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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

4 Burning Questions: What Did Kyle Larson Just Say?

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.

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About Michael Finley

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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17 comments

  1. Avatar

    No other sponsor gets the tv and other exposure that Mars gets with Kyle Busch, not even close. Love him or hate him, it doesn’t matter, he’s either in front of the camera or being talked about. He’s only 33, still young, heck almost ten years younger than Harvick. Even when Kyle starts in the back his car gets tv exposure constantly as his progress up through the field is well covered. He’s probably the most talented driver in NASCAR today and if someone argues differently they would have a very hard time just looking at Kyle’s numbers alone. And again, he’s only 33. I’m sure Mars marketing department is very aware of the amount of exposure they get with Kyle, and not just in the Cup series.

  2. Avatar

    Larson, the new truth sayer! Hell he just said what anyone with a brain already knows. Johnson’s 7 wins were a gift from Nascar, one that blew up in their face as that tactic caused millions of fans to walk away. Most knowledgeable race fans weren’t fooled by that dog and pony show. Nobody manipulates racing better or more often than Generous Motors.

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      All of the race teams push the limits, and no people didn’t walk away because of 7 times they walked away because you get the pole you win the race a true fan knows the truth , some people just can’t help being jealous

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    So, if Richard Petty had the advantage of showing up for more sanctioned races than most of the other driver, then Kyle has had the advantage of having 3 series in Nascar to get his number of wins. I also think that Petty having to build and race their own cars, as opposed to Kyle running only trucks that he ‘builds’ makes a significant difference. Busch certainly has talent, but I’m not sue it’w quite the same.

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      Yeah, Petty had to build his own cars, but he was also getting much more money than just about any team. Chrysler only “employed” Petty and Cotton Owens’ teams, and they were spending just about as much as Ford was spending in those days. But instead of having to split it between a number of teams like Ford did, Petty only had to share with Cotton, and when Cotton left the sport, he was getting everything from the manufacturer.

  4. Avatar

    As far as comparing Petty’s and Busch’s 200 and 195 wins there are definitely valid points on both sides of the argument for many of those being low quality wins. That’s why I’ve always been more impressed with David Pearson’s 105 wins.

    • Avatar

      As much as I love Pearson, his win total also has some of the problems that Petty’s has.

      A couple of years ago, I went back and counted how many 200+ mile race wins Petty and Pearson had, and if I remember correctly, Pearson was somewhere in the 70’s while Petty had like 130. So it’s possible for a driver like Kyle Busch to possibly catch The King in Cup wins there, it’s not probable. He’d need to keep up his current pace until he was 55, which isn’t going to happen.

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        So, if you look at NASCAR history in the context of pre vs post modern era, you can assume that the easier races were dropped when the schedule was pared down starting in 1972. Looking at Petty’s vs Pearson’s statistics for the time frame of 1960 – 1971 (when both were racing and the easier races were still on the schedule), we see that there were 618 total races over that 12 year stretch. Petty competed in 535 of those (86.6%) and if you exclude the first 2/3s of the 1965 season (31 races) when he was mad at NASCAR and went to race in a straight line instead of in circles, you could argue that he raced in 91.6% of the events. Pearson raced in only 368 of the 618 races (59.5%). It was known that he cherry picked and typically preferred to run the races with the higher purses. So it can be assumed that he was facing tougher competition in those events. During these years Petty won 140 times (26.2% of the races) with Pearson winning 60 times (16.3%). This accounts for 70% of Petty’s total 200 wins but only 57.1% of Peason’s total 105 wins. So Pearson won a high percentage of his total during the modern era, but Petty still had more total wins 60 vs 45 from 1972 onward.
        Not to take this article off on a Petty vs. Pearson tangent, but it is fun to look back in history and try to dissect such things, and there are numerous additional factors one could look at in this type of discussion. Suffice to say, both absolutely belong on the top shelf of drivers ever to strap on a helmet.

