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NASCAR Cup Series

Solid Finish Timely for Kurt Busch

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Kurt Busch began his 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series campaign on a high note by capturing the victory in the DAYTONA 500.

While winning the biggest event of the year can often be a great kick-starter for the season, it didn’t turn out that way for the No. 41 team.

“The DAYTONA 500 win was great, but it seemed like it put us behind for awhile,” Busch told a group of reporters on pit road.

In the following 24 races, he captured two top-five and ten top-10 finishes. While it reflects a decent regular season, he hasn’t been among the top performers despite locking up a Playoff spot in the first event of the year.

That changed in Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway as Busch contended for the win throughout the second half of the race and finished third.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has found the most success in major events, winning at Daytona and placing sixth in the Coca-Cola 600. Another stout run at Darlington attests to his ability to perform well under the spotlight of the sport’s biggest stages.

“Just to be in position to win the Southern 500 is great,” Busch said. “I didn’t quite get the job done, but third is really nice for a big, marquee race.”

The strong finish continues a momentous swing in the 2004 Cup Series champion’s season, marking his second consecutive top-five.

His success comes at a critical juncture with one race remaining until the Playoffs begin at Chicagoland Speedway.

“We’ve had a couple good runs, but still we got 11 weeks ahead of us,” Busch said. “We treated tonight and this whole weekend like it was the Playoffs. Richmond will be the same thing next week, and we just got to keep chiseling away.”

There are often drivers who come alive in the final ten races after not dominating the regular season. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards advanced to the Championship 4 as surprise contenders after decent years in 2015 and 2016 respectively. 

Now Busch is in a position to fulfill a similar role. By viewing Darlington as a Playoff race, the No. 41 team showcased what they are capable of accomplishing this fall.

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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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Your Ultimate Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season Guide

After a couple of relatively quiet years, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is about to go through a wholesale shuffle of drivers and teams.

Known as “Silly Season,” this is the time of the year when changes are announced or sometimes just rumored for the upcoming season. With lots of upheaval ahead, the 2018 Cup season will have a very different look.

With that in mind, here is your ultimate Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season guide, a detailed list of who’s going where next season.

We’ll start with the drivers.

Aric Almirola

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver’s contract is reportedly up at the end of this season. No official word yet if he’ll be back with the team next year.

Ryan Blaney

After two successful seasons with the Wood Brothers, Blaney will move to the new Team Penske No. 12 Ford next year.

Alex Bowman

An impressive stint for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 was enough to earn Bowman the ride in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year.

Kurt Busch

Officially the elder Busch is a free agent, as Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up his contract option for 2018. But the team has said it expects him back next year. We’ll see.

William Byron

After dazzling performances in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last year and the NASCAR XFINITY Series this year, Byron will move to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next season, replacing Kasey Kahne.  Axalta and Liberty University will sponsor him.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This is Earnhardt’s last season as a driver; next year, he’ll be in the NBC television booth, where he will add a lot to the broadcast. And, of course, he and sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller will continue to run their successful JR Motorsports XFINITY team.

Erik Jones

It’s one-and-done for impressive rookie Jones at Furniture Row Racing. Next year, he will take over the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota from Matt Kenseth.

Kasey Kahne

Officially a free agent, Kahne is looking for work for next season.

Matt Kenseth

Another top free agent, Kenseth does not yet have a confirmed ride for 2018.

Paul Menard

Following seven years with Richard Childress Racing, Menard will move to Wood Brothers Racing next season.

Danica Patrick

If Stewart-Haas Racing can’t find a sponsor for Patrick next season, she will be released from the final year of her contract, Patrick told USA Today last weekend.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is one of several good drivers looking for work. He was impressive filling in for the injured Aric Almirola this summer.

 

And now, the teams.

Furniture Row Racing

With Erik Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, team owner Barney Visser has said he’ll only run two cars next season if he can find enough sponsorship.

Hendrick Motorsports

Alex Bowman will succeed Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88, and William Byron will replace Kasey Kahne in the No. 5. Axalta and Liberty University will sponsor Byron.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Matt Kenseth is out at the No. 20 an Erik Jones is in.

Richard Childress Racing

With Paul Menard moving to the Wood Brothers next season, there’s an open seat at RCR, assuming they don’t decide to scale back to two cars.

Richard Petty Motorsports

There have been rumblings that RPM will try to find enough sponsorship to bring back the No. 44 with Bubba Wallace, but so far nothing definite.

Stewart-Haas Racing

As always, it seems, the situation at SHR is interesting. The team declined to pick up Kurt Busch’s option for 2018, but says it expects him back, while Danica Patrick said she doesn’t yet have a sponsor for next year and could be released if they don’t find one.

