Categories
Commentary

RAPID REACTION: Crew Chief Suspensions Pay Dividends for Teams

When NASCAR implemented a new rules package for Michigan and Kentucky, it peaked everyone’s interest, and Sunday brought us an exciting race.

The smaller spoiler worked for Joey Logano, who won his first race of the season, and brought demise to several drivers’ days after a wild FireKeepers Casino 400.

More Substitute Crew Chief Success

Last week we saw Kurt Busch win at Pocono with a replacement crew chief, Johnny Klausmeier, who took the reigns from suspended Tony Gibson. This week saw even more substitute crew chief success.

It may not have been a win but, Kyle Larson and interim crew chief Phil Surgen, who was filling in for Chad Johnston, came home with a solid third place. Larson started the day seventh and kept the No.42 inside the top five for most of the day.

Big Names, Big Problems

If you were in the top 12 in the driver standings and not named Joey Logano, there’s a chance you had a bad day.

Martin Truex Jr. was the first to have problems as he spun out on Lap 46 for the first caution of the day. At the time, Truex had led several laps and was on course to retake the lead following the first round of pit stops. Despite not hitting anything, the damage was done, and Truex salvaged a 12th-place finish.

Then there was Kyle Busch, who unloaded at Michigan with a streak of three straight finishes outside the top 30. Unfortunately for Busch, that trend continued this weekend when his engine expired on Lap 54, ending his day immediately, and he finished last.

Shortly following Busch problems, NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s day ended abruptly. Contact from rookie Chris Buescher sent Earnhardt Jr. into AJ Allmendinger and slammed the No.88 hard into the outside wall. The damage was unfixable and forced the to team to settle for 39th.

Just over 100 laps after Earnhardt’s incident, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, suffered right rear damage after contact with Trevor Bayne. Luckily for Johnson, the damage was fixable, and he finished the day 16th.

Then, just as it seemed like all the cautions were done for the day, Denny Hamlin had an issue. With 10 laps to go, Hamlin’s No.11 blew a left rear tire and spun, sliding into the inside wall. Hamlin didn’t return to the track, and finished 33rd.

Keep Smoking

Since his return to the seat, Tony Stewart hasn’t had the season he wanted. The two-time Sprint Cup Series Champion entered the weekend needing a good week to keep his Chase hopes alive.

Ask and you shall receive.

Stewart started the day third and hung tough all day. The 45-year-old stayed in the top 10 all day and ended the day seventh.

The top 10 moves Stewart up to 35th in the driver standings, just 45 points outside of 30th.

Chasing Chase

Another week, another impressive performance by Chase Elliott.

The rookie started the day 10th, and continued to increase his position throughout the race. By Lap 117, Elliott made his way up to give eventual winner Logano a lot of competition.

Elliott led 35 laps, and ended the day with his career best finish of second.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Fill-In Crew Chief Achieves Career Moment

After Tony Gibson was suspended for a loose lug nut violation following the Coca-Cola 600, Johnny Klausmeier filled in at Pocono on Monday as Kurt Busch’s crew chief.

Busch won the AXALTA 400 on fuel strategy, holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Klausmeier, who is the race engineer for the No. 41 team, admitted it was difficult to stay calm in the final laps, but handled the race and his driver like a veteran.

“I was definitely nervous,” Klausmeier said. “You know how the deal goes. You can be a hero or zero really quick. I knew once we took the white flag we would be in good shape, and once we got to that milestone, I felt pretty confident in it.”

With less than 10 laps to go, Busch killed the engine and coasted on the straightaways to conserve fuel. Dale Jr., who finished second, was far enough behind and trying to save fuel too, so the No. 88’s reduced speed allowed Busch to do the same.

Although Klausmeier realizes the win is a big career moment, he was happier that the No 41 team will compete in the Chase.

“The biggest thing for me is just the relief of being into the Chase with one win,” Klausmeier said. “I think that’s huge. Like I said, we’ve been so close, it’s just a matter of getting that off our shoulders, and now we can just build our notebook for the Chase.”

