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NASCAR Cup Series

With Kurt Busch, Will SHR Become NASCAR’s Baddest of Bad Boys?

By Jerry Bonkowski – How do I say this in a nice way?

Stewart-Haas Racing just became NASCAR’s equivalent of the Oakland Raiders in their glory years.

With Tuesday’s press conference announcing that Kurt Busch had signed a multi-year deal with SHR, which will in turn expand to a four-team operation next season, one of the biggest collections of NASCAR’s baddest bad boys just came together.

Will it work? Time will tell.

About the only piece of the puzzle missing is Kyle Busch, Kurt’s younger brother, but that still could happen a few years from now when KyBu’s contract is up with Joe Gibbs Racing.

I tried to think of another similar example, but honestly, it would appear that never in the history of NASCAR has such a conglomeration of both talent and tempestuousness been brought together.

It also shows that what sportsmanship and fellowship can’t bring together, money can.

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick have both had numerous run-ins with the elder Busch brother over the last decade. While I don’t have the exact number in front of me, I’d venture a guess that between tumultuous trio, there’s been at least a dozen dust-ups.

Scratch that … it’s probably more.

Harvick on numerous occasions has publicly criticized Busch. Stewart and Busch have also run afoul of each other, including a less than gentlemanly skirmish between the new teammates earlier this year that people are still talking about.

And then there’s Danica Patrick, who essentially is SHR’s Ringo in all this: she doesn’t have a dog in this fight, she just goes along with what the boss says and wants. She’ll leave it to John, Paul and George – err, make that Tony, Kevin and Kurt – to be the front men of this band.

The first question that came to mind when I heard that the rumored union of Busch and SHR was finally consummated was simple:

“How will NASCAR’s newest version of the three amigos co-exist from here on out?”

I’m wondering if Harvick knew this was coming, might he have stayed at Richard Childress Racing instead of also jumping to SHR for 2014.

It’s like you take three of the most mischievous troublemakers in a school and put them in the same detention period for any number of infractions.

That’s just a recipe for disaster waiting to boil over. But in this case, is it – or is it a stroke of genius, where one bad boy will elevate the game of the other two bad boys on the team?

Will Busch help SHR? Of course. Even with the incidents that KuBu has gotten himself into throughout his career, including the most notable one at Homestead in 2011 that cost him the best ride of his career (up to now, at least), there’s no question the guy can wheel a race car with the best of ’em.

Look at what he’s done thus far this season for the single-car operation of Furniture Row Racing. If things stay the same in the next two races, Busch will become the first driver in the 10-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup to make NASCAR’s marquis event from a single-car team.

And, frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised that with the season he’s had to date, coupled with the knowledge of where he’s going after this season, it inspires and motivates Busch like he’s never been – and then goes out and wins this year’s championship.

“This is the kind of situation every driver wants to be in, and I’m grateful to (SHR co-owner) Gene Haas and Haas Automation for providing me this opportunity,” Busch said in a statement Tuesday. “I didn’t think anyone wanted to win as much as me until I met Gene Haas.”

I still think Busch would have been a better fit at Richard Childress Racing or Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, where he’d be either the No. 1 or No. 2 driver with either operation.

At SHR, he’ll be third in order of strength behind Stewart and Harvick, and fourth on the seniority list.

That is, until he proves otherwise and potentially becomes the organization’s top gun. Don’t think that can happen? Think again.

Stewart proved less than a month ago that he’s human and fallible when he suffered a broken leg that ended his Sprint Cup season. At the same time, Stewart is now 42 years old. He has to be thinking – or at least starting to think – about potential retirement and segueing into a full-time owner-only position.

Look at Indy car racing’s Michael Andretti. He stopped racing full-time before he even hit 40 years old (he had six other one-off starts between 40 and 44 that were part of building up his own organization) and has gone on to build one of the strongest teams in IndyCar.

You don’t think Smoke hasn’t noticed that?