Team Penske

Earlier this season, Team Penske re-signed drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and their respective crew chiefs to long-term deals. Next year, they’ll add a third full-time car for the first time since 2010, with Ryan Blaney driving the No. 12 Ford.

Wood Brothers Racing

Ryan Blaney will be out and Paul Menard will be in the cockpit of the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

E-MAIL TOM AT tom.@jensen@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.

Categories
Commentary

This Silly Season All About Dollars, Not Sense

There’s a simple rule in politics and business that applies to NASCAR racing, too: Follow the money.

And if you look at the moves so far in this Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, they seem to have a common theme:

  • Matt Kenseth will be out at Joe Gibbs Racing next year, to be replaced by Erik Jones.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring after this season, with Alex Bowman taking over for him at the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
  • Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up Kurt Busch’s option.
  • Danica Patrick told USA Today that she might be released from the final year of her contract because the team doesn’t have a sponsor for next season.
  • Several midsized teams have not announced driver plans for next year, but could make major changes.

The theme?

Follow the money

In the cases of Kenseth and Earnhardt, both will be replaced by drivers who presumably will make a lot less than they do.

In a moment of rare economic candor, Earnhardt perfectly explained the situation during his media availability at Watkins Glen International on Saturday. The CliffsNotes version is simple: Sponsorship dollars have shrunk, so what teams are willing or even able to spend on drivers has shrunk, too.

This is how Earnhardt explained it: “These sponsors aren’t giving teams the money that they used to,” he said. “So, the owners and everybody’s got to take a little cut. Everybody’s got to dial it back. Everybody’s got to realize that they have to accept some of that fallback and difference. And that’s the same with the drivers’ contracts. A lot of these veteran drivers are getting paid multi-million dollars; and a lot of these guys coming in are getting a fraction of that.”

And there’s a reason for it.

“You’ve got a guy that you think has got a lot of talent, very young, a lot of potential,” Earnhardt said. “And then you’ve got a veteran who is established. But he wants three, four, five, or six times the amount of money. You’re going to go with the younger guy because it’s a better deal financially.”

It’s not only a better deal, financially. It might be the only deal that keeps the race team afloat.

“You can’t pay a driver five to eight million dollars a year if you ain’t got but $10 million worth of sponsorship,” said Earnhardt. “That ain’t going to work. Guys aren’t getting $20, $30, $40 million a year on sponsorship. Owners aren’t getting that anymore.”

Follow the money.

“Drivers are having to sort of understand that change is coming down the pike,” Earnhardt said. “If it hasn’t happened to them yet, it’s going to happen to them. And the young guys, they don’t know any better. They want to race and they’re taking whatever they can get. That’s a good change for the owners.”

Of course, the one thing that makes this work for owners is the abundance of young talent coming up through the ranks.

Then again, that’s the very same thing that makes it not work for older, experienced and highly paid drivers.

 Follow the money.

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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

GALLERY: The Week’s 10 Biggest NASCAR News Stories

Once again, there is no Friday on-track activity for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which this weekend is at Watkins Glen International for Sunday’s I Love NY 355 at the Glen, the 22nd of 26 races in the Cup regular season.

There will be two rounds of Cup practice on Saturday at the Glen — 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. — with qualifying Sunday at 12:05 p.m., followed by the race at 3 p.m.

But this week has been anything but quiet, with a lot of news happening over the last five days.  In case you missed it, here are the week’s 10 biggest news stories.

  1. Sponsor news

On the plus side of the ledger, ExxonMobil has signed a new deal for Mobil 1 to continue as “The Official Motor Oil of NASCAR.” Less happy was the news that longtime Chip Ganassi Racing sponsor Target is leaving the team and NASCAR.

  1. Logan Lucky

Tuesday night in Charlotte, the NASCAR community got to see an advance screening of the new Steven Soderbergh film “Logan Lucky,” which features cameos by Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. The film has gotten a lot of  positive advance buzz.

  1. Said saying so long

Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International will be the final Cup appearance for Boris Said, who possesses both phenomenal road-racing skills and a huge Brillo-like shock of hair. Said has 53 career Cup starts, with his best finishes being fourth at Sonoma in 2005 and fourth in the July Daytona race a year later.

  1. SHR doesn’t pick up Kurt Busch’s option

Stewart-Haas Racing said on Twitter that it expects Kurt Busch to return to the cockpit of the No. 41 SHR Ford next year. But the team declined to pick up his 2018 option, which means he is a free agent right now.

  1. Ricky Hendrick remembered
Photo Courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports

Of all the throwback paint schemes for the upcoming Darlington Labor Day weekend, the most emotional one might be the one William Byron will carry in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at The Track Too Tough To Tame. There, Byron’s JR Motorsports Chevrolet will have a paint scheme similar to the one the late Ricky Hendrick ran in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2001.

