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News

Kurt Busch Edges Keselowski for Busch Pole in Michigan Qualifying

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Clearly, Kurt Busch enjoyed the rush of putting his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford on the pole on Friday at Michigan International Speedway.

“To go 217 (mph) into the corner — just hauling the mail — I love that feeling,” said Busch, who ran his fastest lap of the day at the 2-mile track to earn the top starting spot for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“This one is fun, because I could trust the car, and I knew I needed to go after it hard. Watching all the Fords in practice, I knew we had a good shot at it. The guys tweaked on the tires the right amount. It’s a new compound, left and right side, and we didn’t want to get caught up too much in chasing the tires…

“Now we need to translate that to race speed.”

The Busch Pole Award was Busch’s second of the season, his third at Michigan and the 24th of his career. Covering the distance in 35.405 seconds (203.361 mph), Busch claimed bragging rights in the back yard of the American auto industry by .034 seconds over fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski (203.166 mph).

In fact, with Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualifying fourth through seventh, respectively, Ford drivers earned six of the top seven starting positions for the 15th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event of the season.

Toyota driver Kyle Busch, a four-time winner this season and the series leader, was the only interloper in the top seven after a final-round lap of 203.120 mph, good for the third spot on the grid behind his older brother and Keselowski.

A major adjustment to the No. 2 Team Penske Ford between the second and third rounds gave Keselowski plenty of speed, but he felt he left some of the extra juice on the track in the first and second corners.

“I think we were right there for the pole,” Keselowski said. “I made just a small little mistake in (Turns) 1 and 2 that I wish I could have back. Credit to (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) and the team. They made some good adjustments the last round (to gain more than .2 seconds).

“That’s a pretty big gain. I just didn’t quite get all the gain they made on the car out of it, but we have a good starting spot, and it bodes well for the Miller Lite Ford. Hopefully, we can get a good run Sunday.”

Harvick was fastest in each of the first two rounds but slowed to 202.954 mph in the final.

“To be honest I didn’t really expect everybody to pick up two-tenths,” said Harvick, who has five victories in 14 starts this year. “I thought we had a little bit to just keep from trying to screw up but, in the end, I needed to get a little more. It was still a good qualifying effort, so we’ll just go from there.”

Kyle Larson’s quest for a fourth straight Cup win at Michigan hit a major speed bump, thanks to a tight handling condition that persisted throughout opening practice and continued into the time trials.

“Our car has just been pretty far off, I feel like, all day,” said Larson, who failed to advance from the first round and will start 26th on Sunday. “It’s really tight. I don’t feel like I can turn the wheel very far either. I don’t know why that is.

“But we’ve got some smart people in our race trailer and on our race team that will get it worked out. We’ll get some laps (in Saturday’s practice) and hopefully be better.”

Larson missed out on advancing by just .027 seconds, relegating him to his worst starting spot since he set sail from 38th in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Officials had moved up the start of qualifying by five minutes to 4:05 p.m. ET in hopes of maximizing on-track time against the threat of inclement weather.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Car Chiefs Suspended

Following the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway, three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crew chiefs have been suspended.

The No. 19 Toyota of Daniel Suarez and the No. 14 Ford of Clint Bowyer were both found in violation of rule book, in relation to the rear window support and structures.

For Suarez, his Joe Gibbs Racing team broke sections 20.4.h Body and 20.4.8.1.c Rear Window Support and Structure of the NASCAR Rulebook with not having the rear window flush to the deck lid. For Bowyer, his Stewart-Haas Racing team violated Section 20.4.8.1 Rear Window Support and Structure b. & c which states the “rear window support braces must keep the rear window glass rigid in all directions at all times.”

As a result, their respective crew chiefs Scott Graves (No. 19) and Mike Bugarewicz (No. 14) were fined $50,000, with the car chiefs (Todd Brewer for No. 19, Jerry Cook for No. 14) suspended for the next Cup Series points eligible events. With the Monster Energy All-Star race falling in the middle, both car chiefs are eligible to attend that event. Additionally, both drivers and teams lost 20 regular season driver and owner points. 

“We had a minor part failure due to the heavy loads and track conditions experienced at Dover,” Stewart-Haas Racing’s Greg Zippidelli released in a statement. “It had no competitive impact, and our racecar fit all the templates and passed all the inspections throughout the race weekend, including pre- and post-race.”