“When Gene Haas laid out his plans for what he wanted to do in regard to this race team’s future, which included bringing Kurt on board in a fourth car, it was impressive,” Stewart said in a statement. “You can’t stand still in this business. You have to constantly improve. Gene’s investment in this race team ensures the success of Stewart-Haas Racing for many years to come.”

What’s more, as much as he loves racing on any level, I don’t think you’ll see Stewart follow in the footsteps of his No. 1 idol, A.J. Foyt, and continue racing until he’s almost 60 (Foyt finally hung up his firesuit for good at 57 – that is, if you don’t count the one Sprint Cup and three other Camping World Truck Series races he competed in between the age of 59 and 61).

I was at Road America in 1990 when Foyt suffered the worst crash of his career. He was 55 at the time and came very close to dying that day. After months of recovery and recuperation, Foyt got behind the wheel of an open-wheel Indy car 12 more times, with 11 of those times resulting in nothing more than also-ran finishes.

It was only after his final appearance in the Indianapolis 500 in 1992 (finished ninth) that Foyt finally realized his best racing days were ultimately behind him and it was time to turn over his car to someone who may not have been quite as talented, but surely was far younger, more agile and could recover from injuries much faster.

Kurt Busch just turned 35 earlier this month. He still has a good five to seven more years in him.

Harvick will turn 38 in December. He has probably another good five years left in him.

And Patrick is only 31. If she starts showing marked improvement, she probably has a good seven or more years left in her, as well.

So hiring Busch isn’t as crazy as it sounds. While some could likely make a case that Ryan Newman should have been kept instead of being cut loose at the end of this season, it’s not every day that a former Cup champion becomes available.

Even with the baggage he’s accumulated, why do you think so many teams were chasing Busch to sign with their team?

Partners Stewart and Haas saw that and jumped at the chance. Call it a leap of faith, if nothing else. Haas was so enamored with getting Busch that he put his own money where his mouth was: he’ll personally sponsor Busch in 2014 unless other sponsorship is obtained.

“Kurt Busch is a premier talent, one who gives you the opportunity to win races every week and contend for a championship every year,” Haas said in a statement. “When he became available, we seized the opportunity to make him a part of Stewart-Haas Racing. This is an organization built on winning, and Haas Automation is a company built on performance. Kurt embodies each of those qualities, and it’s why we’re investing in his abilities.

From a talent standpoint, the amalgam of Stewart, Harvick and Busch is close to stock car racing’s equivalent to the New York Yankees’ fabled Murderer’s Row: Four Cup championships and 93 wins between them.

With that kind of lineup, SHR now has the potential to out-perform every other team in NASCAR and become the most-feared organization in the sport from a competitive – and temper – standpoint.

If there ever was a perfect example of the old phrase, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” it happened Tuesday.

Going back to my reference to the Raiders, they were an organization that was made up of players that didn’t always like some of their teammates, but also knew that they were stronger as a whole together than divided individually.

SHR will be the same, in my opinion.

Do I expect Busch, Stewart and Harvick to kiss and make up over past indiscretions between them? Nope.

Do I expect Busch, Stewart and Harvick to become Facebook friends? Unlikely.

Do I expect Busch, Stewart and Harvick to become fishing buddies? Not a chance.

But what I do expect is that their union will put every other team on notice, much like the Raiders did in their hey days of the 1980s and 1990s: you don’t mess around with SHR.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

WHO’S THE BOSS?

Gene Haas made it abundantly clear on Tuesday afternoon that he wasn’t the silent half of the banner at Stewart-Haas Racing when he officially announced that Kurt Busch would join his team starting next season.

All signs pointed to Haas being the sole individual at the team who pursued signing Busch to a contract and the press conference confirmed it. Busch will drive a Haas Automation Chevrolet for “multiple seasons” giving Haas his first real shot to get to victory lane with his homegrown machine tool organization on the hood.

While it took Tony Stewart a week to ultimately agree to a deal with Busch, Haas said that he was not going to back down on his decision and even offered Busch a deal without consulting his three-time championship winning partner.

“I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did. But I think he saw it my way, you know? Either that or get out of the building,” said Haas.