  1. Crew chief suspended

Chris Gayle, crew chief of the Furniture Row Racing No. 77 Toyota driven by rookie  Erik Jones, has been suspended by NASCAR for the next two races and fined $50,000 for a rear-gear violation discovered after Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway.  As part of the penalty, the team also lost 25 owner and driver points. There will be no appeal.

  1. NASCAR moves the overtime line

Effective immediately, NASCAR has decided to relocate the overtime line at all tracks to the start-finish line, which should eliminate a lot of confusion. Once the leader crosses the finish line to take the white, the next flag ends the race.

  1. Harry Scott passes
Photo Courtesy of NASCAR

Thoughts and prayers go out to the family of longtime NASCAR team owner Harry Scott, who died Wednesday at the age of 51. The cause of death was not revealed. Scott won four K&N Pro Series East championships as a co-owner and at various times fielded teams in NASCAR’s top three touring series.

  1. Cup drivers limited in lower series

NASCAR on Tuesday cut the participation of Monster Energy Cup Series regulars in the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. Drivers with more than five years of full-time experience in the Cup Series will be limited to seven XFINITY races in the s and five Truck Series races.  No  driver racing for Cup points will be able to compete in the regular season finale and playoff races in each series, as well as the Dash 4 Cash (XFINITY) races.

  1. Junior’s last ride
Photo Courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports

For the final Cup race of his career, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will carry the black-over-red colors from his 1999 Cup debut during this year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s an awesome look, harkening back to when Earnhardt drove the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 unless otherwise noted

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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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

SHR Says They “Expect” Kurt Busch Back in 2018 for Another Season

You can tell the Monster Energy NASCAR Silly Season has arrived.

Silly Season is the time of year when rumors fly about drivers and sponsors changing teams for the upcoming season or in some cases leaving the sport altogether.

The latest participants in the Silly Season vortex are Stewart-Haas Racing and driver Kurt Busch Multiple news outlets, including Nate Ryan at NBCSports.com, are reporting today that SHR has not picked up Busch’s contract option for 2018, meaning he’s free to sign with any team for next year.

SHR, in the meantime, put out this Tweet, suggesting Busch will, in fact, be back with the team in 2018.

So what does it all mean?

Just because SHR didn’t pick up Busch’s option doesn’t mean he won’t drive for the team next year. He could sign a new contract with the team, or he could move on.

The team also could be waiting on final decisions on sponsorship for Busch’s No. 41 Ford and the team’s other three cars before signing a new driver deal.

Since Busch joined the team in 2014, his car has mostly been funded out of team co-owner Gene Haas’ pocket before Monster Energy came onboard.

Haas’s company has also sponsored Clint Bowyer in the No. 14 SHR Ford for a number of races this season.

Busch, the 2004 champion in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, joined SHR in 2014.  He was won at least race in every season with the team, including this year’s Daytona 500, and is on track to make the NASCAR playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

Categories
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: If Kyle Busch Is A Villain, There’s Nothing Wrong With That

There has been much talk about Kyle Busch ever since his petulant behavior following his close loss in the Coca-Cola 600.

If you didn’t see what happened via television or social media (I’m betting you did) here’s a quick summary: Looking decidedly upset, or frustrated, Busch fidgeted at the microphone, mumbled “congratulations” (that’s what I thought I heard), then dropped the mike and walked away.

He acted like an unhappy child.

Naturally he was taken to task by the fans, media and some fellow competitors like Brad Keselowski. I’m pretty sure he’s not No. 1 on many folks’ hit parade.

However, I agree with Dale Earnhardt Jr. who suggested Busch remain himself and not change just to gain redemption.

I am not suggesting Busch throw temper tantrums. But if he can’t help himself because of his competitive personality, well, he can have at it.

To me, there is a good reason for this:

NASCAR needs a villain. It needs a competitor whose personality, sassy mouth, razor-thin temper or undisciplined driving style draws the ire of the fans.

They band together in their dislike for him and – this is important – follow his every move at every race. He brings attention to NASCAR that goes beyond its fans. Believe me, that is something the sanctioning body needs right now.

Villains have been part of NASCAR since it’s founding. Today some of them rank among the greatest stock car drivers in history and are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

The legendary Curtis Turner showed a car no mercy. He didn’t know much about finesse. Consequently, when it came to his rivals on the track if he could not pass them he would just as soon run over them.

That’s not a good way to attract friends but Turner did not care.

In the 1970s the undisputed villain was Darrell Waltrip. He worked at it. When he came into the sport he knew there were only two ways to gain attention: Win and be a smart aleck.

