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NASCAR Cup Series

Team Penske Implements Cup Crew Chief Swap

Beginning with the newly titled NASCAR Cup Series and a complete schedule remodeling, the upcoming 2020 season is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and divisive yet. Adding to the plethora of changes coming to NASCAR’s premier series, Team Penske just announced it will be implementing a full crew chief swap amongst it’s three drivers – just one month away from the Daytona 500.

This shakeup in the Penske stable does come as a surprise for series veterans, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, as both drivers have been with their crew chiefs since joining the famed team run by Roger Penske. The two drivers have produced much success over their tenure with their respected pairings of Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon (including championships), but looking more in-depth, the bombshell decision makes sense.

The swap doesn’t particularly target needed results in the No. 2 and No. 22 camps, but in the growth and development of Ryan Blaney. Since entering full-time competition in the Cup Series in 2016, the highly touted racing prodigy has yet to progress into the great potential he brings to the table.

Blaney – who had been paired with Jeremy Bullins in 2012 when he joined Team Penske in the NASCAR Xfinity Series  – has only found victory lane three times in the last three season. It’s not to say the driver of the No. 12 has not had moderate success; he just hasn’t produced as well as some of the other young talents in the Cup Series.

With all of this in mind, the swap should be a win for all drivers involved. Blaney will be inheriting an experienced, championship winning crew chief, as Keselowski and Logano will be gifted with a fresh change in scenery to build off of the successes they’ve had in their time at Team Penske.

Matthew T. Thacker

Brad Keselowski & Jeremy Bullins

Let’s begin with the pairing that makes the most sense – Keselowski and Bullins. Bullins makes the jump from the No. 12 team and will now sit atop the pit box of the 2012 Cup Series Champion. The new duo has a history together (and a successful one). From 2012-14, Bullins was at the helm for the Michigan-native for 47 races in the Xfinity Series and the two found victory 14 times.

Keselowski and Wolfe were one of the most dominant forces in the garage area in terms of wins, but one championship and only one additional title-bid over the last eight seasons is not the most desirable. While it couldn’t have hurt to keep the long-standing duo in-tact, the undeniable talents of the 35 year-old driver blended with the past experience of Bullins should add a little more competitive edge to the No. 2 team.

One driving factor for this new pairing is Keselowski’s inability to put together a full season, as of late. The driver of the No. 2 has yet to advance past the Round of 8 since the sport implemented it’s most recent Playoff format. Out of Bullins’ three wins with Blaney, two of them came during the post season.

While Bullins only has three Cup wins to his resume, since joining the Penske organization in 2012, he’s been the crew chief for 10 different drivers and produced 21 additional wins in that span.

Nigel Kinrade

Joey Logano & Paul Wolfe

This is the swap that should have every team on edge in the Cup Series. The 2018 Series Champion will now team up with 2012 Championship winning crew chief, Paul Wolfe. At age 29, Logano is about to enter his prime as an athlete and he already has 23 wins. Wolfe is the winningest crew chief amongst the three being moved around the  organization with 29 victories in the last nine years.

While the new tandem doesn’t have any experience working together, a champion entering his prime mixed with one of the greatest minds in the sport should bode well for the No. 22 team. Over the last three years, the Connecticut-native drove his way to six wins, one title and 64 top-10s (the most out of the three Penske drivers). In that same span, Wolfe guided Keselowski to nine wins and 40 top-fives (the most out of trio of athletes).

The most compelling argument for this pairing can be found in second half successes for both parties. Historically, Keselowski and Wolfe produced most of their success in the early stages of the season and once making it to the Playoffs, found difficulty in advancing past the Round of 8. Logano on the other hand, typically hits his stride mid-way through the season and is often a contender to make it to the Final 4.

It should also be noted that when Wolfe won the championship in 2012, his driver was 28 years old – just one year younger than the driver he is inheriting. This could be a deadly match in 2020 and beyond, all eyes will be on the No. 22 team to be a contender year-round.

Rusty Jarrett

Ryan Blaney & Todd Gordon

When dealing with the growth and development of any athlete, experience is key. With Gordon making the transition from the No.22 team to the No. 12 team, the 26 year-old will indeed be presented with tons of experience. Gordon has been a presence in NASCAR since 2005 when he began his stint as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series. He made the jump to Team Penske in 2011 when he worked alongside series veterans Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish Jr.

