Streaking Busch faces Kansas challenge
News flash: He’s back. And how.
Busch posted his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the year in Texas to extend his string of five top-five finishes and advance to third in the standings just 18 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Since finishing 23rd in Phoenix, the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has gone fourth, second, first, fifth and first. Over that five-race span, Busch has led 435 laps – or an average of 87 per race.
Busch needs to lead just 174 laps to enter an exclusive 25,000 laps-led club that currently boasts only five competitors – all members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. They are Richard Petty, the all-time lap leader with more than 50,000, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison and David Pearson.
Adding an exclamation point in the Lone Star State, Busch won his series-record fourth NASCAR Nationwide Series event in the first six races of the season.
Two victories would have put Busch in last year’s Chase and might well guarantee the Nevada driver a spot in 2013. But he’s taking nothing for granted.
“We’ve still got some work to do to get better at some of the tracks that we did struggle at last year, and we know that,” he said, pointing to Sunday’s STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.
The 1.5-mile track, resurfaced last summer, has been a speed bump, of sorts, for Busch.
He’s without a NASCAR Sprint Cup victory or a top-five finish in 11 starts at Kansas Speedway, where Busch’s best performance is a seventh in 2006. Busch also has finished off the lead lap in five races – a rarity.
Statistics support Busch’s Kansas struggles. His Driver Rating is – by his standards – an anemic 81.8, 17th among current drivers. Busch’s average Kansas finish is 21.0 He finished 31st in last fall’s Chase race, eliminated by an accident after 181 laps.
Busch is aware of the challenge.
“That’s going to be a battle for us just making sure we’ve got a good handling car and one that I can drive and push hard and make speed of because that asphalt is pretty new there,” he said.
Busch will do double-duty at Kansas stepping into his own No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra for Saturday’s SFP 250.
NASCAR’s Stars Of Tomorrow Shine Today
If anything can be taken from last weekend’s races, it’s that NASCAR’s crop of young stars is the real deal.
While Kyle Busch was busy dominating the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide races in Texas, Kyle Larson and Ben Kennedy did a little dominating of their own.
Drive for Diversity graduate Larson, who is running a full-time Nationwide schedule for Turner Scott Motorsports, competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Rockingham on Sunday, after finishing 32nd in the Friday night Nationwide event in Texas. In the truck race, he led 187 of the 205 laps and held off a hard-charging Joey Logano on the last lap to become the first Drive for Diversity graduate or driver to score a win in a NASCAR national series event in the program’s 10-year history.
“It feels good to finally win a national race with NASCAR,” said Larson. “I got close at Phoenix last year in the truck race, and then again this year at Bristol in the Nationwide Series.”
In six Nationwide races this season, his first in the series, he has a second, a sixth and a pair of 13th-place finishes.
The previous night, in Pensacola, Fla., Kennedy was putting on his own show in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Five Flags Speedway. Kennedy, the great grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., led the 150-lap event wire-to-wire after starting on the pole and having the fastest car in practice.
“It was really cool to sort of see our own team develop throughout the years and sort of finally come together and finally get out there and be able to get a pole and dominate the race,” Kennedy said.
His triumph on Saturday night, however, wasn’t his first victory in a NASCAR-sanctioned event. Last season, he won the first oval event in the inaugural season of the EURO RACECAR, NASCAR Touring Series at Tours Speedway in France.
Kennedy finished 10th and 17th in the first two points races of the NKNPS East season. He will make his first three truck series starts later this season.
Record Speeds Expected In Gen-6 Car At Repaved Kansas Speedway
Speeds skyrocketed at Kansas Speedway last October following the track’s repaving earlier in the year. Every qualifier eclipsed Matt Kenseth’s one-lap record of 180.856 mph, with Kasey Kahne topping out at a blistering 191.360.
Now comes the NASCAR Sprint Cup Gen-6 car with enhanced down force characteristics. Yes, the speedway’s surface has gone through one winter but all indication is that grip will be available in ample quantities.
The question probably isn’t if Kahne’s lap record will fall but rather by how much.
Roush Fenway Racing recently tested its Gen-6 Ford Fusion at Kansas Speedway. Carl Edwards’ takeaway was this: “It was only our team so we really don’t know how we stack up, but it’s lightning fast.”
Edwards believes Sunday’s race could be similar to last month’s race at Auto Club Speedway, where teams ended up with different tire strategies resulting in a final, 10-lap battle between a dozen or more cars.
“I had reservations just because of how different the car is,” said Edwards, who hopes to replicate a NASCAR Camping World Truck victory at his home track. “Those last 10 or 15 laps at California pretty much said it all to me. If we can put on that style of race at a track that’s two miles long and has all the aero issues that we complain about … I think this car could put on some very, very good races at these mile-and-a-halfs.”
The STP 400 marks the first time the Gen-6 car has been raced on intermediate tracks in back-to-back weekends.
Four Kansas Winners Search For Third Victory
Can Kansas Speedway’s first three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner emerge on Sunday?
Pick from several who have won twice: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart. Each member of the quartet ranks among the top five in Driver Rating with Johnson’s whopping 119.5 topping the list.