Either Tuesday’s press conference was a well-crafted ruse designed to generate maximum publicity for the partnership or there is a difference of opinion developing at Stewart-Haas Racing.

The team announced in June, after signing Kevin Harvick to a multiyear deal  that Ryan Newman would not be back next season because Stewart-Haas would be unable to expand to four cars.

“I truly wish we were able to facilitate four teams at this time,” Stewart told Fox Sports. “We’re just not able to do that. Down the road, I’m sure if that becomes a possibility, he will definitely be on the list to fill the fourth seat again.”

Haas maintained on Tuesday that Stewart’s statement was true at the time but that learning of Busch’s availability presented an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

“I think we all see how Kurt has done on the racetrack,” Haas said. “He’s done an amazing job with the 78 car, taking a car that is a single-car team, has a lot of competitors that are way ahead of it. They’ve done a remarkable job of being able to compete in that top‑10 bracket.”

Beyond that, Busch’s resume speaks for itself.

Over a span of 14 seasons, Busch has amassed 24 victories at the Sprint Cup level and won the inaugural Chase for the Championship in 2004 when he drove for Roush Racing.

His talent as a pure wheelman has been recognized across several different disciplines including the NHRA and IndyCar and it appears that Haas was willing to make room for someone of that caliber at his organization — and do it before someone beat him to the punch.

Long-time Stewart colleague and current SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli says that Tony’s hesitation wasn’t so much about Busch but rather the team’s expected challenge to expand to four cars at this juncture.

“Tony was very much in favor of the fourth team,” Zippadelli said. “What Tony was against was us trying to get it done for next year.”

With the decision made, the team has now unveiled plans to expand to two buildings with four cars split between them, a model that has provided Hendrick Motorsports success in recent years.

But Haas’ aggression in signing Busch is still fascinating. It almost felt as if Haas went rogue to field a car for “The Outlaw.” He said that Busch “likes to win and get in people’s faces,” a lot like his company. But isn’t that the same logic James Finch employed in deciding to hire Busch prior to the 2011 season?

That ill-fated relationship ended at the Sprint Cup level with a smiley face decorated No. 51 car as soon as Busch departed from the team at Charlotte.

But Busch appears less abrasive now than he did a year ago and that’s likely what Haas is banking his decision on. His personality has even come across as jocular and even silly at times towards his crew and the media.

The positive vibes have even powered Busch’s return to form as he’s back in championship contention for the first time since 2011 — the Busch that Haas hopes to have acquired at Stewart-Haas Racing.

But if he gets the volatile, moody Busch and this if this deal goes south, what will it mean for team chemistry with teammates Stewart, Harvick and Danica Patrick? And more importantly, what will it mean for his suddenly tested partnership with Stewart?

A lot hinges on Busch’s coming tenure with Stewart-Haas Racing and history suggests either greatness or controversy.

But what will this tandem inspire?

Categories
Editorial NASCAR Cup Series

Ten Secrets Better-Kept than Kurt Busch’s Move to Stewart-Haas Racing

If you have been sleeping under a rock, congratulations. It’s tough to sleep under a rock. Believe me, I have tried. In fact, Michael Waltrip posted photographic evidence of it earlier this very day.

But as many people who sleep under a rock aren’t the most technologically savvy, you might need to be updated on the Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas Racing news. Yes, today’s announcement was a bombshell to everyone who doesn’t follow me on Twitter.

Here are some other major NASCAR stories that were kept secret for longer than this story was:

10. Tony Stewart is now co-owner of Haas CNC Racing, and the team, apparently, will be renamed Stewart-Haas Racing.

9. Stewart also likes to race sprint cars, despite the possibility he could get injured doing it.

8. Lee Spencer did some digging and found out the sun actually rises in the east. Not really NASCAR related, but she covers NASCAR so it’s all good.

7. Brian France is considering a new 10-race “playoff” to determine the Sprint Cup Series champion.

6. Chip Andretti isn’t the only writing primate accreditted by NASCAR.

5. Jim Utter actually has a great sense of humor and runs several of the funniest parody accounts on Twitter, including @jim_utter, a fantastic parody of a NASCAR journalist.