Gordon was able to guide his drivers to 28 NASCAR sanctioned wins and one series title, all with Team Penske. When him and Logano first teamed up in 2013, they found success immediately. In fact, the pair did not have a winless season in their seven year history and in that time compiled the most top-fives and top-10s for Team Penske, in addition to the organization’s most recent championship.

Gordon now finds himself in an all too familiar position while leading the No. 12 team. Much like Logano in 2013, Blaney is a hot, young talent with all eyes on him every week. While he couldn’t do much in the No. 20 car at Joe Gibbs Racing, once Logano signed with Roger Penske and worked alongside Gordon, things started clicking for the driver of the No. 22; now he is consistently one of the best drivers in the field. Mr. Penske and Gordon could be seeking that same magic that came to fruition with Logano.

This crew chief swap should spell success for all teams involved at Team Penske. Whether it be fine-tuning production that has been in the organization, or cracking untapped potential for a young driver, this could be the team to watch for in 2020. Every year, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske are the strongest teams once the season begins at Daytona International Speedway. However, the Ford-led group typically trails off about halfway through the season. Could this be the shakeup that Team Penske needs to compete year-round with Joe Gibbs Racing?

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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Kurt Busch beats out younger brother in overtime at Kentucky

Denied victory at Daytona by an inopportune pit call last Sunday, Kurt Busch drove like lightning in a two-lap overtime dash to the finish to win Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

Swapping sheet metal with brother Kyle Busch as the siblings battled for the victory throughout the overtime, Busch collected his first victory of the season in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion won for the first time at Kentucky and the 31st time in his career.

Kurt Busch beat his brother to the finish line by .076 seconds, the closest margin of victory at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway this season. It was also the first Cup triumph for a Chevrolet at Kentucky, which began hosting races in NASCAR’s premier series in 2011. It was also the first victory for Busch’s crew chief, Matt McCall.

“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” Busch exulted after climbing from his car on the frontstretch. “I’m proud he (Kyle) gave me a little room on the outside. He could have clobbered us against the wall, and he probably would have got it.”

Busch was running fourth, nine seconds behind then-leader Joey Logano, when Bubba Wallace spun in Turn 2 with six laps left in regulation. Logano, third-place Erik Jones, the Busch brothers and Denny Hamlin stayed out on older tires for the overtime, with Kurt Busch having fresher rubber on his left side, thanks to a four-tire pit stop under green on Lap 213 of a scheduled 267.

That caution helped balance the scales of fortune. Last Sunday at Daytona, Busch pitted from the lead when NASCAR gave the one-lap-to-go signal, only to have a lightning bolt within the eight-mile range return the race to caution. After rain hit the track, Justin Haley, who stayed out, got the victory.

The misfortune at Daytona, made Busch relish his Kentucky win all the more.

“What an awesome run,” Busch said. “Whatever last week was, we got the ‘W’ now! That was epic. I was hopeful that we would get a shot, just one more restart. We got that yellow … with my little brother — it’s the best guy in the world to go race against.”

For the first time, Kurt beat his younger brother in a 1-2 finish.

“I’m glad it was a thriller,” Kyle Busch said. “Just unfortunately we were on the wrong end of the deal for everybody at M&M’s and Toyota, Interstate Batteries, all the folks that get us to where we’re at.

“But congratulations to Kurt and Chip and (sponsor) Monster and all the guys over there. It’s obviously cool to put on great races and great finishes, and (I’ve) been a part of a lot of them and not very many — in fact none with my brother like that, so that was a first. No hard feelings, and we move on.”

In a one-year deal with Ganassi, Kurt Busch has been weighing his future in the sport. Saturday’s win may influence his decision.

“I thought this year might be my last, but we’re having so much fun, we’ll have to see how things go,” he said.

Jones finished third, followed by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who pitted for tires before the overtime. Hamlin held fifth, putting three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the top five.

Clint Bowyer, Logano, polesitter Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher completed the top 10.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Ganassi Shows Strength At Atlanta

Could 2019 be the year of improvement for Chip Ganassi Racing?

Well, if the team continues to perform as they did during Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, that may be the case, as their drivers, Kurt Busch, and Kyle Larson, both turned out solid results.