This marks the third and fourth penalty in relation to rear window violations, following Kevin Harvick after the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Chase Elliott‘s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway violation. Both teams saw the same penalties as listed above, except Elliott’s crew chief was suspended rather than car chief due to being the team’s second L1 penalty. 

The No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon was found in violation of Section 20.4.3.a&.d of the rulebook due to the splitter not meeting specifications. As a result, crew chief Justin Alexander was fined $25,000, with car chief Greg Ebert suspended for the next Cup points event. 

Lastly, the No. 41 Ford of Kurt Busch had lug nuts not properly installed, resulting in a $10,000 fine for crew chief Billy Scott.

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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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News

Kurt Busch to Start on Pole after Lightning Halts Texas Qualifying

FORT WORTH, Texas – Right off the truck, Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Ford was as fast as greased lightning.

That’s a good thing, because Busch’s first attempt in knockout qualifying put the No. 41 on the pole position for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – when the threat of lightning in the area halted time trials after the completion of the first round.

Busch turned a lap in 27.360 seconds (197.368 mph) in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford at the 1.5-mile track, edging teammate Kevin Harvick (197.116 mph) by .035 seconds. With Martinsville winner Clint Bowyer taking the third qualifying spot, Stewart-Haas will start 1-2-3 in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race for the first time in the organization’s history.

The track record holder at TMS with a lap at 200.915 mph last November, Busch claimed his third Busch Pole Award at the track, his first of the season and the 23rd of his career.

With afternoon storms threatening to shorten qualifying, Busch and his team made a concerted effort to put down a strong lap in the first round.

“You’ve got to play all three rounds as smart as you can,” Busch said. “And so we went a little bit aggressive on that first round, and it paid off. I think in Round 2 we would have picked up even more speed, and then Round 3, that would have been where we would have needed to make a big gamble to see if we could maintain that pace.

“But I’m glad that we had the pace right off the truck, thanks to (crew chief) Billy Scott, Doug Yates and the engine department – those guys are building some good steam… It’s really neat to have our Fords at Stewart-Haas hauling the mail like this. When you go to attack the track and really stand on the gas hard, it’s a great feeling to know that it’s going to stick.”

Harvick was just a tick off Busch’s pole speed.

“We kept it in the family, and that’s a good thing for Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Harvick, a three-time winner already this season. “And maybe we can continue the trend of running well for the rest of the weekend.”

Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney qualified fourth, giving Ford drivers the top four starting spots for the season’s seventh race. Denny Hamlin will start fifth on the grid, next to reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr.

Joey Logano, series points leader Kyle Busch, seven-time Texas winner Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson claimed the seventh through 10th starting positions, respectively.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Like a typical intermediate track, a spread-out field and track position being critical became everything in the Pennzoil 400 on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as most of the good passing came on restarts. Needless to say, you did not miss much if you failed to watch.

At the top of the leaderboard, Kevin Harvick paced 214 of the 267 laps en route to a dominating victory for the second week in a row. Just like last week, nobody had anything for him. Now going to Phoenix Raceway, where he has won eight times, visions of a repeat of Martin Truex Jr.‘s performance have resurfaced.

There is irony in Harvick’s performance, though, as it was believed the Fords were behind the Toyotas at the end of last season. However, the beginning of the year shows a different story. If you look behind the No. 4 Ford, the competition is even with each manufacture featuring a couple representatives in the top-10 consistently. So far, things are on course.

The unfortunate factor is three of the drivers who needed a turn around, both William Byron and Darrell Wallace Jr. placed outside of the top-20 once again. Jimmie Johnson began his turnaround, scoring a 12th-place finish after having to start last due to failing technical inspection three times. His success doesn’t mean Hendrick Motorsports is out of the woods yet, as he was the only driver from the organization in the top-15. 

The race also didn’t feature much drama either, as there were only a couple incidents of significance. Jamie McMurray blew a right front tire, followed by Kurt Busch getting loose, and collecting Chase Elliott. For both Busch and Elliott, it marks their second wreck in three races this season. Although most people tend to not look at the points standings until a couple months into the year, it’s certainly not helping either of their cases. The good news is they both have ran up front, and if they can put it together one week and snag a win, these troubles will be all forgotten. 

Denny Hamlin also wrote another page in his favorite book, speeding on pit road en route to finishing 17th. Hopefully it’s not the beginning of a complete re-write as a year ago, he managed to get caught 11 times. 