Because of his quick wit Waltrip was a media darling. But many fans thought he was just too cocky and too “mouthy.”

It’s fair to say many competitors thought the same.

In one of his many feuds Waltrip fell at odds with Cale Yarborough. The two were swept up in a multicar accident in the 1977 Southern 500 at Darlington.

Driver D.K. Ulrich, involved in the incident, asked Yarborough why he hit him.

“I didn’t hit you,” Yarborough answered. “Ol’ Jaws hit you. He knocked you into the wall. It was uncalled for.”

Waltrip was known as “Jaws” for the rest of his career.

A couple of weeks later Yarborough won at Martinsville on a hot, humid day.

Exhausted, Yarborough declared the race, at 500 laps, was too long and needed to be cut.

“I will not shorten my races,” track owner H. Clay Earles heatedly said.

Waltrip pounced. He emerged the winner a week later at North Wilkesboro, another half-mile track.

In victory lane he pronounced the presence of the “Cale Scale,” an imaginary device that measured a race’s degree of difficulty

“This race was only a one and a half or two,” Waltrip said. “I wish we had another 100 laps. I guess Cale is getting too old.”

And so it went. Waltrip continued to toss barbs and fans continued to dislike him. When he was introduced there were plenty of boos.

Dale Earnhardt was a sensation at the start of his career but soon after his overly aggressive driving style became the target of competitor and fan criticism.

Earnhardt didn’t seem to care.

He got the nickname “The Intimidator.”

 For many it was not a term of respect.

Much later the seemingly unprofessional, body-slam style of Ernie Irvan raised the ire of competitors and fans, who named him “Swervin’ Irvan.”

He even apologized for his mistakes in a drivers meeting at Talladega.

It took so long for Rusty Wallace to regain the fans’ favor after his victory in the 1989 The Winston, in which he spun Waltrip on the last lap. He wondered if all he would hear for the rest of his career was irate booing.

Do you really have to be reminded about Tony Stewart? He flunked Anger Management 101. To my knowledge he is the only driver in NASCAR history to be fined by his sponsor for misbehavior.

Kyle’s brother Kurt was known for his surliness and short temper as much as his driving skill.

There are others, of course, but here is the point: These drivers polarized fans, but at the same time, they enhanced their enjoyment of the sport if for no other reason than to see if they would get their comeuppance.

They were the subjects of much attention, week in and week out. Their outbursts, behavior or on-track shenanigans made headlines. The rivalries they established made fans argue among themselves – but at the same time it kept them riveted to all that was going on.

And you don’t have to be told how much the media delighted in it all.

Villainy aside, it must be pointed out that all of the drivers mentioned were winners and several were champions. That means that it didn’t matter how much they antagonized competitors and fans, they could back it up with accomplishments.

Kyle Busch already has achieved much. His skills are obvious and many admire him for them.But to many that doesn’t matter. He’s their man to dislike – so far.

I believe that comes from Busch being himself. He may change. That is certainly his right and perfectly acceptable.

But if he remains the Kyle Bush he is he will likely fulfill the role NASCAR desperately needs: the villain.

And there is not a thing wrong with that.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@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

Everything’s Still Great for Ky. Busch Despite Late Loss

After making the Championship 4 for the second consecutive year to conclude the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Kyle Busch has struggled to begin 2017.

For only the second time in his career, he failed to capture a top-10 finish in the first three races of the year. He placed 38th in the DAYTONA 500 after a crash, 16th at Atlanta, and 22nd at Las Vegas.

He looked poised to earn a top-five finish last weekend at Las Vegas, but contact with Joey Logano resulted in a last lap spin and cost him 20 positions.

The slow start to the year not only impacted the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota team but the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization. After the domination the team displayed throughout 2016, only seeing Matt Kenseth score one top-five result through the first three races surprised many.

Redemption was on the minds of the organization and Busch heading to Phoenix International  Raceway. Busch eyed a turnaround to avoid tying his career-worst start to the season from 2010 when he didn’t finish inside the top-10 till the fifth event of the year at Bristol.

He delivered on Sunday, leading a race-high 114 laps and dominating much of the Final Stage of the Camping World 500. Had it not been for the last yellow flag with six laps to go for Logano’s blown tire, Busch would have likely cruised to his second career Phoenix victory.

When the caution came out, Busch pitted along with most of the front running cars. However, as he tried to exit his pit stall, a miscue with brother Kurt Busch cost him valuable time and a couple of positions.

Now Busch lined up fifth and in the inside lane for the restart and had to challenge the three cars that stayed out under the caution. When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t get the best restart, he stacked up the bottom line, and Busch was forced three-wide into Turn 1.