Gibson’s suspension ends June 8, so he’ll be back atop the pit box at Michigan. Busch said he felt unflustered listening to Klausmeier’s voice over the radio rather than Gibson’s voice.

“His voice was way more calming than Gibson,” Busch jokingly said. “When you have an engineer calculating your fuel, I mean, it’s a calculator. I know Gibson can do it just the same, but when you have a new guy or somebody different, and you’re not at your full strength, there’s something that happens to everybody on the team — everybody digs a little deeper.”

Busch said he would speak to Gibson on the phone to discuss the win. Even with Klausmeier calling the race, the SHR driver feels Gibson is a part of the victory, too.

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

VIDEO: Family Ties Making History for Busch Brothers

Kurt and Kyle Busch already hold individual records in the NASCAR history books.

With Kyle’s win at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday afternoon, the brothers now hold another place in history together.

The STP 500 was the 35th Sprint Cup Series win for Kyle. The 2015 champion began his full-time career in 2005 with Hendrick Motorsports, scoring his first victory that September in Fontana. Older brother Kurt, the 2004 champion, has amassed 27 career wins since arriving in 2001 with Roush Fenway Racing.

Kyle’s victory gives him and Kurt 62 combine wins, which moves them into a tie for third place for most Sprint Cup wins by brothers. They sit behind the Allison brothers, Bobby and Donnie with 94 wins, and the Waltrip’s, Darrell and Michael, who have 88.

This shared accomplishment, however, is not the first for the Busch brothers.

The duo has held the record for the most back-to-back victories by brothers for a few years. Last season, they added their seventh when Kurt scored the win at Michigan in late June, followed by Kyle’s first win of the season a week later in Sonoma.

They lead the category over Tim and Fonty Flock, who did the same three times. The Allison’s, Labonte’s and Bodine’s are also included on the list.

Another category the Busch’s find themselves on is most consecutive Sprint Cup wins by brothers.

In 2008, Kyle and Kurt won four consecutive races from Sonoma to Chicago. It put them on the list with Tim, Bob and Fonty Flock (1952), Herb and Donald Thomas, and Tim and Flonty Flock. All are tied with four consecutive victories.


EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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

Kurt Busch Forced to a Backup During Rain-Marred Cup Practice

BROOKLYN, Mich. — After making hard contact with the Turn 2 wall during practice for the Pure Michigan 400 on Friday, Kurt Busch will be forced to spend the rest of the event at Michigan International Speedway driving his back-up car.

Busch and his No. 41 team unloaded extremely tight and battled the issue from his first lap on the track. He lightly touched the wall in Turns 3 and 4 during his first run, apologizing to his team for not lifting. On his second run, he remained tight and drilled the wall in Turns 1 and 2.

He was 17th on the speed charts at the time of his incident.

20150612_122837

Meanwhile, teammate Kevin Harvick and eight other drivers, all topped 200 mph during the first practice session of the weekend. Harvick was the best of the field, leading all drivers with a best speed of 202.492 mph. Joey Logano was second-fastest, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This was the only practice session of the day before qualifying this afternoon at 4:15 p.m. The session was slowed several times for debris and off-and-on rain showers. The forecast calls for increasing rain that may cancel qualifying and the ARCA Racing Series event.

If qualifying is rained out, the field will be set by this session. Two other practice sessions will be held on Saturday. The complete results of practice can be found below.