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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

New Crew Chiefs for Busch, Almirola

With the driver line-up secured at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team took the next step in announcing the crew chiefs. Needless to say, there’s been some changes made there, too.

“Bigger, Better, Faster, Lighter is what we strive for in the machining industry and it’s what we strive for in motorsports. These new appointments seamlessly marry our engineering expertise with our collective racing experience,” co-owner Gene Haas said.

Once again, Rodney Childers will be the crew chief for Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Ford Fusion for the fifth year in a row. The pair have been won 14 races, and a championship during this time.

The No. 10 driven by Aric Almirola will have John Klausmeier calling the shots in 2018. Klausmeier has been with SHR since 2009, serving a race engineer. He led Kurt Busch to victory at Pocono Raceway in June 2016 when he served as the interim crew chief. 

Mike Bugarewicz will remain with Clint Bowyer for a second straight season, as he enters his third year on the pit box. Last year, the pair scored three runner-ups together.

Busch and the No. 41 will be led by Billy Scott. Scott has been with SHR since 2016, crew chiefing for Danica Patrick the past two years. Tony Gibson, who called the shots for Busch in 2016, will remain with the team in an “unnamed capacity.” 

“We have some of the finest talent in the industry and we’re confident in the leadership of each of our teams as we pursue wins and a championship in 2018,” said Stewart, co-owner of SHR with Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation. “Obviously, we’re very happy to have Kurt Busch back with SHR and I’m proud to have Aric Almirola as a part of our race team. He’s someone I’ve always been impressed with since we were teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, and John Klausmeier is more than ready to be his crew chief. The partnership between Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers is the best in the garage, and after a bunch of strong runs and second-place finishes, I think Clint Bowyer and Mike Bugarewicz are ready for a breakout year. We’re in a really good place with each of our race teams.”

Vice President of Competition Greg Zipadelli echoed the boss’ sentiments, stating the shift is meant to maximize their strengths while addressing areas that need improvement. 

“We feel this lineup gives us our best chance to succeed every time we bring our Ford Fusions to the racetrack,” Zipadelli added. “This is a very technical sport, but it’s the people who make it go, and we’ve got some of the best people in the business.”

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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

Kurt Busch Remains with Stewart-Haas Racing

Despite speculation over the past several months, Kurt Busch has signed a contract to stay with Stewart-Haas Racing, and once again see his No. 41 Ford sponsored by Monster Energy.

The 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion took to twitter on Tuesday to release a statement, stating he was glad to remain with his favorite manufacture.

 

Busch has spent the past four seasons at Stewart-Haas Racing, placing 14th in the year-end standings in 2017 after winning the season opening Daytona 500.

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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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News

Kurt Busch Takes Texas Pole in Record Time

FORT WORTH, Tex. – A driver without a signed contract for 2018 won the pole position for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a record lap – giving a timely birthday present to his crew chief.

In the final round of Friday’s knockout qualifying session, Kurt Busch covered the 1.5-mile distance in 26.877 seconds (200.915 mph) to top the previous record lap of 200.111 mph posted by Tony Stewart in 2014.

In a third round that saw five drivers exceed Stewart’s record, Busch set the fastest qualifying lap ever recorded on a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway. The Coors Light Pole Award was Busch’s first of the season, second at Texas and the 22nd of his career.

Busch edged Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs driver Denny Hamlin (200.617 mph) by .040 seconds. Playoff driver Kevin Harvick (200.378 mph) will start third, followed by Erik Jones (200.326 mph) and Playoff driver Kyle Busch (200.252 mph).

“It’s something when you set a new qualifying record, and it’s above 200 mph on the scoring pylon,” Busch said. “I told a couple buddies that we were going to go above 200 mph today – and that’s average speed.

“When you have a car that goes that fast, it comes with a lot of hard work from (crew chief) Tony Gibson and the guys on this No. 41 car. It’s neat to have that feeling – you drive down into the corner and just mat the gas and have it stick.”

Busch had been fighting tight handling conditions in the final rounds of time trials this season. For the final round Busch asked Gibson, who turned 53 on Friday, to do everything he could to free up the chassis.

“We’ve struggled a little bit in the third round this year and this time around I said, ‘Throw everything at it.'”