Busch, who started the race eighth, placed third, the best finish for the No. 1 team since the Charlotte ROVAL (second) last October, and only their 12th since the end of the 2015 season. This accomplishment is exactly what Ganassi could’ve hoped for when he hired the 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion in December in quick fashion.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

Not to forget that the run is a big momentum boost for Busch, who shows his ability since leaving Stewart-Haas Racing. While CGR hasn’t been at the level of SHR, the early success could pave the way to continue to establish themselves as a bigger threat moving forward into the season.

Then there is Larson, whose 12th place finish does not represent the kind of day he had.

For the majority of the event, the 26-year-old proved to the class of the field, leading a race-high 142 laps before a costly speeding penalty put him in a hole he couldn’t get out of.

Now the lack of capitalization on such a dominant day will be understandably frustrating for the team, but this run is ultimately a positive.

Let’s make it clear; the No. 42 was not a dominant force last year. While there were some high moments, this team’s season was ultimately forgettable, with zero wins, and an early playoff exit, a disappointment magnified by their four victories in 2017.

However, if Larson and company can continue to be a force, week in and out, and avoid the mistakes that keep them from solidifying their results, they could very well be on their way to another successful year.

The point being, Atlanta proved CGR can hang with the top teams of the sport. Now even if they are unable to build on this in the future, after all the disappointment and changes to the team recently, a day like this is one they needed to start this year. The progression of this organization will be something to watch in the coming weeks as the season continues on in its early stages.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Hiring Kurt Busch Was The Right Move For Ganassi

On Tuesday, Kurt Busch finally announced his plans to move to Chip Ganassi Racing to take over the No. 1 Chevrolet. It was also confirmed that he will be bringing his longtime sponsor, Monster Energy, with him to his new team.

The move comes after a disappointing season for the No. 1 team, who missed the playoffs for the second time in five years, had only two top-five finishes, and they were held winless for the fifth consecutive campaign.

Meanwhile, Busch comes from Stewart-Haas Racing, where he finished the 2018 season seventh in points with one win, six top-five’s, and 22 top-10’s.

While it remains to be seen if this will be a good move for Busch, this was the exact decision that Ganassi needed to make.

Why?

Just look at Busch’s track record. He started at Roush-Fenway Racing, won them another Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Then, he replaced a retiring Rusty Wallace at Team Penske with success, winning each season with the team. A few years later, he brought a Furniture Row Racing team that was nowhere as competitive as they have the past couple of seasons, to the playoffs for the first time. After that, he was assigned to a brand new entry for Stewart-Haas Racing, whom he won a Daytona 500 with and made the postseason each season he was there. Not to forget, Busch even came close to bringing an underfunded Phoenix Racing to victory lane at the sport’s level.

Do you see the trend here? Everywhere the 2004 champion as went he has proven to be a valuable asset to a team, which is exactly what the No. 1 team needs.

It could be even argued that this change could be necessary for the entirety of the CGR organization. After all, the lack of success was not just with one. Kyle Larson, who drives the No. 42 for Ganassi, had won four times in 2017, but did not reach victory lane once last season. The problems did not stop there, as it was clear throughout the year that this organization was not on the same level as the top teams in the sport.

With the addition of Busch’s veteran experience through his long and storied career, along with his shown ability and skill, this move may prove to be exactly what this team needs to reassert themselves with NASCAR’s best.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kurt Busch Sets Eye on Lone Star State

The 2018 season has been an adventure for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), especially when it comes to performance. All four SHR cars have had a tour of victory lane, and most importantly they all made it to the round of eight of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Unfortunately, at this point of the season, only three SHR cars are eligible to clinch a spot to the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway as Joey Logano punched his ticket last weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Texas Motor Speedway could not come at a better time for the SHR gang. Three of their cars finished in the top-10 back in the spring, ultimately giving Kurt Busch hope entering the AAA 500.

After a solid performance at Martinsville where he started and finished sixth, Busch and his fellow drivers below the cut-off line will most likely need a win in other to advance to the final round.

As we head to lone star state, Busch has three poles and is looking for a second victory.

“Texas is a good track for us and a good market,” said Busch. “I always enjoy coming out to Texas. Hopefully, the weather will look perfect for this weekend. It’s a great track and a big weekend for us as we have State Water Heaters on our car.”