Johnson, who finished sixth in Texas, continues as the series points leader. The five-time Sprint Cup champion’s most recent Kansas victory came in the fall of 2011. Johnson’s average Kansas finish is 8.0 aided by 11 top-10 finishes.
Biffle, a winner in 2007 and fall 2010, isn’t far behind Johnson with a Driver Rating of 113.0. Both Gordon (101.5) and Stewart (100.8) have triple-digit Driver Ratings, as does last fall’s winner Matt Kenseth (106.4).
Teams return to Kansas Speedway in October during the Chase. It’s the fourth Chase track to be run this spring along with Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix.
Can Kenseth, Truex Match Last Year’s 1-2 Finish At Kansas?
In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ most recent trip to Kansas Speedway, Matt Kenseth led a race-high 78 of the 267 laps to beat Martin Truex Jr. to the finish line by 0.495 seconds.
This Sunday, the top-two finishers from last October’s race return to the 1.5-mile intermediate track with 41 other competitors all vying for the STP 400 trophy.
With one win, five top fives, eight top 10s and one pole in 14 starts at Kansas, Kenseth has the better record between the two. In the past five Kansas races, Kenseth’s lowest finish is seventh (fall 2010). Additionally, he has a sixth and a pair of fourth-place finishes during that span. His driver rating in Kansas is third highest among active drivers – 106.4.
In nine starts at Kansas, Truex has two top fives and a driver rating of 90.5 (ninth best). After his second-place performance in last weekend’s Texas race, which had him visibly upset, the Kansas track could rekindle visions of his second-place angst. He was the runner-up in both 2012 races. The 2012 spring race was particularly hard to swallow after leading the race for a race-high 173 laps, only to give up the lead to Denny Hamlin with 31 laps to go.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
Brian Vickers’ eighth-place finish in Texas – his first race in relief of injured Denny Hamlin – preserved a top-10 ranking in owners’ points for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The team ranks eighth. … Last weekend, Aric Almirola drove the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford to its first top-10 finish of the season. Petty is Sunday’s Grand Marshal. … Two drivers who have never qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ – Joey Logano (ninth) and Paul Menard (10th) – are among the series top 10 following the year’s first seven races. … Sunday’s race will mark Juan Pablo Montoya’s 225th NSCS start.
Nationwide Series Sees Some Of Its Best Competition In Recent Years
Close competition is a must in NASCAR and this season bodes one of the closest points races in recent years. Only two points separate NASCAR Nationwide Series standings leader Sam Hornish Jr. and second-place Regan Smith, and the remaining top five are all within nine points of the standings lead after the first six races of the season.
In comparison to the past two seasons, the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series season is ripe for anyone’s taking. After six races last season, only two drivers in the standings were within 50 points of the leader. In 2011, there were just seven drivers within 50 points of the lead. In 2013, after six races, the entire top 10 in the standings are within 40 points of the leader, and all of the top 15 are still within 100 points.
This season’s championship standout is the series standings leader Hornish, driving for Penske Racing. He is the only series championship contender this season to win a race (Las Vegas), and he leads the series in season-to-date Driver Rating (108.0) and all series contenders in top fives (four) to boot. His season-to-date average finish is 8.3.
Hornish has not been flawless. His points lead dwindled this past weekend with a 34th-place finish in Texas, opening the door for JR Motorsports’ Smith in second, and Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon in third – each making significant gains in points. Hornish also has Turner Scott Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier and RCR’s Brian Scott just nine points back and closing.
Bonus points are crucial to the success of championship racing; through six races Hornish has accumulated the most in the series with seven.
The close competition continues when the NASCAR Nationwide Series returns to action at Richmond International Raceway on April 26 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN News.
Dillon Holds His Own Against Dominant Cup Drivers
On a night when everyone was talking about Kyle Busch’s dominant showing at Texas, Austin Dillon was quietly putting together another solid performance.
Dillon, who finished third in Friday’s race, usually runs well against the NSCS drivers competing in Nationwide races. Six of the top-eight finishers in the Texas race were NSCS regulars: Busch (first), Brad Keselowski (second), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth), Kevin Harvick (fifth), Matt Kenseth (sixth) and Kasey Kahne (eighth).
In Dillon’s first Nationwide win at Kentucky last year, he beat seven NSCS regulars to the finish line after dominating most of the race. In the six series races so far this season, an average of six NSCS regulars have competed.
Dillon, who is eight points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr., has performed admirably this season with two top fives and four top 10s (sixth place or better). Outside of Daytona, his lowest finish is an 11th(Bristol).
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Last weekend’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner, Kyle Larson (66), sits second in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings just two points behind Alex Bowman (68). Brazilian native and Turner Scott Motorsports driver Nelson Piquet Jr. is third in the rookie standings with 53 points; 15 back from Bowman. … Toyota has taken an early lead in the manufacturers’ standings with 46 points, nine points ahead of second-place Ford (37). Toyota has four wins thanks to driver Kyle Busch this season. Chevrolet is in third with 31 points after six races. … NNS points leader Sam Hornish Jr. participated in a gear test at Mid-Ohio on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The Ohio native will return to his home state on Aug. 17 for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
No Going Back To Kansas Victory Lane
Many have mastered Kansas Speedway – 12 different NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers, to be exact. None has been able to do it more than once. A 13th different winner in Saturday’s SFP 250 would break a record Kansas Speedway shares with Homestead-Miami Speedway. The latter string of 12 consecutive different winners began with the South Florida track’s first appearance on the schedule in 1996 and continued through 2007.