Hamlin, who comes to Texas fresh from controversy at Martinsville, where he wrecked then-leader Chase Elliott with four laps left in last Sunday’s race, held the top starting spot until Busch made his run late in the final round.

“I thought it would definitely have a chance,” Hamlin said of his lap. “We improved with our time each round, and we were top five each round, as well. So I definitely thought once I ran it, it was going to be very close.

“Some of the guys that were up front, we dodged those bullets early in the third round, but the 41 (Busch) was the last one that I knew could give us trouble, and they got us right there off of Turn 4.”

Series leader Martin Truex Jr. qualified seventh, followed by fellow Playoff drivers Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.

Busch doesn’t have a contract for next season, though Stewart-Haas Racing has expressed a desire to re-sign him.

“No updates from me,” Busch said in response to a question about his 2018 status. “We’re in negotiations. Days like today help.”

Elliott, eighth in the series standings, will start deep in the field on Sunday, along with six other drivers whose cars failed to clear inspection in time to make a run in the first round of qualifying. Elliott is the only Playoff driver who failed to advance to the second round of knockout time trials.

The other seven Playoff drivers also advanced to the final round, ensuring Elliott will start the race in a Texas-sized hole as he tries to claw his way into the top four by the end of next Sunday’s race in Phoenix.

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Commentary

Stage Points Will Heighten Intensity of Elimination Races

The first round of eliminations in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will showcase another element of stage racing in Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Many must win-scenarios have played out in the post-season over the last three years. Kevin Harvick notably won at Phoenix in 2014 to make the Championship 4 before capturing the title.

Winning will still be the simplest way for a team to climb out of an elimination spot and advance to the Round of 12. However, stage racing is again changing the game.

A maximum of 20 points will be up for grabs in the first two stages at Dover, which will be valuable with a 21 point gap separating 12th from 16th on the Playoff Grid.

Kasey Kahne currently sits 16th and has consistently finished poorly over the last month. While this level of performance doesn’t seem to indicate an impending turnaround, strategizing to collect stage points could open the door late in the race.

Kurt Busch entered the post-season with momentum after three consecutive top-five finishes, but he has struggled ever since.

The No. 41 team is 17 points below the cutoff line and will need to rely on stage points to put themselves in position to advance by the end of the race.

A year ago, those higher than the Stewart-Haas Racing driver in the standings would have needed to face issues to give Busch a chance to advance. Now stage points are making it more realistic to mount a comeback.

Knowing where the competition is running will be critical for 12th through 14th place Ricky Stenhoue Jr., Austin Dillon, and Ryan Newman. Any point gained could make the difference between staying in contention and being eliminated, meaning they will need to race much more aggressively this weekend.

Even Jamie McMurray in 11th with a nine-point gap won’t be safe without a strong day as that advantage could be erased by the end of Stage 1.

NASCAR emphasized that every point would matter more in 2017 and it’s getting ready to play out in the first elimination race.

While previous cutoff races have featured tight points battles and must-win scenarios, stage points are now shaping up to create even more drama.

After two tame events to open the Playoffs, the “Monster Mile” could be an entirely different animal and make for an intense 400 laps for all teams on the bubble.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Six Biggest Surprises from Monster Energy NASCAR Playoffs

Two races are down, with eight left in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, as Martin Truex Jr. won the opening race at Chicagoland Speedway and Kyle Busch followed up by winning Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

That Truex and Busch have won already is the least shocking news of the playoffs; they’ve led the most laps this season and along with Kyle Larson have been the dominant drivers in the Cup Series. 

Still, there have been plenty of surprises in just two playoff races. Here are the six biggest surprises of the playoffs so far:

  1. Under the Radar

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, has complained long and hard that the Toyota teams have an advantage over everyone else. That said, Keselowski brought his Team Penske Ford home sixth at Chicagoland and fourth at New Hampshire. Consistent finishes near the front are what drivers need this time of year. 

  1. Second Helping

Kyle Larson’s second-place finish at New Hampshire on Sunday was the eighth time the Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished in the runner-up spot in 28 races this year. Larson remains the top threat to blunt a runaway Toyota championship. 

  1. Seven-time Slumping

Jimmie Johnson is having a very un-Jimmie Johnson-like playoff season so far, finishing a ho-hum eighth at Chicagoland and fading to 14th at New Hampshire. Johnson hasn’t led a single lap in any event since the July Daytona race. If he doesn’t win or at least get a top five next week at Dover International Speedway, where he has 11 career wins, he might not be a playoff factor at all. 

