drivers in NASCAR over the past 15 years. Few are as experienced as he is now, and of the ones that are, none of them will be just 34 come May.
With Busch locked up, the clock may be on now for Kevin Harvick. Of the possible free agents in this year’s class (Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and who knows who else), Harvick would be the only one on that Busch level of being able to get just about anything he’d want in a new contract.
What effect will Kyle Larson’s comments have to his engines?
Of all the Kyles in NASCAR, everybody probably thought before this week that the only one with a big mouth was Busch. Well, at least before Kyle Larson talked to NBC.
“I feel like Hendrick [Motorsports] plays games in a way with NASCAR,” Larson said in an interview for NASCAR America. “I feel like they always start the year off kind of bad to like show NASCAR that they’re being nice and cooperating and following the rules and stuff, and then it gets a couple of months in, and they start cheating and finding some speed.”
Now, here’s a fun little problem with which Larson had to contend. It turns out that his Chip Ganassi Racing team gets their engines from, you guessed it, Hendrick Motorsports. Who Larson just basically called cheaters. Oops.
Before the No. 42 Camaro could be declared the engine department’s new R&D team, Larson tweeted out an apology where he basically went with the “I was joking” defense.
Not only is this not a very smart thing to say for somebody in Larson’s position, it’s also not right. Typically, Hendrick will start out by winning a few races in the springtime, begin to struggle mightily over the summer and then find its footing in time to make a playoff run. It happened with Jimmie Johnson a number of times over the years. Last year, Hendrick started out the year struggling, spent the summer struggling and finished the year largely struggling. Chase Elliott dominated Watkins Glen International in his win there but only led 55 laps between his other two wins on the season.
But hey, that should be the least of Larson’s concerns right now. He should be lucky that the engines these cars have are near-bulletproof from failures; otherwise he would have had a long three months in the dog house.
How will aero ducts effect the Cup race this weekend?
This weekend’s Cup race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the second under NASCAR’s new low horsepower rules package and the first with aero ducts on the side of the cars.
What are these aero ducts designed to do? Reduce aero push from the lead car. One of the reasons why Keselowski was able to hold off Martin Truex Jr. so effectively at Atlanta after Truex drove all the way to him was because of just how bad these cars are in dirty air. Now, granted, part of that is because Keselowski was saving his tires for the last couple of laps, but Truex shouldn’t have hit a wall of air like he did.
The race at Atlanta was… OK? Everybody was close, but five laps after a restart, everybody was having trouble passing. Kyle Busch started from the back of the pack due to going to a backup car, and he didn’t cut through the field as effectively as he would have been able to last year.
Part of that is aerodynamics, but an even bigger part of that is the significant cut in horsepower that has put everybody on a more level playing field. There were also more comers and goers than how it was last season, due to the removal of driver-adjusted track bars.
This week, the new aero ducts are going to be the real test for this rules package going forward.
When will Kyle Busch get to win 200?
Due to NASCAR’s rules limiting Cup Series drivers’ participation in the other two national touring series, the majority of Kyle Busch’s lower series starts will come this month. He will be competing in three Xfinity Series races and three Truck Series races in March, beginning with the tripleheader weekend at his hometown track in Las Vegas.
After winning the Truck race this past weekend, Busch is now just five wins away from 200 combined victories in the three series, tying Richard Petty’s record. But there are plenty of fans who are just irrationally angry about this, claiming that Petty’s Cup wins are a much more impressive record than Busch’s 200 combined series wins.
Here’s the reality of the situation. The vast majority of Petty’s 200 wins came before the start of the modern era, back when NASCAR would hold races at tracks such as Bowman-Gray Stadium and Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Go back and look at some of those Petty wins. Should Petty’s win in a 50-mile race at Starkley Speedway in an 18-car field really be equivalent to Keselowski’s win in a 500-miler at Atlanta against other drivers? Or is Petty’s win in another 50-mile race at Tar Hill Speedway really be worth more in racing fans’ eyes than this weekend’s 300-mile Xfinity race at Las Vegas?
Both numbers, Petty’s 200 and Busch’s 195, aren’t exactly what they seem. Petty benefited immensely from being one of few who would show up to just about every race in a season and getting the vast majority of Chrysler’s NASCAR budget back when manufacturers were king. Busch went down to the lower series in significantly better equipment than the rest of the field and walked over a bunch of young drivers.
So if Busch gets to 200 this month, or perhaps even breaks it, it’s not going to be the end of the world. Someday, somebody with the same mindset is going to come in and probably beat that number. Petty’s 200 and Busch’s whatever are just numbers in a record book. Because, hey, if we just focus on numbers, the greatest driver in the history of NASCAR is Marvin Burke. It’s about what’s behind those numbers that makes them meaningful.