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Martin Truex Jr
  4. Denny Hamlin
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Jimmie Johnson
  7. Kasey Kahne
  8. Carl Edwards
  9. Dale Earnhardt Jr
  10. Ryan Blaney
  11. Matt Kenseth
  12. Brad Keselowski
  13. David Ragan
  14. Tony Stewart
  15. Ryan Newman
  16. Kyle Larson
  17. Kurt Busch
  18. Kyle Busch
  19. Paul Menard
  20. Greg Biffle
  21. Casey Mears
  22. Ty Dillon
  23. Trevor Bayne
  24. Austin Dillon
  25. Jamie McMurray
  26. Sam Hornish Jr
  27. Clint Bowyer
  28. Aric Almirola
  29. AJ Allmendinger
  30. Landon Cassill
  31. David Gilliland
  32. Ricky Stenhouse Jr
  33. J. Yeley
  34. Justin Allgaier
  35. Michael Annett
  36. Danica Patrick
  37. Alex Bowman
  38. Josh Wise
  39. Cole Whitt
  40. Brett Moffitt
  41. Jeb Burton
  42. Matt DiBenedetto
  43. Mike Bliss
  44. Brendan Gaughan
Categories
News

Kurt Busch Wins the Pole for the Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 at Pocono

By Seth Livingstone (NASCAR Wire Service) LONG POND, Pa. – NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying can be fraught with twists, turns and unexpected bumps in the road.

Friday’s qualifying session at Pocono Raceway, which saw Kurt Busch capture the Coors Light Pole for Sunday’s Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 had them all.

Throughout the day, Turn 2 – the Tunnel Turn – had been a major topic of concern.

“There are grocery store parking lots around the country that are jealous of those three bumps that have developed there,” said Busch, speculating that an offseason beautification project with water feature, enhancing the exterior tunnel entry, somehow created the lumpy racing surface.

“To me, if they could just go ahead and take some bumps like that and put them over in the other corners too, it would be even better,” said Carl Edwards. “It adds something. As long as it’s not breaking parts, I believe it gives us an opportunity to setup passes.”

Ultimately, the issue with the bumpy track took a back seat when Denny Hamlin spun in Turn 1 in the final minute of qualifying, halting the session with 39 seconds remaining and preventing himself and four other drivers from posting a time in the final round.

“It really is a bizarre set of circumstances,” said Jimmie Johnson, a winner of four races this season but one of the drivers left in the qualifying cold. “It’s just unfortunate (for) the guys that were on the track. But as long as NASCAR is consistent (with the rule) through all three series, then we will take our medicine and just deal with it. We (start) ninth. That is the best we’ve been in a while.

Joey Logano, the last driver not from Hendrick Motorsports to win at Pocono, was not so forgiving. Logano said he already had a ‘headache’ thanks to the bumps – and that was before his lap in progress was negated by Hamlin’s spin.

“A car spins out and they throw a red flag for it and then you don’t get an opportunity to go out and make a lap,” Logano said. “I don’t understand it. It makes me mad. I don’t get it. We didn’t even have a chance to try to put our car up front.”

Busch suggested that Pocono Raceway attempt to grind the bumps prior to Sunday’s race. Earnhardt was encouraged that Pocono Raceway CEO Brandon Igdalsky was not only aware of the situation, but planning to take action before the Sprint Cup Series returns in late July.

“I feel like they understand that while we can probably get through this weekend with what’s back there right now, it’s probably not in their best interest to leave it as-is,” Earnhardt said. “It will continue to get worse and I don’t think that we can get our race cars through there if it gets much worse than it is.”

Carl Edwards finished second in qualifying. “ My plan with Denny (Joe Gibbs Racing teammate) almost worked out,” Edwards joked. “But he didn’t spin early enough to keep Kurt from catching me.”

Martin Truex Jr. qualified third in the Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, unaware that the session had been cut short but well aware of the challenges in Turn 2.

“It’s wild,” he said. “The first time through there, I thought either our car was way off or there’s something wrong with the race track. The bumps are 10 times bigger than they were last year, which is crazy. You’re going across bumps that are 8-10 inches tall and, literally, the tires are coming off the ground.”

Jeff Gordon qualified fourth and series leader Kevin Harvick, who posted the fastest lap in each of the first two qualifying sessions, was fifth. Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne were the other drivers who were burned by Hamlin’s spin, having waited too long to attempt a lap in the five-minute session.