  1. Leading the Pack

In the first two playoff races, Toyota drivers have led 81.5 percent of the laps run, compared with 10.9 percent for Ford drivers and 7.6 percent for Chevrolet drivers. At the rate things are going, there could be three or even four Toyota drivers battling for the championship at Homestead. 

  1. Busch’s Blues

Kurt Busch came into the playoffs red hot, having posted an average finish of 4.o in the last three Cup regular season races. But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver and former series champion is in danger of elimination after finishing 19th at Chicagoland and 37th at New Hampshire. 

  1. Rule Breakers

The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team got caught red-handed at Chicagoland applying tape to Chase Elliott’s rear spoiler and rear wheel well in an attempt to create downforce. This wasn’t being off .002 inches on the NASCAR Laser Inspection system, it was ham-handed cheating and NASCAR’s slapped the team with an encumbered finish, one-race suspensions for the crew chief and car chief, and a 15-point penalty as a result.

Just as embarrassing was Team Penske at New Hampshire, where Joey Logano’s Ford flunked pre-qualifying inspection four times and was not allowed to make a qualifying run or take part in the final Happy Hour practice. Recall that Logano is not in the playoffs because of an encumbered finish at Richmond in the spring, when his car flunked post-race tech.

NASCAR’s ongoing battle with the teams over rules violations continues to be one of the dominant stories of the season. 

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

Categories
Feature

10 Surprising Outcomes in the Bojangles’ Southern 500

Denny Hamlin scored an exciting victory in Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway after leader Martin Truex Jr. suffered a flat tire in the closing laps.

The victory, the second of the year and 31st of his career for Hamlin, capped a long, intense night of racing at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway.

Here are 10 surprising facts about the 25th race in the 26-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season.

  1. Seven-time’s struggles

Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time Cup champion, finished 12th at Darlington. He has now gone 12 consecutive races without finishing better than 10th. His last finish inside the top 10 came June 4, when he won at Dover.

  1. Battle of the brands

Toyotas swept four of the top six finishing spots, with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin (1st), Kyle Busch (2nd) and Matt Kenseth (6th) turning in strong showings. Rookie Erik Jones (5th) had an excellent run in his Furniture Row Racing Camry. Kurt Busch (3rd) was the lone Ford in the top six finishers, with Austin Dillon (4th) the only Chevrolet.

  1. Dillons do it

It was a good night for the Dillon brothers. Austin Dillon finished fourth to earn his first top-five finish since winning the Coca-Cola 600 in May, while brother Ty was 13th in the No. 13 GEICO Chevy. That matched Ty’s best finish of the season

  1. Twice as nice

Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch finished third behind race-winner Hamlin and Kurt’s younger brother, Kyle. Coming off a fifth-place run at Bristol, this is the first time Kurt has finished in the top five in consecutive races all season.

  1. Playoffs

Three drivers who are winless in 2017 — Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray — remain playoff eligible heading into the final regular-season race next weekend. The only way one of them can be knocked out is if there is a first-time winner at Richmond International Raceway next Saturday night. No other driver can race his way in on points.

  1. Points

Martin Truex Jr. won the first two stages of the Darlington race and has clinched the regular season championship and the 15 playoff points that go with it. He will enter NASCAR’s championship battle with at least 52 points.

  1. Martin’s mayhem

There were two throwback paint schemes in the race that paid homage to NASCAR Hall of Fame member and two-time Bojangles’ Southern 500 winner Mark Martin. Trevor Bayne finished 35th in one of the Martin schemes and Clint Bowyer 40th in the other.

  1. Leading the way

In a 367-lap race, Hamlin and Kyle Larson each led the exact same number of laps – 124.  You don’t see that very often.

  1. Broom time

Hamlin swept both the Monster Energy Cup and the NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Darlington for the second time, having done it first in 2010. The only other drivers to sweep at The Track Too Tough To Tame are Dale Earnhardt in 1987 and Mark Martin in 1993.

  1. Broom time, Part Deux

Joe Gibbs Racing didn’t win any of the first 18 races of the Cup season. They have now won four of the last seven. And for the second consecutive Cup race, JGR swept the weekend, as Hamlin won both races at Darlington and before that, Kyle Busch won all three at Bristol. This team is peaking at the right time.