After diving low going down the backstretch with two laps remaining, he moved up to third and finished there, scoring his best result of the season following a strong performance.

While Busch had Victory Lane in his sights with less than ten laps remaining, a top-five result still pointed the team in the right direction after a rough start to 2017.

“Everything’s great, we got a top five and that’s what we set out to do today and we got, a third so we should be pumped about that and how good this Skittles Camry ran today,” Busch said.

While the No. 18 team perfected the most important pit stop of the day under the final caution, the miscue on pit road with the No. 41 car, three cars staying out, and not having the top lane for the Overtime restart added up against Busch.

“We had a little miscue there on pit road with Kurt (Busch) and from there it was just too many cars that stayed out. If it was just two that stayed out maybe, but we really needed the outside like (Kyle) Larson had,” Busch said. “Overall we should be proud of our run today and we will move on.”

Much like last Sunday at Las Vegas, Busch didn’t earn the result he was in position for late in the race, and the disappointment showed.

“It seems like every finish that’s destined for us it seems to end in a worse finish that day,” Busch said.

Now Busch will take the momentum of a dominant run at Phoenix and bring it to one of his best tracks at Auto Club Speedway where he scored four consecutive top-three finishes from 2011 to 2014, including back-to-back wins in 2013 and 2014.

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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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Commentary

Could 2017 Match Historic 1967 as One of Motorsport’s Greatest Years?

Fans that have watched auto racing all their life and have been alive long enough to remember might say 1967 was the most memorable year in motorsports history.

It was the year “The King” Richard Petty won 27 races and his second of seven championships in the NASCAR Grand National Series. That season, the sport consisted of 49 points events, meaning he won 55 percent of the races.

Racing legend Mario Andretti made his presence known in stock car racing by winning the Daytona 500 in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford. He started 12th and led 112 laps that day, and his victory is still considered one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.

19-22 January, 2009, Concord, North Carolina USA Mario Andretti (c)2009, Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock
Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock

“At that point, I had not won Indy [500, won it in 1969] yet,” Andretti once said. “I was competitive with a couple of poles but had not won at Indy. So arguably the Daytona 500 win at that time was the biggest event of my career at that time and particularly satisfying to do it somewhere where it wasn’t my specialty.

“Can you imagine the same thing as if one of their drivers — Richard Petty or David Pearson -— had come to Indy and won the Indy 500? It had a special sound to it, and it still does, actually.”

“Super Tex” A.J. Foyt won his third of four career Indianapolis 500s in 1967. He also won the iconic sports car event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in France co-driving with Dan Gurney just two weeks later. Foyt went on to win his fifth USAC Champ Car Series title at season’s end.

Now, let’s jump ahead 50 years. Think about what the racing world is like today. It’s a lot different, wouldn’t you say?

2017 NASCAR Cup - Clash at Daytona Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 19 February 2017 Denny Hamlin, FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Daniel Suarez, ARRIS Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch, M&M's Toyota Camry and Matt Kenseth, Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry World Copyright: {Nigel Kinrade}/NKP
Nigel Kinrade / NKP

Today, NASCAR has three national series with its top division sponsored by the increasingly popular Monster Energy drink. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which it is now called, begins its 36-race season with its most historic race, the Daytona 500, often referred to as “The Great American Race.” Races are also divided into three stages and the final 10 events of the year make up the elimination-style NASCAR playoffs, which started in 2014.

Open-wheel racing has evolved exponentially over the years too. Both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Formula 1 have become exceptionally safer. In the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush, three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda says, “Twenty-five drivers start every season in Formula 1, and each year two of us die.”

Although the film took place in 1976, Lauda’s statement emphasizes the danger of being a racecar driver of more than 40 years ago. Deaths of both drivers and spectators were not as unusual as they are today.

In the last six years, two IndyCar drivers have died from accident-related injuries. The 2011 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who lost his life in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the same year he won the 500, and Justin Wilson, who was struck in the head by a flying piece of debris from Sage Karam’s wrecked car at Pocono Raceway in 2015.

In 2014, Jules Bianchi died after an accident in the F1 Japanese Grand Prix — the European sport’s most recent death. It’s still three lives too many when you include the two IndyCar drivers, but racecars have been redesigned countless times to enhance safety for each competitor.

In NASCAR, following the death of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the sanctioning body mandated the use of the Hutchens system, which was the head and neck restraint system required until the end of the 2004 season.

jimmie HANS
Rainier Ehrhardt / NASCAR via Getty Images

In January 2005, NASCAR mandated the use of the HANS Device, which most drivers were already using, as the required safety system because it felt the Hutchens didn’t meet minimum safety standards.