Kurt Busch noted during practice that he was losing speed in Turns 1 and 3 and elected to focus on the vast majority of the course, not the troubles in Turn 2. His team also overcame a “wrong gear ratio in the transmission in third gear.”

“There was so much disconnect when we first got here,” said Busch, whose third pole of the season was the 19th of his career. “We had to drop back, reboot with (crew chief) Tony Gibson, (engineer) Johnny Klausmeier, the whole gang. Today was a big group-bonding day and a strength-building day on what this No. 41 team can do together.”

With 43 race entries, all drivers qualified for Sunday’s race.

Tony Stewart, mired in 28th in the point standings, was forced to a backup car after a crash coming out of the Tunnel Turn in the 36th minute of Friday’s practice session. Stewart was 28th in the first round of qualifying and failed to advance. “Driver error,” said Stewart, who has managed just one top-10 finish this season. “I was already past the bump. I got loose on the exit (of the turn) and couldn’t catch it.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400

1. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 177.599 mph.
2. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 177.550 mph.
3. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 177.522 mph.
4. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 177.211 mph.
5. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 177.200 mph.
6. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 176.526 mph.
7. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 175.967 mph.
8. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 177.676 mph.
9. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 177.385 mph.
10. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 177.193 mph.
11. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 176.800 mph.
12. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 176.070 mph.
13. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 176.036 mph.
14. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 176.005 mph.
15. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 175.943 mph.
16. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 175.895 mph.
17. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 175.699 mph.
18. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 175.671 mph.
19. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 175.531 mph.
20. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 175.466 mph.
21. (55) David Ragan, Toyota, 175.418 mph.
22. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 174.832 mph.
23. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 174.236 mph.
24. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 173.819 mph.
25. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 174.791 mph.
26. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 174.771 mph.
27. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 174.683 mph.
28. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 174.652 mph.
29. (33) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 174.317 mph.
30. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 174.031 mph.
31. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 173.873 mph.
32. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 173.772 mph.
33. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 173.695 mph.
34. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 173.410 mph.
35. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 172.467 mph.
36. (34) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 172.437 mph.
37. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
38. (98) Josh Wise, Ford, Owner Points
39. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
40. (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, Owner Points
41. (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, Owner Points
42. (32) Travis Kvapil(i), Ford, Owner Points
43. (62) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Busch Comes Up a Lap Short, Twice, of Victory in Fontana

After @KurtBusch notched a fifth place finish last week in his first race this season, Fontana was a great opportunity for him to capitalize on momentum.

The No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet was easily the fastest car off the trailer this weekend, making him the early favorite to win. He ran in the top-five for much of the afternoon and led a race high 64 laps. His car proved to be the class of the field on short runs and was exceptional on long runs.

After a broken axle derailed @MattKenseth’s chances of winning the race, Busch was in a great position to come home victorious. Except, two late debris cautions derailed his chances of walking away with the victory, given the fact he was running on only two fresh tires. On the two final restarts, he managed to clear himself of the field through turns one and two and get in clean air. His fate quickly changed on the final restart as Brad @Keselowski charged to his back bumper with four fresh tires.

As the white flag flew, @GBiffle wrecked on the front straightaway though NASCAR would not throw a caution. Keselowski managed to get to Busch’s inside as the cars drove into turn one and cleared him off turn two. With the track still under green flag conditions, Busch was going to get one more shot at the win.

With everything on the line, he drove his car as hard as he could in to turn three but could not get to Keselowski’s bumper. After losing all of his momentum, he was passed by his teammate @KevinHarvick and brought his car home third.

Busch had every right to be mad and dissatisfied after the race, as the crazy chain of cautions at the end of the race seemingly shot his chances of winning. He didn’t let any of that show after the race and was overall excited about the day he had just had.

“It was a solid day,” he said. “I don’t know what we could have done different. We just got pinned in by the yellows and the sequence at the end on which tires we needed to have to optimize how many laps were left.”

“We had two tires; (Brad) Keselowski had four. We didn’t need that extra yellow at the end and I just got out muscled by Keselowski.”