Busch tasted victory at Texas back in 2009, when he raced for Team Penske. The track has changed much since he last won there, being reconfigured in 2016 with one of its significant changes being the decrease in banking in turns one and two.

The modifications have not slowed Busch down. In the fall race of 2017, he broke the qualifying record speed.

“It was an incredible qualifying run last year, and it set a track record,” said Busch. “The feel of the tire and the asphalt were better in the fall than the spring. And, what I saw last year during the playoff race at Texas was a textbook pass for the lead with Kevin Harvick passing (Martin) Truex (Jr.) going into turn one.”

As the new asphalt ages, we should start to see more competitive racing. Last season’s fall race concluded with a pass for the lead with under 10 laps to go and with high stakes going into this weekend don’t be surprised to see something similar.

Busch certainly hopes he can go into Phoenix with another win and a berth for the final four in Miami. With rumors spurring around the garage that Busch has received contract offers from various teams for 2019, capturing a victory at Texas may not only land him a shot to contend for his second championship but secure a ride for next season.

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

When you have friends and fast cars, you can make everything easy for you and your teammates. Just ask Stewart-Haas Racing.

Through the first two stages of the 1000Bulbs.com 500, their four cars controlled the event, taking the top-four spots as they got in line after each of the restarts, and pulled away. With having been used to chaos and big packs over the past couple of years, it was a weird dynamic to see the tides shift to looking so simple for them. Teams have been dominated together before – just look at Team Penske who had won six of the last right races at Talladega Superspeedway. However, they still had to contend equally against other drivers to score their victories.

The dynamic made for an interesting storyline and is something that will be talked about for the days to come. In return, though, the racing essentially turned boring. Seeing a whole string of cars follow each other around the 2.66 mile oval without much passing could easily put any fan watching to sleep. But, we’ve seen this before as drivers will ride and wait till the end before going crazy so everybody tried to hang in there.

If it wasn’t for a late-race incident by Jamie McMurray having a flat tire, or D.J. Kennington‘s team watching a tire roll out into the middle of the infield grass for a debris caution, it was turning essentially into a yawn fest with the only question remaining whether the four Stewart-Haas Racing had enough fuel to reach the end.

The last few green flag runs produced some more exciting action as teams tried to form runs, even an impressive attempt by Team Penske, but it was more of the same. The only saving grace to late-race drama was Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick running out of gas going into the overtime finish, leaving Aric Almirola to fend off the field.

Redemption would be the perfect word for Almirola. Sometimes you can say that drivers lucked into these wins, but he has come close a couple of times throughout the season, most recently at Dover International Speedway last weekend. He also got wrecked out of the lead at the Daytona 500 by Austin Dillon

Busch, meanwhile, was left disappointed and understandably so as he appeared poised to snag the victory and lock himself into the next round. His frustration came through in his post-race comments.

“There were two human element calls there at the end,” he said. “I don’t know why we ran an extra lap under yellow and why there wasn’t the yellow for a dispatch of an ambulance.”

In past events, when a wreck has happened on the last lap, NASCAR has gone on the side of caution and called a yellow to get the drivers involved attention as soon as possible. This has brought forth criticism from the fans in wanting to see a green-flag finish.Therefore, when Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott wrecked during overtime on Sunday, the sanctioning body did not drop the yellow flag as they believed all drivers were okay. 

It’s certainly a double-edged sword that they are faced as sometimes a wreck may not look significant enough, but may cause more pain than realized for someone. However, you also want to appease the fans by making sure to deliver what they came for. It will be an argument that will always have two sides, without a decision that’s more right than the other. However, it is worth saying that safety of the drivers should always come first and hopefully that is being focused on by the sanctioning body when making the call. 

The restrictor plate track was expected to shake up the Round of 8 in the playoffs, and it has done that.

Who would’ve expected Brad Keselowski to be the first driver on the outside right now? Jason Schultz explains how that came to be perfectly, and that can be read by clicking here. 

You also have Martin Truex Jr. as the last driver currently in a position to transfer, 18 points above the cut-off line. After being known as one of THE BIG THREE through the season, he could easily see his championship hopes dashed next weekend after two straight poor finishes.