4. Furniture Row Racing is actually based in Denver, Colorado and not Denver, North Carolina.

3. Just like Gene Haas, Bruton Smith has a lot of money. And occasionally, he will remind people who work for him that he is, in fact, a lot richer than they are.

2. Apparently, Brad Keselowski was absoloutely smashed when he was interviewed on ESPN following the Homestead race last year. This is one of those things that people speak about in hushed tones in private, but never out in the open.

1. The headlights on NASCAR racecars aren’t real.

There you have it. Some of the most closely guarded secrets in all of NASCAR. Well, they used to be.

Okay, I have to get back to work. Helton is coming to the R&D Center and has paid me top dollar to guard his parking spot.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

SMOKE & MIRRORS?

By Kelly Crandall – Kurt Busch is now officially a Stewart-Haas Racing driver for the 2014 season in the Haas Automation Chevrolet.

And from the announcement came Gene Haas’ side of the story and he didn’t hide any of the facts. Busch will be the driver of the team’s fourth car, expanding from their current three with Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick, who also joins the organization next season.

Busch is the driver that Haas handpicked for the fourth car, which he will put the funding behind. And it was Haas who went ahead and made this deal happen, putting his confidence in its success.

“I’m in this business to win races. I talked to Kurt Busch over the years. He’s been kind of a favorite of mine,” said Haas during the announcement at the team’s shop Tuesday.

“I see his on track performance. I thought this was a great opportunity to pair him up with Haas Automation, for him to be the driver of my choice. It was an opportunity that I just felt was too great to pass up. I bent a few rules, pushed, had some conversations with Kurt. Everything started to line up. We just needed to figure out how we’re going to do this.”

What Haas wanted, he got. Even though it was met with some resistance from the most recognizable co-owner, Tony Stewart. When Haas set the wheels in motion, back in Indianapolis when he heard that Busch did not have a deal for 2014, he went ahead before consulting anyone else. Then when Stewart broke his leg and was unreachable for a while, Haas continued to move forward with the deal.

“So I kind of did this on my own, probably overstepped my authority a tick there,” he said. “I’m not used to having too many authorities to work with. I’ve been pretty much on my own. I did realize that Tony might be a little bit upset about it. He was a little upset.”

But he says it didn’t matter how Stewart reacted because he was going to make it work anyway.

“I never crossed that bridge. I don’t know. Tony kind of does his own thing; I kind of do my own thing. I have to admit we kind of think alike,” Haas said about what would have happened if Stewart flat out refused the idea.

“I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with that I did. But I think he saw it my way. Either that or get out of the building. He has a lot of power. I have some power, too. I think in a sense it’s a check-and-balance system where the two powers balance each other out.”

Competition director Greg Zipadelli clarified however, that Stewart was never against the fourth car. He was against trying to make this whole deal happen for the upcoming season, which begins in six months. With good reason, the company now has to build an expansion because all four cars currently cannot be built under the same roof.

What’s done is done and SHR will go forward with Haas directing this side of the deal the way he wanted to. Perhaps important to remember that while Stewart gets a lot of the notoriety and credit, he bought in the company that Haas owned, keeping him within his right to make moves.

“I have a lot of respect for Tony. He’s a great driver, past champion. Tony has a lot of respect for me,” said Haas. “I carry a lot of depth with my company. We have the ability. How can we expand to a fourth team, where will the resources come from? I am highly qualified in that area to do this.”

It gives the company an edge, he feels. Along with making the 2014 SHR driver lineup a dream team.

“In retrospect it looks like it’s going to be a great idea,” believes Haas. “If we don’t win any races next year, hey, I’m going to look like an idiot.

“I take gambles, I made a decision, and I think I’m going to be proven right. I think we’re going to win a lot more races than anybody ever thought possible.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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Categories
Editorial NASCAR Cup Series

Stewart-Haas Could Have Explosive But Fun Lineup in 2014

By Kelly Crandall: The bad boys of NASCAR are now all under the same roof.