The 2017 racing season is still just beginning, but many storylines could make this year another one for the history books.

The new three-stage format NASCAR created during the offseason made its debut at the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson embarks on his quest for a record-breaking eighth championship after winning No. 7 in 2016. And the “Monster” era of NASCAR began with a “Monster” win by 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, who is sponsored by the drink, in the “Great American Race.”

2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup - Daytona 500 Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 26 February 2017 Kurt Busch celebrates his Daytona 500 Victory World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett/NKP
Rusty Jarrett / NKP

“The more I run this race, the more I’ve learned to throw caution to the wind and let it rip,” Busch, who had previously finished runner-up three times, said. “The performance of the [Stewart-Haas Racing] team has been incredible. My rearview mirror fell off with 30 to go, and I knew I had to drive defensively. I couldn’t even see the cars behind me, just heard my spotter in my ear, once we made that pass.

“It’s just unbelievable to have all this teamwork to get us in victory lane.”

Busch’s victory not only was a triumph for him but also for Tony Gibson, who won the race for the first time as a crew chief, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, who ran the race 17 times in his racing career but never won it.

Now being retired from NASCAR racing and having won the 500 as a team owner, Stewart jokingly said, “If I knew all I had to do was retire to get it done, I would have retired a long time ago.”

In IndyCar, Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud will defend his 2016 title and look to become the first repeat titlist since Dario Franchitti, who claimed three consecutive championships from 2009 to 2011, and the first Penske driver to repeat since Gil de Ferran, who accomplished the feat in 2001.

Lisa Davidson wrote a POPULAR SPEED story about Pagenaud’s approach to the 2017 season in which he says he’ll be in more of an “attack” mode than a defensive one.

“… I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year [his championship year],” Pagenaud said. “It’s about defending. Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It’s all reset.

“Now it’s time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it’s because we attacked and we didn’t look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.”

Pagenaud finished second in the season-opener in St. Petersburg behind fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who won the race after starting from the back.

Across the pond in F1, a retirement announcement heard around the world shocked the entire auto racing industry. The most recent World Champion Nico Rosberg decided that 2016 would be his final season in the pinnacle of motorsports and left the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team. It ended a rivalry — which had the potential to match the likes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s or Lauda and James Hunt in the mid-1970s — with teammate Lewis Hamilton.

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Skysports.com

Hamilton, now paired with Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, will look to be the fifth driver in F1 history to win a fourth title. He’s 32 years old and already has 53 career wins, 104 podiums, and 61 poles. By the end of his career, whenever that is, he’ll likely be considered one of the sport’s greatest, if he isn’t already.

During preseason testing, Hamilton said rather interesting comments about the Scuderia Ferrari team, which last won the championship with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Hamilton said, “I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing. They are very close, if not faster.

“It’s difficult right now to say who is quicker.”

If what Hamilton said proves to be true, it will be an intense competition for this year’s championship. Mercedes cars won all but two races in 2016, and Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen won none.

Red Bull Racing won the other two races, once with 19-year-old Max Verstappen in his Red Bull debut at the Grand Prix of Spain after Hamilton and Rosberg wrecked each other on the first lap, and the other at the Malaysia Grand Prix with Daniel Ricciardo after Hamilton suffered a catastrophic engine failure while leading.

The 2017 IndyCar and F1’s campaigns are just getting underway, and there will surely be plenty to pay attention to as their season’s progress. If there’s one thing that holds true about racing, it’s that the unpredictability factor is always predictable.

So my question to you, whether you were around in 1967 or not, can 2017 be just as memorable 50 years from now?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Turmoil to Triumph, Kurt Busch Finally Reigns at Daytona

There has never been any doubt that Kurt Busch is one of NASCAR’s best all-around talents behind the wheel.

The 38-year-old Las Vegas, NV native has won in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series and has won on every track type. However, wherever Busch has gone, it seems personal and professional demons has always followed. Has he always been perfect? No, but who is?

After it all, though, it seems everything is falling into place for Busch, as witnessed with his crowning achievement on Sunday when he captured the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Through perseverance and desire, he has put himself back on the map as a championship contender after years of trials and tribulations.

In 2004, Busch won the inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup after winning three races and beating Jimmie Johnson by eight points.

Many thought Busch would be a major threat for the title once again in 2005 after winning three races in the regular season. However, Busch was suspended for the final two races and let go by Roush-Fenway Racing.

Busch found himself at Team Penske at the start of the 2006 season and over his six-year tenure for Penske, he won 10 races and qualified for the Chase in four of those six seasons. Trouble once again found Busch during the season-finale in 2011 as he was involved in an altercation with race reporter Dr. Jerry Punch. Busch was let go by Penske in December of that year.