Each round of the playoffs has been dramatic so far, and hopefully that will hold true for Kansas Speedway despite those above the cut-off line distancing themselves from the rest.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Kurt Busch leads Stewart-Haas sweep in Talladega qualifying

TALLADEGA, Ala. – All four Stewart-Haas Racing cars were amply endowed with speed for Saturday’s knockout qualifying session at Talladega Superspeedway.

Kurt Busch was just glad he got the pick of the litter.

“Four Stewart-Haas Fords-I’m really happy that I got the fast one,” Busch quipped after winning the pole for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and lead an SHR sweep of the top four starting spots for the second race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 16.

The Busch Pole Award was Busch’s fifth of the season and the 27th of his career. What’s more, his final-round lap at 195.804 mph (48.906 seconds) ended a quest dating to his first race in the Cup series in 2000.

“We’re on the pole!” Busch said. “This is my first restrictor-plate pole ever. Ever! It took me almost 20 years. I got one!”

Busch beat teammate Clint Bowyer (195.301 mph) for the top starting spot by .126 seconds, a huge margin relative to the rest of the top 12. Kevin Harvick (195.186 mph) qualified third, followed by Aric Almirola (194.571 mph).

“With Stewart-Haas cars 1-2-3-4 at this race in the Playoffs, it really sets the tone,” Busch said. “Now we’ve got to execute on Sunday.”

The time trials, however, were a tale of two organizations, not just one. Behind the four SHR entries were all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers, with last week’s Dover winner, Chase Elliott, leading the way into the fifth starting position. Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman and William Byron were close behind.

“With all four guys in the top-12, it’s a strong showing for us,” said Byron, whose lap time of 49.420 seconds (193.768 mph) was identical to Bowman’s. “That should be good for Sunday. Qualifying doesn’t reflect totally on how things will shake out Sunday and how you are going to race. But it should be fine.

“With the four of us together at the start, we have an opportunity to stay in front of some of the possible situations, but you don’t control much out there, and everything gets so shuffled during the race, it’s hard to know. But I feel good about where we are right now. We’ll see what happens.”

All four SHR drivers are competing for the series championship. Elliott and Bowman are still title contenders for Hendrick.

Playoff driver Kyle Busch qualified ninth in the fastest Toyota, with reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. claiming the 11th starting position.

“You always want to make the second round, and you hope you can do a little better,” said Truex, who has never won a restrictor-plate race. “We thought we picked up some speed, and we gained one spot, beat the 17 (12th place qualifier Ricky Stenhouse Jr.).

“Better than none, and we’ll go get them tomorrow.”

The remaining four Playoff drivers qualified as follows: Brad Keselowski 18th, Ryan Blaney 19th, Joey Logano 20th and Kyle Larson 34th.

With the Playoff field set to be cut from 12 drivers to eight on Oct. 21 at Kansas Speedway, Bowyer and Almirola currently are tied for ninth in the standings, 10 points below the cut line.

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Simulator Prep Helps Kurt Busch Secure Charlotte Road Course Pole

CONCORD, N.C. – Kurt Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford crashed the Chevrolet party at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course on Friday, winning the pole for a race in which the word “crash” could be commonplace.

Running late in the final round, Busch toured the 2.28-mile, 17-corner course in 76.805 seconds (106.868 mph) to edge road course ace AJ Allmendinger (76.846 seconds at 106.811 mph) for the top starting spot in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

On a track that will host its first NASCAR events this weekend, Busch earned his fourth Busch Pole Award of the season and the 26th of his career, after spending time on the Ford simulator preparing for the debut race.

“This is really special to win any inaugural race or pole,” Busch said. “To have this little trophy next to me means a lot. It brings me back to my past, when you go into a new event and you’re a rookie, you have to execute with fundamentals and an open mind.

“The way our team on the 41 car approached this weekend was to make sure that we had all bases covered, with front cambers, rear shocks-the setup in general and all those little things. Behind the scenes, I spent over two days at the Ford simulator, working on the ROVAL, making sure my shift points were proper, braking zones…

“When you have such good technology available to you, it’s a matter of utilizing it. I turned 40 this year, and here I am on the simulator, acting like it’s a video game. You have to do those things, and I’m really happy that it panned out today.”