Four previous Kansas winners have entered this year’s event: James Buescher (2012), Johnny Sauter (2010), Ron Hornaday Jr. (2008) and Todd Bodine (2005). Bodine was Homestead’s first repeat winner in 2008.
At least eight drivers who have won in the series – but not at Kansas – are expected to compete in Saturday’s race, led by Kyle Busch, who would like to add to his 30 NCWTS victories – second most all-time in the series.
Kansas Speedway, resurfaced since the truck series’ last appearance, has a history of producing first-time series winners – four in all. Buescher, who went on to capture last year’s championship, is the most recent. The others are Erik Darnell (2007), Jon Wood (2003) and the late Ricky Hendrick (2001).
Among entrants looking for a first NCWTS victory is Joey Logano, who finished a close second at Rockingham Speedway to winner Kyle Larson. Clint Bowyer (2011) is the only Kansas truck winner to win as a NASCAR Sprint Cup regular.
Reigning Champ Buescher Looks For Big Turnaround
No NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion has been able to win back-to-back titles.
Right now, it looks like James Buescher will extend that record unless his No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet team executes a big turnaround.
Buescher has yet to post a top-10 finish in the season’s first three races. He sits eighth in current standings, 42 points behind leader Johnny Sauter following his 14th-place finish at Rockingham Speedway.
This could be Buescher’s bounce-back week. The defending winner of Saturday’s SFP 250 turned promise into performance in 2012. The victory was the first of four for the Texan – and each came on a 1.5-mile intermediate-style race track.
“There’s no question the season hasn’t started off the way our Rheem team was hoping,” said Buescher, whose Turner Scott teammate Kyle Larson won at Rockingham – just as Kasey Kahne did for the organization a year ago. “It’s not because we haven’t run well.
“I feel like we are always in contention for a win but we’ve just been bitten by some bad luck so far and don’t have the end result to show for it.”
A 20th-place qualifying effort damaged Buescher’s chances at Martinsville. He qualified in the top three at Daytona and Rockingham and led both races before settling for top-15 placings.
“I think heading to Kansas this weekend couldn’t come at a better time for this team,” he said.
Burton, Blaney Making Mark In Camping World Trucks
Keep an eye on a few “young guns” when the green flag falls at Kansas Speedway.
Jeb Burton, 20, has won back-to-back poles and sits second in the points standings. Ryan Blaney, 19, became the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ youngest winner last summer at Iowa Speedway and is proving that Brad Keselowski Racing has become a week-in, week-out contender.
Burton finished 36th a year ago in his only Kansas appearance. But the series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader – by a 51 to 35 count over Blaney – has collected three consecutive top 10s in his No. 4 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet.
Blaney, meanwhile, counts a pair of eighth-place performances and ranks fifth in overall points. The Keselowski organization matched its best series race finish at Rockingham when Joey Logano finished second.
“Switching over to the Ford camp this year has gone really well for BKR. We continue to make improvements and build on previous weeks to get our trucks ready for competition week in and week out,” said Jeremy Thompson, the team’s general manager.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Timothy Peters and Johnny Sauter need 15 and 22 laps led, respectively, to reach their 1,000th lap led in NCWTS competition. … Three teenagers finished among the top 10 at Rockingham (Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones), matching the record set the previous week at Martinsville Speedway. … Last year’s SFP 250 matched a pair of Kansas Speedway records: fewest cautions (five) and most lead changes (16).
Stefanik Extends Wins Record In Whelen Modified Tour Season Opener
With every win, Mike Stefanik just adds to his legacy. The Coventry, R.I., driver is already just one of two drivers in the history of NASCAR with nine championships, with NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans being the other.
Sunday, 54-year-old Stefanik extended his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour wins record with his 73rd victory. The win in the tour’s season opener at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway was a bit of redemption for Stefanik, who lost the UNOH Battle At The Beach in February because of last-lap contact.
This time, Stefanik was able to hold off multiple hard charges from Ryan Preece, Rowan Pennink and Ron Silk to drive to Victory Lane. He edged runner-up Pennink by just .229 seconds.
The day before, Stefanik earned the Coors Light Pole Award. Sunday’s win was his 15th at Thompson, also a record.
Brunnhoelzl Takes Wire-To-Wire Win In Whelen Southern Modified Tour
Two-time defending champion George Brunnhoelzl finally broke through on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Saturday with a wire-to-wire win at South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- Next Race: STP 400
- The Place: Kansas Speedway
- The Date: Sunday, April 21
- The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
- TV: FOX, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- Next Race: ToyotaCare 250
- The Place: Richmond International Raceway
- The Date: Friday, April 26
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPNews, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 187.5 miles (250 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- Next Race: SFP 250
- The Place: Kansas Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, April 20
- The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 250.5 miles (167 laps)