It would have been impossible for his team to tell whether or not there was going to be a green-white-checkered. In the end, Busch needed to keep his track position to have less traffic to fight through the lead. While it would be simple for him to blame his finish on the call to take two tires, he put the last restart on himself.

“When do you pit to put four tires on, when do you pit to put two tires on? That last restart I just didn’t get the job done. Brad (Keselowski) out muscled us with four tires.”

Although victory was the only thing the Stewart-Haas Racing team wanted today, they’ve still got a plenty of momentum going into Martinsville next weekend. Busch has garnered two top-five finishes in his first two races this season, and next weekend is another great opportunity for him to win. He scored his lone victory last year in a hard fought race at Martinsville, leaving him little time to hang his head over Fontana.

While a win would have been huge for the No. 41 team this weekend, there is still plenty of momentum riding on their side. Now they’ll just need a little help from lady luck to help propel themselves into this year’s Chase.

EMAIL JOEY AT joey.chapman@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @Joey_Chapman

Categories
News

Kurt Busch Fastest in Auto Club 400 Happy Hour

Kurt Busch remained untouchable at Auto Club Speedway topping the charts in the final practice session before Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California.

Busch was also fastest in the pair of practice sessions that preceded “Happy Hour” and won the pole at the 2-mile race track on Friday afternoon. He’s looking to become the first driver since Carl Edwards to sweep every session of a Sprint Cup weekend, including the all-important trip to Victory Lane.

Edwards achieved the feat in November 2010 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Busch at one point was clocked going over 205 mph on the bumpy California Speedway backstretch and clocked in with an average speed of 184.971 mph. Paul Menard was second fastest at 183.885 mph with Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears and Jimmie Johnson completing the top-5.

Busch and Harvick will start on the front row for the race itself (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX) with Harvick looking for three consecutive wins early in the season and his eighth straight finish of second or better. Richard Petty currently holds that record with 11 straight such finishes all the way back in 1974.

The complete speeds from final practice can be found below.

1 Kurt Busch … 184.971 mph
2 Paul Menard … 183.885
3 Kevin Harvick … 183.220
4 Casey Mears … 183.146
5 Jimmie Johnson … 182.992
6 Martin Truex Jr. … 182.783
7 Ryan Newman … 182.699
8 Joey Logano … 182.348
9 Brad Keselowski … 182.292
10 Dale Earnhardt Jr. … 182.099
11 Danica Patrick … 182.007
12 David Ragan … 181.713
13 Kasey Kahne … 181.644
14 Greg Biffle … 181.644
15 Matt Kenseth … 181.493
16 Kyle Larson … 181.433
17 Denny Hamlin … 181.420
18 Carl Edwards … 181.128
19 Austin Dillon … 181.018
20 Clint Bowyer … 180.591
21 AJ Allmendinger … 180.438
22 Jeff Gordon … 180.140
23 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. … 179.623
24 Brian Scott … 179.596 …
25 Aric Almirola … 179.395
26 Jamie McMurray … 179.185
27 Tony Stewart … 179.096
28 Justin Allgaier … 178.909
29 Sam Hornish Jr. … 178.620
30 Landon Cassill … 177.945
31 Alex Bowman … 177.857
32 Brett Moffitt … 177.721
33 Trevor Bayne … 177.624
34 Josh Wise … 177.279
35 Cole Whitt … 177.257
36 Chris Buescher … 177.048
37 Michael Annett … 176.791
38 JJ Yeley … 176.600
39 David Gilliland … 175.987
40 Jeb Burton … 175.966
41 Mike Bliss … 175.161

Categories
News

DOJ: No Criminal Charges Against Kurt Busch

It was announced earlier today that the Delaware Department of Justice will not be filing criminal charges against @KurtBusch. The Department was investigating Busch over an alleged act of domestic abuse that occurred between him and his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, at the Dover International Speedway last September.