Stops at Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing followed before making a move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. SHR co-owner Gene Haas saw a chance to add the former Cup Series champion to his stable.

“I tell you, early on, when you look for drivers, some people like to develop their own drivers. We did that a little bit. That’s a difficult way to go.” he said. “I look for a driver that has proven talent. Kurt is already a past champion. He’s won, when I think we started, over 25 races. He definitely had the ability. When we met in a steakhouse in Indianapolis, I just said, ‘Would you be interested in driving for me?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’

“It just started from there. It wasn’t really a big leap of faith on my part. I knew he had gone through a little bit of a transition out of Penske. I knew he had the talent to do it. Like I say, I wasn’t interested in points racing, I was interested in winning. I thought he could deliver that. And he has done that. I knew he had the ability to do it. That was really the basis for my decision. It looks like, today, it all paid off.”

Not only did Gene Haas believe in him but Kurt Busch started to believe in himself. Busch has taken steps off the track to help him become better on the track come Sunday. After being placed under investigation for domestic violence in 2014 which led to an indefinite suspension by NASCAR, Busch began to undergo anger management counseling and was eventually reinstated by NASCAR after missing the first three races of the 2015 season. The growth away from the track, including perhaps some maturity if you will, was complimented on-track by the leadership of veteran crew chief Tony Gibson. The Florida native has been instrumental in making Busch a more patient driver behind the wheel.

Busch was asked in his post-race press conference how he has changed not only as a driver but as a person. Busch gave a lot of credit to his wife, Ashley.

“I feel like experience on the track continues to grow, but I was neglecting experience in life. The different circumstances that were happening, I wasn’t learning enough from,” said Busch. “My wife Ashley has helped me digest better feelings towards how to approach situations. It’s like today when the mirror broke with 30 to go. I looked at it. I saw her in it. I’m like, She’s just going to smile. She’s just going to figure it out. I tell you, age and wisdom, they come together. Youth is wasted on the young. I’ve been through some different patches here or there, but to have a team that believes in me, that’s the most important part. To have a wife that believes in me, and a family of course, all the way through all of this.

“Then to be a Monster athlete for the last six years, they’re a sponsor that stuck by my side. We’ve won some good races together. Now we get to toss a Daytona 500 trophy in the lobby in Corona, California, as well as Oxnard, California, with Haas Automation.”

Shop for 2017 Daytona 500 Champs Gear and Collectibles at Store.NASCAR.com

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

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.

Categories
News

Patient Kurt Busch Wins Wild Daytona 500 — Without Looking Back

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) – DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – His car damaged in a wreck on the backstretch and held together with tape, Kurt Busch grabbed the lead on the final lap of the 59th Daytona 500 on Sunday and took the checkered flag in the Great American Race as a capstone to a checkered career that has trended upward since Busch joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.

In a race that featured the first test of a new three-stage race format in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series—and featured enough twisted sheet metal to keep fabricators busy for a month—Busch surged to the front with a run around the outside when more than half the vehicles in an 11-car lead draft sputtered and ran short on fuel.

Having pushed other drivers to victory in the 500 on three previous occasions, Busch took the prize himself this time, finishing .228 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney, who came from the rear of the lead pack on the final two laps.

AJ Allmendinger ran third after conserving fuel over the final 20 laps, as a race that had produced eight caution flags for 40 laps ran green for the final 47 circuits. Aric Almirola finished fourth as a single car for Richard Petty Motorsports, with Paul Menard and Joey Logano coming home fifth and sixth, respectively.

“I can’t believe it!” Busch shouted on his team radio after claiming the 29th victory of his career and by far the most significant. “I love you guys! Thank you! Thank you!”

Busch lost his rear view mirror in the middle of the final green-flag run, but it didn’t matter.

“There is nothing predictable about this race any more, and the more years that have gone by that I didn’t win I kept trying to go back to patterns that I had seen in the past,” Busch said. “My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go and I couldn’t even see out the back. And I thought that was an omen. Throw caution to the wind.

“It just got crazy and wild, and I am so proud of all the drivers at the end. We put on a show for a full fuel run, and nobody took each other out and it was one of the smartest chess games I have seen out there. All the hard work that Ford and SHR put into this — this Ford Fusion is in Daytona’s Victory Lane!”

Busch did what other drivers with seemingly stronger cars could not. Pole winner Chase Elliott was disconsolate after running out of fuel on the white-flag lap. He finished 14th.

Kyle Busch won the first 60-lap stage and collected the first playoff point in series history, but on Lap 105, he spun in Turn 3 when he cut a rear tire and collected fellow Toyota drivers Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was returning to competition after missing the final 18 races of the 2016 season while recovering from a concussion.