Starting in 2014 owner-driver Tony Stewart will have Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, along with current teammate Danica Patrick, in his Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Busch signed a multi-year deal on Monday and the announcement was made official on Tuesday afternoon at the SHR shop.

Busch is the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, winning the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup with Jack Roush. A year later however, Busch was left out in the cold when Roush let him go with two races remaining in the season. He landed at Penske Racing in the iconic No. 2 Miller Lite car before being fired in 2011.

He made it a little over half a year with James Finch before heading to Furniture Row Racing where he’s been ever since and has them on the verge of a Chase spot. Along with being ever so close to winning a race. The news comes as two races remain before the Chase field is set and it brings with it both excitement and wonder of what 2014 will be like.

Busch leaves behind Furniture Row and Harvick will be leaving Richard Childress Racing, the only team for whom he’s raced. He wants to rejuvenate his career. And Stewart has made SHR a premiere organization, with he and Ryan Newman, who’s out at season’s end, winning since it’s inception and Stewart bringing home the 2011 championship.

Which doesn’t make it surprising that drivers are now leaving behind big name organizations for Stewart’s. In due time he and co-owner Gene Haas have made theirs one of the best, competing with Hendrick – whom they share a technical alliance with – Gibbs and Childress. And it would be foolish to think that Stewart, Harvick and Busch aren’t going to win and win often.

That’s four championships and 96 wins among them. There’ll be plenty more to come. Of course, everything looks good on paper for the company, just as it did for Hendrick Motorsports when they brought on Mark Martin back in 2009. Three of the four teams succeeded. Even Richard Childress Racing has faced the question of whether four teams is too many, hindering one’s performance.

But at this point, no one is thinking about potential concerns. And if they are, personalities of the SHR drivers should be. There’s a reason they’ve each been labeled a ‘bad boy’ and now that they’re all going to be in the same house, how they’ll coexist might be the most interesting aspect of the deal.

Not just towards their competition, each other. Stewart and Busch have gone at it in the past. In fact, they were bumping fenders at Richmond earlier this year and there’s been a rumor for years that after the two went at it during Speedweeks in 2008, Stewart punched Busch in the NASCAR hauler.

The past might be the past but these two wouldn’t mind wrecking each other for a win. The same goes with Harvick. While he and Stewart have been friends for years, Stewart even driving for Harvick when he owned a Nationwide team, there’s a reason why each have come to be respected around the garage. They’ll do anything to win and fight for what they believe in.

With Busch in the mix, this is bound to be one talented but explosive team. They’re all wheelmen, great for the sport and with their sponsors; fans either love them or love to hate them. And they can be just as fiery behind the wheel as when the microphone has been thrust in their face.

Ever wonder if teammates would wreck each other for a win? This might be the team to answer the question. Those and a whole lot more questions when the new season begins at Daytona in six months.

Yet, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed: the fun factor.

When he was down and almost out, Busch said he wanted to put the fun back in racing. It might be years later than he intended, but with this all-star lineup coming in 2014, the fun is certainly back.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Miller Replaces Childers as 55 Crew Chief at MWR

By Summer Bedgood – Michael Waltrip Racing’s Vice President of Competition Scott Miller will replace Rodney Childers as the crew chief of the No. 55 car for the remainder of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The announcement comes on the heels of the news that Childers would be going to work for SHR next season, most likely as the crew chief for Kevin Harvick when me moves over to the organization next season.

Childers is still under contract with the race team until the end of 2013, though he doesn’t have an official role at the organization any longer.

MWR engineer Billy Scott will work more closely with the teams on race weekends and in setting up the racecars.

Brian Vickers will be the driver in the No. 55 car in all but one race the rest of the year. Michael Waltrip will be the driver at Talladega in October.

 

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NASCAR Cup Series

Unofficially Official, Kurt Busch to SHR

By Summer Bedgood – Kurt Busch will drive for Stewart-Haas Racing next season as he has signed a multiyear contract to drive for the team starting next year. The story was first reported by Lee Spencer of FoxSports.com.