  5. Avatar

    My guess is several factors went into Kyle (apparently rather quickly) re-signing with Mars.
    Kyle carries a lot of baggage (to include Mars temporarily suspending Kyle’s sponsorship a few seasons ago) – several sponsors would probably not touch Kyle with a 10-foot pole (and as alluded to later in the article, there are probably a bunch of fans that would love to beat Kyle with a 10-foot pole).
    Kyle’s truck team uses Toyota engines, which are better than engines a lot of truck teams can afford, and KBM apparently also gets other TRD support; if Kyle were to not sign with Mars and Gibbs and Toyota, KBM might have to purchase spec engines and get, at best, token factory support (previously, Kyle had indicated he might close KBM if he were forced, by rules, to buy spec engines).
    My guess is Kyle gets sponsorships, in part, because of Joe Gibbs (to read between the lines, Gibbs convinced Interstate Batteries to sponsor Kyle for races during Kyle’s Mars suspension); it is easy to see where other owners may not be as supportive, and tolerant, of Kyle as Gibbs has been.

    • Avatar

      You’d be surprised about how quickly sponsors forget things, especially when he’s never had a history or rumors of actual controversies (such as a domestic violence charge or a positive drug test) that they might run away from.

      There are a fair amount of people who don’t like Busch, but he does have a very loyal fanbase and is one of the most popular drivers on the circuit. It’s like how there was a lot of people who didn’t like Dale Earnhardt Sr. when he was around due to his rivalries with popular drivers of the time such as Bill Elliott and Sterling Marlin.

      • Avatar

        Yes, it is often forgotten that Earnhardt Sr. got as may boos as cheers during driver introductions. I remember hearing an announcer say, “either you loved Earnhardt because he was your favorite driver, or you hated him because at some point he had wrecked your favorite driver.”

  6. Avatar

    Interesting, no word on how many years? Why? I remember Logano two years ago (?) got the Shell/Pennzoil extension and heck they were all proud of it. “22 and Beyond” was the slogan for the extension. Meaning 2022. Pretty impressive extension by any standard.

    As for Larson, I get that he of all people maybe should have kept silent. But is he really wrong? Hell everybody for years has been thinking the same thing and saying it.

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      Your thoughts on where Christopher Bell will be running in Cup next year ???
      Somebody has to go because Bell won’t be running for a satellite team.

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        Bell is impressive. I wonder if the clock is ticking on Erik Jones this year.

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        I loathe to make a comment on any driver up and comer. Many are impressive, but something happens…owner impatience. Jesus Joe and JD were pretty ruthless with using up drivers and letting them go rather quickly, imo. Some can say it is the nature of the beast, and to a degree it is. But that family seems (IMO) to play musical chairs more often than most. So I am always leery when a young potential gets thinks it is a blessing to drive for them, it is certainly..but more often than not…a road to heartbreak. Again my opinion.

        Busch and Hamlin have two primary sponsors, period. Jesus Joe and the deceased JD are pretty ruthless with using up what they have and move on to the next thing without so much as a glance back. I suspect when the Mars girls stop sponsorship at the level they are, it would not surprise if Busch goes buh bye. I agree with Janice about Hamlin. Pull Fedex and he is a goner, imo. Erik Jones is this year’s Suarez it seems so far.

    • Avatar

      My guess for why so many teams don’t make it public is so that the media/fans don’t openly speculate about who’s up for silly season, and it also cuts down on fake news rumors that people might conjure up if they know that X driver’s contract is up and Y team has an opening.

      As far as Bell…. that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Don’t think Bell is going to leave JGR, especially when crew chief Jason Ratcliff is rumored to have turned down offers from Cup teams to stick with the young driver.

      So, as far as JGR goes, Busch isn’t leaving and Truex just came in. So that leaves Erik Jones to potentially be Suarez’d, which I don’t think they’ll do just yet, or Denny Hamlin, who has a multi year contract, a full time sponsor he has a great relationship with, and he just won the biggest race in North America last month. So they’re in a bit of a tough spot right now looking ahead