Carl Kanefsky, public information officer for the department, made the following statement this morning:

“The Delaware Department of Justice has carefully reviewed the complaint made of an alleged act of domestic violence involving Kurt Busch in Dover on September 26, 2014, which was reported to the Dover Police Department on November 5, 2014 and investigated.

“After a thorough consideration of all the available information about the case, it is determined the admissible evidence and available witnesses would likely be insufficient to meet the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Busch committed a crime during the September 26th incident.

“Likelihood of meeting that high burden of proof is the standard for prosecutors in bringing a case. For this reason, the Department of Justice will not pursue criminal charges in this case.”

Busch is currently serving an indefinite suspension from NASCAR due to the Commissioner of the Family Court of the State of Delaware’s earlier supplemental findings and opinions from a protective order that stated it was “more likely than not” that Busch committed abuse.

UPDATED: Busch made the following statement after the news was announced.

“I am grateful that the prosecutors in Delaware listened, carefully considered the evidence, and after a thorough investigation decided to not file criminal charges against me. I wish to thank my family, friends, fans, and race team who stood by me throughout this nightmare with their unwavering support. Thanks also goes to my legal team for making sure that the truth got out and was fully provided to the prosecutors. As I have said from the beginning, I did not commit domestic abuse. I look forward to being back in racing as soon as possible and moving on with my life.”

Driscoll responded with a statement of her own.

“While I respect the process, I am disappointed that full justice was not served here. My family and I take a measure of solace in the Order of Protection From Abuse granted by the commissioner Jones, who ruled my account of the facts was the most credible.”

Her statement goes on to say that “Giving further air to baseless and discredited accusations about me does a disservice to the public and reduces a serious matter for law enforcement into tabloid gossip. In all future developments in this case, I will continue to stand up for my integrity and for justice. But for now, I am focused on my family, my friends, and my important and gratifying work with the Armed Forces Foundation.”

It was just announced earlier this week that Busch and NASCAR had agreed to a reinstatement process. David Higdon, VP of NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications, commented last night on the process and what this ruling means for Busch.

“NASCAR is aware of the Delaware Department of Justice announcement today regarding driver Kurt Busch. As we disclosed Monday, he has accepted the terms and conditions of a reinstatement program and is actively participating in the program. Kurt Busch’s eligibility for reinstatement will continue to be governed by that program and the NASCAR Rule Book, though the elimination of the possibility of criminal charges certainly removes a significant impediment to his reinstatement.”

EMAIL KAYLA AT kayla.darrow@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW KAYLA ON TWITTER: @kayla_darrow

Categories
Editorial

Weaver: Early Roster Shake-Up Will Affect Race to the Chase

Just one race into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and it appears as if the Chase for the Championship may look drastically different than what anyone could have expected just a few weeks ago.

Kurt Busch has been indefinitely suspended by NASCAR — the latest result of an ongoing investigation into allegations of domestic abuse against his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll. His younger brother, Kyle Busch, will also miss a significant amount of time following a horrific crash on Saturday in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

The younger Busch suffered a compound break of his right leg and a fracture of his left foot. A timeline for his return has not been established following his initial surgery.

David Ragan has been announced as the full-time driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for at least the next few months while Regan Smith will drive the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet through at least the weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Both Busch brothers made the playoffs last year and were expected to have better seasons in 2015. Given the circumstances surrounding their absence, it’s a safe bet that neither driver will make the Field of 16 come September once the Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway. While unfortunate for both organizations as a whole, this also presents a rare opportunity for a fringe contender to enter the mix and garner attention for themselves in a sport currently dominated by Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske.

Ragan, himself, entered the season with ambitions of scoring a restrictor plate victory in order to make the Chase but has the opportunity of a lifetime to potentially accomplish the feat with JGR and Toyota. The rumored plan is for Ragan to run the next nine events with JGR before handing the ride to top prospect Erik Jones in May at Kansas.