It was reported last week that Busch had been offered a contract to drive for the team next year and had not yet received an offer from his current team of Furniture Row Racing. Though they did make him an offer after SHR, Busch ultimately made the decision to drive for SHR.

Busch is currently 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings and sits just six spots outside of the top 10. Without a win, he is not eligible for a wild card and would need to race his way into the top 10 to be a part of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“This is the situation that every driver wants to be in,” Busch was quoted as saying to FoxSports.com. “To have an owner like Gene Haas calling and asking you to come and race how you know how to race and that is to win. Gene is giving me that opportunity. Having the powerhouse of (Tony) Stewart as a teammate and Kevin Harvick as a teammate makes this all the more intriguing.”

SHR and Busch will make a formal announcement in the form of a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

 

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Edwards Finds Positives in Bristol Performance Despite Engine Failure

By Kelly Crandall – Only once before has Carl Edwards come out and said that he was going to win a race. Then again, after crashing five different times during Speedweeks at Daytona in February, no one could blame Edwards for keeping some optimism.

Saturday night at Bristol however, Edwards again told his team they were going to win. This time while sitting in the garage after his engine expired 387 laps into the event. He had led 119 laps and was the class of the Irwin Tools Night Race. It was Edwards, and Roush Fenway’s, first DNF of the season.

“Alright guys, listen: That was a badass race car. We’re going to go kick their butts at Atlanta and Richmond. You guys did great. Good job Jimmy,” Edwards radioed the team after being told by crew chief Jimmy Fennig they were done for the night.

They finished 39th with a car that most likely would have challenged for the win. Edwards was in firm control of the first half of the race, putting his No. 99 Fastenal Ford anywhere on the racetrack and making the line work. When the engine started to sputter he was leading and when the race restarted from a separate incident, it went down a cylinder before letting go as Edwards headed for the garage.

“We had a great car, probably the best car we’ve had in a long time,” Edwards said. “The pit crew was great. Our strategy was good. The restarts were great. The engine ran great until it blew up, so if we run like that the rest of the year it’s gonna be awesome.

“We’re gonna be good. We’re in a position right now we said we’d go for it. I’m sure that’s what Doug Yates and the guys did. They probably just made the most power they could, but it’s hard. I feel like we were in control of that race. We were gonna win that one.”

He remains third in points coming out of Bristol. Two races, Atlanta and Richmond, are ahead before the Chase field is set. Edwards is not yet locked in, but has a comfortable 87 point cushion on 11th place in the standings. His February Phoenix win seemingly a lifetime ago.

The way the team has been running however, Edwards is primed for a Chase run. The last few weeks unfortunately, different issues have taken Edwards out of contention to add bonus points and wins. Saturday night a tough loss for a car that might have been unbeatable, but not unbreakable.

“I didn’t have any warning. I’ve just got to thank all the guys. That’s the most fun I’ve had in a race car in a long time,” a positive Edwards said.

“This is what we needed, a race like this – with the engine aside – I think we were the dominant car here tonight. We’ve got some good races coming up.”

This upcoming weekend at Atlanta is another strong track for Edwards; he swept the races there in 2005 for his first career wins. He has three career wins at the speedway.

 

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NASCAR Cup Series

KURT BUSCH BREAKS STRIDE FOR CHASE HOPES

By Matt Weaver (BRISTOL, Tenn.) — Kurt Busch’s playoff chances took a major hit on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway as the 2004 Sprint Cup champion had several problems and finished 31st — 26 laps down.

Busch began the day on the outside pole and quickly took the lead on lap 23 but it was downhill shortly afterwards.

Busch surrendered the top spot on lap 77, giving the lead to Carl Edwards once a vibration sent him to pit road under green flag conditions. His crew discovered a loose tire but matters worsened for the 78 team when Busch was caught speeding down pit road.

The vibrations continued and Busch was forced behind the wall a few laps later. He returned and maintained competitive speed and gained 10 spots but could not pick up the much-needed first win for Furniture Row Racing this season.