Led by Allmendinger, Chevrolets claimed the next five starting spots and eight of the top 12. Alex Bowman (106.800 mph) qualified third, followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott (106.596 mph). Both drivers are in vulnerable positions entering the Round of 16 cutoff race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Playoff drivers Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson earned the fifth and sixth spots on the grid for what should prove an action-packed race, based on a continuous succession of incidents in opening practice.

“We’re going to see two races, I think,” said Allmendinger, who said he probably could have nit-picked his final-round lap and found an extra half second, provided he stayed mistake-free. “You’re either going to see everybody get so cautious because of all the accidents in practice, and people are on the cutoff line for the Playoffs; or we’re race car drivers, and we’re not very smart and we just go out there and get crazy and tear up a lot of stuff.

“Either one could happen, and I think it’ll probably be the second.”

Playoff drivers Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney qualified seventh and ninth, respectively in Fords, with Erik Jones taking the 12th starting position in the only Toyota in the top 12.

Chevrolet driver Chis Buescher qualified 10th, followed by Daniel Hemric, who was announced on Friday as the full-time driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, starting in 2019. Hemric is driving the No. 8 RCR Chevy for his second Cup start this weekend.

None of NASCAR’s Big 3 advanced to the final round. Martin Truex Jr. claimed the 13th starting spot, missing the final 12 by .040 seconds. Kyle Busch will start 14th and fellow seven-time winner Kevin Harvick 19th.

Joey Logano earned the 15th spot, with fellow Playoff drivers Aric Almirola 20th, Austin Dillon 24th, Brad Keselowski 25th and Denny Hamlin 27th.

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Late Restarts Propel Kurt Busch to Victory in Wild Bristol Race

BRISTOL, Tenn. – “Old guys rule!” screamed 40-year-old Kurt Busch after he took the checkered flag in an action-filled Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch’s first victory since the 2017 Daytona 500 overshadowed a miraculous drive by brother Kyle Busch, whose car came back to life after a Lap 2 wreck like a relentless horror movie villain.

Starting on the inside lane, Busch grabbed the lead from Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer on a Lap 478 restart, after Brad Keselowski’s flat-tire-induced spin caused the sixth caution of the night.

“It was up to Bowyer to choose the lane,” Busch said. “He chose the outside, and we got a perfect start on the inside. I dug it perfect right into Turn 1 and 2, and the spotter said, ‘Take it. Take it.’ Which meant go to the wall on exit, and I didn’t even bother to look in the mirror.

“He said, ‘Take it,’ and when you trust your team to give you the right stuff setup-wise, you’ve got to trust the spotter the same way. Tony Raines. He’s a racer. That’s why he’s my spotter, and it worked out perfect.”

The driver of the No. 41 Ford survived another restart on Lap 488, with Kyle Larson surging into second place on 30-lap better tires. But even with fresher rubber, Larson couldn’t catch Busch, who crossed the finish line .367 seconds ahead of the runner-up car.

The victory was Busch’s sixth at the .533-mile short track and the 30th of his career, 26th on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series all-time list. The win was the 10th in 24 races for Stewart-Haas. Kurt and Kyle Busch are the first pair of brothers to reach 30 victories each at NASCAR’s highest level.

“It’s awesome to do it at Bristol,” said Busch, whose crew chief, Billy Scott, picked up his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series. “I love this place. We now have won six times here and I have great teams that have always helped me win.”

The victory locked Busch into the Playoff. With insurmountable points margins with two races left, non-winners Larson, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski also clinched Playoff spots.

Chase Elliott ran third, followed by Joey Logano and Erik Jones, as Bowyer slipped to sixth at the finish.

It was Kyle Busch’s amazing run from the back of the field to the top five that provided the most compelling action until his charge to the front met its Waterloo on Lap 481 after side-to-side contact with Chris Buescher’s Chevrolet in a three-wide dance on the backstretch cut Busch’s left-rear tire knocked him out of contention.

“That was just me and this team and never giving up and being able to drive up through the field like that,” Busch said. “This M&M’s Camry was fast, even torn up and wrecked and everything else, it was fast. We had a shot to win the race there, just got to racing with guys three-wide and couldn’t get clear of them and was boxed in by the 11 (Denny Hamlin)…

“We probably finished where we should have, but we had a shot anyways. Congratulations to Kurt (Busch), that’s cool, but he forgot his helmet on the roof and just chunked his helmet.”