Perhaps a hot start with the No. 18 could potentially force Gibbs into staying with the hot hand and ride out the regular season with Ragan — especially with the lengthy recovery period ahead for Kyle Busch. Even if Ragan has to return home to Front Row Motorsports come summer, the 29-year-old has the best equipment of his career and thus the best chance to win a race or score enough points to battle for a playoff spot down the stretch.

In the words of Lloyd Christmas from Dumb & Dumber — “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Smith is not playoff eligible since he has elected to chase a championship in the XFINITY Series with JR Motorsports but for a driver with hearty ambitions to return full-time to the Cup Series, this weekend looks to be an audition for additional races with SHR and is perhaps the catalyst to earn the former Southern 500 winner a full-time spot on the 2016 grid and beyond.

Without both Busch brothers in the field, borderline playoff contenders like Sam Hornish, Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse all have increased chances and that’s only going to make the racing throughout the field even more competitive.

Injury and controversy of this magnitude is never a positive for NASCAR but it has made the Race to the Chase a wide-open affair.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
News

Kurt Busch Indefinitely Suspended

NASCAR announced Friday evening that @KurtBusch has been suspended indefinitely, citing the driver to be in violation of:

  • Section 12.1.a: Actions detrimental to stock car racing
  • Section 12.8:Behavioral Penalty

This announcement comes after Busch’s ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, was successfully granted a protection from abuse order.

“Given the serious nature of the findings and conclusions made by the Commissioner of the Family Court of the State of Delaware, NASCAR has indefinitely suspended driver Kurt Busch, effective immediately. He will not be allowed to race nor participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice,” NASCAR said in a statement.

“Kurt Busch and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are fully aware of our position and why this decision was made. We will continue to respect the process and timetable of the authorities involved.”

Supplemental findings and opinions from the protective order announced the court was satisfied that the evidence presented during the hearing established that it is “more likely than not” that Busch committed abuse. It goes on to say he committed this abuse by manually strangling Driscoll.

It was also announced that Chevrolet will indefinitely suspend their relationship with Busch, effective immediately.

“We will continue to monitor the events surrounding Mr. Busch and are prepared to take additional action if necessary,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet Vice President of Motorsports and Performance Vehicles.

Said Joe Custer of Stewart-Haas Racing, “We understand NASCAR’s position regarding Kurt Busch and accept their decision. We are in the midst of finalizing our plans for the Daytona
500 and we will announce those details as soon as we’re ready.”

Last week during NASCAR’s Media Day, Stewart-Haas Racing announced it has a contingency plan in place for Busch if needed. That plan is now in action, as it is rumored that @ReganSmith will be in the No. 41 Haas Chevy for the Daytona 500.

As far as next steps for Busch, NASCAR said he can appeal its decision and that the process will be expedited if he chooses to do so.

UPDATED: Busch’s Attorney Responds: “We are extremely disappointed that NASCAR has suspended Kurt Busch and we plan an immediate appeal,” said Rusty Hardin. “We assure everyone, including NASCAR, that this action against Mr. Busch will turn out to be a travesty of justice, apparent to all, as this story continues to unfold.”

“We are confident that if the Commissioner agrees to hear newly available evidence that contradicts the testimony of Ms. Driscoll, he will be able understand the actions of that night as well as Ms. Driscoll’s character and motivations and reconsider his judgment.  He has already found that Ms. Driscoll lied under oath at least once.  Our newly available evidence will make it clear that much more of her testimony was untruthful and was purposefully kept from the Commissioner by Ms. Driscoll’s attempts to intimidate and threaten witnesses. ”

“It is important for everyone to remember that the Commissioner’s report has to do with a civil, family law matter and no criminal charges have been filed against Mr. Busch.”

“We ask everyone’s patience as this case continues in the court of law and are confident that when the truth is known Mr. Busch will be fully vindicated and back in the driver’s seat.”

This story continues to develop, stay tuned to POPULAR SPEED for the latest updates.

EMAIL KAYLA AT kayla.darrow@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW KAYLA ON TWITTER: @kayla_darrow