Busch fell out of the race in 38th-place. Earnhardt took his car to the garage in 37th.

Kevin Harvick led 50 of the 200 laps and took the second stage, but he fell victim on Lap 128 to the 17-car pileup on the backstretch that also did the most damage to the sheet metal on Kurt Busch’s car. The 2014 series champion finished 22nd, three laps down.

Busch’s team owner, Tony Stewart, retired from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of the 2016 season. Stewart-Haas spent the winter converting from Chevrolet to Ford, but it seemed to make little difference to Busch, who won his 2004 series championship in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

“It was a crazy race, even crazier to sit and watch it from a pit box finally,” Stewart said. “If I had known all I had to do was retire, I would have retired 17 years ago, if I knew it was what it took to win the race… I ran this damn race for 18 years and didn’t win it.

“Kurt did an amazing job. He doesn’t even have a rear view mirror. The mirror folded on him. His spotter, Tony Raines, did an amazing job. That is the most composed I have ever seen Kurt at the end of a race. He deserved this.”

Shop for 2017 Daytona 500 Champs Gear and Collectibles at Store.NASCAR.com

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – Daytona 500

Daytona International Speedway

Daytona Beach, Florida

Sunday, February 26, 2017

1. (8) Kurt Busch, Ford, 200.

2. (36) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200.

3. (38) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 200.

4. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 200.

5. (33) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 200.

6. (15) Joey Logano, Ford, 200.

7. (26) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 200.

8. (30) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 200.

9. (25) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 200.

10. (11) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 200.

11. (39) * Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 200.

12. (16) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.

13. (35) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 200.

14. (1) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 200.

15. (22) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 200.

16. (27) Landon Cassill, Ford, 199.

17. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 199.

18. (17) Cole Whitt, Ford, 199.

19. (10) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 199.

20. (40) * Elliott Sadler(i), Chevrolet, 199.

21. (14) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 198.

22. (5) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 197.

23. (29) Joey Gase(i), Toyota, 196.

24. (31) * Corey LaJoie, Toyota, 193.

25. (20) David Ragan, Ford, 188.

26. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Accident, 145.

27. (7) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 143.

28. (3) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 141.

29. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, Accident, 141.

30. (18) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, Accident, 140.

31. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 133.

32. (6) Clint Bowyer, Ford, Accident, 128.

33. (12) Danica Patrick, Ford, Accident, 128.

34. (24) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 127.

35. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, Accident, 127.

36. (28) * DJ Kennington, Toyota, Accident, 127.

37. (2) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 106.

38. (21) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 103.

39. (34) Erik Jones #, Toyota, Accident, 103.

40. (9) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, Accident, 103.

Average Speed of Race Winner:143.187 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 29 Mins, 31 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.228 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 40 laps.

Lead Changes: 37 among 18 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C. Elliott 1-5; J. McMurray 6-18; K. Harvick 19-22; C. Elliott 23-24; K. Harvick 25-29; B. Keselowski 30-31; K. Larson 32; K. Harvick 33-41; Kyle Busch 42; M. Truex Jr. 43; Kyle Busch 44-48; R. Blaney 49-50; Kyle Busch 51-62; A. Allmendinger 63-64; K. Larson 65-68; K. Harvick 69-72; K. Larson 73; K. Harvick 74-89; J. Johnson 90-96; D. Earnhardt Jr. 97-104; E. Sadler(i) 105-109; K. Harvick 110-121; J. Logano 122; K. Larson 123-125; C. Elliott 126; K. Kahne 127; C. Elliott 128-135; K. Kahne 136-141; A. Dillon 142-148; J. Logano 149-151; C. Whitt 152-154; A. Almirola 155-156; K. Larson 157-162; J. Logano 163-174; C. Elliott 175-197; M. Truex Jr. 198; K. Larson 199; Kurt Busch 200;.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 6 times for 50 laps; C. Elliott 5 times for 39 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 18 laps; J. Logano 3 times for 16 laps; K. Larson 6 times for 16 laps; J. McMurray 1 time for 13 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 1 time for 8 laps; J. Johnson 1 time for 7 laps; K. Kahne 2 times for 7 laps; A. Dillon 1 time for 7 laps; E. Sadler(i) 1 time for 5 laps; C. Whitt 1 time for 3 laps; M. Truex Jr. 2 times for 2 laps; A. Almirola 1 time for 2 laps; A. Allmendinger 1 time for 2 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 2 laps; R. Blaney 1 time for 2 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 18,4,21,2,88,42,1,11,48,10

Stage #2 Top Ten: 4,22,41,2,10,47,14,42,31,21