Busch’s demise, however, didn’t come early enough for Martin Truex Jr., who was running second to Bowyer on Lap 432 when Kyle Busch clipped him in the middle of the frontstretch. Truex crashed out in 30th place for the second straight Bristol race.

“It’s just Bristol,” said a resigned Truex, who kicked his car in disgust after the wreck. “Trying to get that first short track win. This place has been so hard on us. I mean I can’t even explain it to you how good we’ve run here in the past three or four years, and crap like this every single time. It’s like just one thing after another.

“Sucks that it happened, but at the end of the day, it’s racing at Bristol. I feel like I probably should’ve took the lead there. I probably should’ve bumped the 14 (Bowyer) out of the way just to get the lead and I wouldn’t have been in that position. Sometimes you’re the nice guy and you get knocked out of the way. We’ll just have to race him a little harder next time.”

Bubba Wallace, who made a heroic run to the front in the spring race at Bristol, never had a chance on Saturday night. When Kyle Busch spun off Turn 4 on Lap 2 and blocked the track, he ignited a 15-car pileup on the frontstretch.

Wallace’s No. 43 Chevrolet was damaged beyond repair, ending his race on Lap 3.

“Before my spotter called it, I had run into the back of the No. 47 (AJ Allmendinger),” Wallace said. “But then I got checked-up enough to pull down out line and just kept getting shoved into cars.

“It’s unfortunate. I was super excited to run tonight and see how we stacked up, but fate had other plans.”

Clearly, Kurt Busch was glad that was the case.

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Kurt Busch Follows the Script to New Hampshire Pole

LOUDON, N.H. – Early bird Kurt Busch ran his best lap of the day in the final round of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to earn the top starting spot for Sunday’s Foxwoods 301 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The first driver on the track for decisive Round 3, Busch covered the one-mile distance in 28.511 seconds (133.591 mph) to edge reigning series champion Martin Turex Jr. by .019 seconds. Truex will start from the front row for the seventh time this season.

“I don’t want to second-guess anything, so when the crew chief (Billy Scott) says ‘Go,’ you just go,” said Busch, who won his first Busch Pole Award in 35 races at the Magic Mile, his third of the season and the 25th of his career. “I like the way we made the right changes through each of the rounds, and we stuck to a game plan.

“That’s exactly what you hope to have each time you go to qualifying, where you don’t have to deviate away from the plan you set in place.”

In fact, the three rounds of qualifying for Busch followed a script that had written before the first round began.

“We discussed it, and the call was made back at the hauler before the qualifying session started,” Busch said. “it was almost like a non-discussion. It was ‘This is what’s going to happen in Round 1, this is what’s going to happen in Round 2, and here’s what’s going to happen in Round 3’-and we stuck to our plan.”

Truex felt he lost what could have been a pole-winning run in the first corner.

“I just missed Turn 1 just slightly there in that last run on the first lap, but overall lit was a solid day,” Truex said. “We had a decent practice – a short practice, you know, because we waited a little bit for the VHT (traction compound) to kind of get run in, and we went out there and ran and were probably a little bit off further on balance more than we needed to be at the end of practice.

“So made some changes for qualifying, and the guys did a good job of getting it right and we were close. So couple thousandths, a few inches here or there in a different spot on the race track and might have been able to make it up, but a solid effort for us, and we can go get them on Sunday from second.”

Led by his brother, Kyle Busch, Toyota drivers occupied the top five positions in Round 2, but Kurt Busch broke the monopoly in the round that counted in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Kyle Busch ended up third, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, as Camry drivers claimed positions two through four on the grid.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman earned the eighth starting position in the fastest Chevrolet.

“To come here and qualify a solid top 10 means the car is probably a whole lot better than that, which is a good thing for me come Sunday,” said Bowman, who entered this race weekend with an average starting position at Loudon of 30.8 and previous best qualifying effort of 18th.

With Erik Jones earning the seventh position and Daniel Suarez qualifying ninth, JGR drivers placed all four cars in the top 10. Surprisingly, Busch was the only Stewart Haas driver to make the cut for the 12-driver final round.

The Team Penske Fords of Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski will start fifth and sixth, respectively, on Sunday.