“Yeah I guess we had a right-rear hub fail where the studs pulled through or they weren’t tightened or assembled,” Busch said after the race. “I don’t know just a right-rear hub failure. Now we have to go back and diagnosis that.

“When you are 20 laps down there is nothing you can do. We just rode around and we are down, but we are not out. I guess at the end of the race we gained a bunch of points back with guys having trouble. My thoughts all through the race were we just have to go to Atlanta and Richmond and win them both.”

Busch entered the race ninth in the standings, without a win and fell to 12th and six points out of the top-10. He’s had the pace in recent weeks to contend for the Championship but desperately needs to win or find his way back inside the top-10. He has two weeks to do it but finds himself in the middle of Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon, former champions also winless and on the bubble.

“Well we are down, but we are not out,” Busch repeated. “We have two races to go and I heard we are only (six) points out of 10th.”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

The Stories Behind the Story: Bristol

By Matt Weaver (BRISTOL, Tenn.) — Matt Kenseth held off a hard-charging Kasey Kahne in the closing laps of the Irwin Tools Bristol Night Race to win his fifth Sprint Cup race of the season. In typical Bristol fashion, there were several accidents, flared tempers and a dramatic last lap finish.

Bristol Motor Speedway has endured several configuration changes in the past few seasons but it hasn’t altered the base qualities of the racing product.

Three of the hot-topics from another wild Bristol Night Race have been recapped below.

New Bristol just as dicey as old Bristol

“I wish we had the old Bristol back, it’s a lot more fun,” Kevin Harvick said following his accident late on Saturday night. This echoed the statement of several drivers over the weekend as Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski also suggested similar opinions over the course of the weekend.

Sure Bristol is different but has a lot changed?

The most recent Bristol Night Race featured a lot of contact, not much side-by-side racing and a two-team duel that was decided on whether or not the second-place driver would utilize a form of the bump-and-run.

At the end of the night, Kasey Kahne decided against making heavy contact with Matt Kenseth and they finished first and second respectively. In that regards, it’s the same Bristol with the action just taking place up against the wall instead of the bottom of the racing surface.

And that’s far from a bad thing.

Championship picture wide-open

To anyone that thought Jimmie Johnson would simply run away with the championship once the Chase begins should look again. The five-time champion’s once historic lead is down to 18 points over Clint Bowyer with just two races remaining in the regular season.

While none of this will matter once the playoffs begin, this serves as a reminder that momentum and the championship picture can change in an instance. And as Johnson has struggled, expected Chase rivals Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth are hitting their collective strides.

The Chase is shaping up to be a dogfight and any number of contenders could catch fire en route to the championship. The NASCAR community has seen the Cup won in several ways too.

Johnson has done it both on season-long consistency and via late season surges in 2007 and 2010. Tony Stewart even famous said he didn’t even deserve to be in the Chase before going on a historic five-win run in 2011. Even Brad Keselowski found his own unique way to win, capitalizing on Johnson’s mistakes to take the title last season.

So ultimately, you can’t count anyone out of and you can’t necessarily call Johnson the title favorite. There are just too many other variables. And with 12 races remaining, a legitimate case could be made that anyone in the top-15 could find their way towards championship glory.

Chase bubble intensifies

While many of those already in the top-10 can start to plan for the Chase, Bristol did not clarify the predicaments for those on the playoff bubble. Joey Logano occupies the 10th spot and has a win to fall back on but he has three drivers without a win directly behind him clawing to get inside the top-10.

Former champion Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon are all winless and sit 11th-13th in the standings and are all within 11 points the top-10.

A poor final restart cost Gordon five spots and just as many points but his track record at Atlanta and Richmond (the final two stops of the regular season should have the other ‘bubble boys’ worried. Gordon rallied to make the Chase last year and did it on a pair of second place finishes at both tracks. It wouldn’t be unheard of to see him win a race either.

Keselowski is capable of winning races en masse like last season and Busch still hasn’t found the luck to match his speed. If the two of them start running at max potential they could also be factors nearing the Chase.

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