|Busch dominates Bristol to win Nationwide race|
|Saturday, August 24, 2013 12:19 AM|
BRISTOL, Tenn. — The crowd showered Kyle Busch with boos Friday night as he celebrated yet another Bristol Motor Speedway win in Victory Lane.
“Whether you’re booing or cheering, glad you’re here,” Busch said over the public address system. “Hope you’re booing more tomorrow when we take home another trophy.”
It wouldn’t be out of the question for Busch, who will be going for a Bristol sweep in tonight’s Sprint Cup Series race. He won Wednesday night’s Truck Series race and dominated Friday night’s Nationwide Series race, starting from the pole and leading 228 of the 250 laps.
“You’ve got to win two to go for three, so here’s two,” explained Busch, who has 15 career national wins at Bristol and swept the week in August 2010.
His win Friday night was his 60th Nationwide series win of his career and 120th spanning NASCAR’s three national series. It was also his 15th of the season after winning just one race in all three series last season.
“It comes from preparation, it comes from the shop, it comes from practice here,” added Busch, who also praised crew chief Adam Stevens. “Adam and I, we work real well together.”
Brad Keselowski finished second and was followed by Austin Dillon and Justin Allgaier.
Kyle Larson was fifth, while Trevor Bayne was sixth and followed by Ty Dillon and Kasey Kahne. Brian Scott and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10.
Sam Hornish Jr. entered the race as the Nationwide Series points leader but had a spark plug wire problem and finished 12th.
Busch won’t have such an easy go of it in tonight’s Cup race after a spin in qualifying prevented him from making a lap. He’ll start last in the 43-car field and have to fight hard to avoid being lapped early on the .533-mile bullring.
“It’s a whole different ball game tomorrow, for sure,” he ended. “In qualifying, I just overstepped it, got too high, I was a little loose and I just screwed up. It’s not like I haven’t come from deep in the field before, but it’s going to be a tall order.”
Hamlin grabs the pole at Bristol: Denny Hamlin, searching for anything to save his season, got a slight boost Friday with a pole-winning run at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Hamlin turned a lap 128.969 mph around the 0.533-mile bullring to put his Toyota in the top starting spot for tonight’s race. Although it’s his fourth pole of the season, it’s his first career pole at Bristol, where Hamlin is the defending race winner.
But he heads into the race in search of anything positive: He’s 25th in points — largely because he missed four races with a fractured vertebra suffered in a crash at California — and entered Bristol stuck in a miserable 9-race slump in which he hasn’t logged a finish higher than 18th.
Although he wants to win a race, he’ll take any sort of minor victory.
“It’s by far the worst run, these nine races, in my career,” he said. “A lot of it is our own doing. We got off track for a couple races because we’ve blown right front tires in consecutive weeks and we started changing our setups and we couldn’t find anything that was very good with that. That burnt another three, four weeks. We’ve had horsepower cut back. But we’re headed in the right direction.
“At any moment, we can go from a 25th-place car to winning a pole and winning the race. There’s not a whole lot of teams that can say they can win at any moment but I feel like we can.”
Hamlin’s lap was good enough to hold off 5-time Bristol winner Kurt Busch, who qualified second with a lap of 128.770. It’s the seventh front-row starting spot of the season for Busch, who is suddenly a hot commodity on the free-agent market with an offer to join Stewart-Haas Racing next season.
Furniture Row Racing has made its offer to keep Busch and the driver fired from Penske Racing at the end of 2011 now finds himself not only wading through multiple prospects but vying for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Although he’s winless on the year, consistency has him ranked ninth in points with three races remaining to set the Chase field.
“The guys (at Furniture Row) know that this is the time now and they are all shaking my hand saying ‘Thanks’ and they are also saying ‘Let’s do this again next year’,” Busch added. “I’m like, ‘Heck, yeah. I’m right there with you.’ We have to stay focused on the present as well as balance the future and it’s a tough thing to do. You hope you can do it behind the scenes and it’s not out in the public. But today was a great reminder of how hard you have to work in this sport.”
Carl Edwards qualified third in a Ford and was followed by Toyota drivers Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth as Toyota took three of the top five spots.
For Vickers, it was a big run in his first race as full-time driver of the No. 55 at Michael Waltrip Racing. Hired two weeks ago to take over that car next year, he got a jump on the job early when Stewart-Haas Racing asked to use Mark Martin for the rest of the year as Tony Stewart’s injury replacement.
MWR signed off because it gave them the chance to give Vickers a head start on next year with crew chief Rodney Childers — only Childers informed his team Friday morning he’s not coming back next year. Although he hasn’t finalized a deal, he’s apparently also going to SHR to crew chief Kevin Harvick next year.
Vickers handled the news well.
“No good team is built with one person,” he added. “The good news is that we’ve got the opportunity to go find some great people for this team and we’re on the hunt now and there’s some really good people out there. We’re going to hopefully find the right one and still go race for a championship next year.”
SHR making progress in pursuit of Busch, Childers: While team co-owner Stewart is sidelined at home nursing a broken right leg, Stewart-Haas Racing is charging full steam ahead with aggressive plans for 2014.
SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said Friday the team is moving forward in its pursuit of 2004 NASCAR champion Kurt Busch, who has been offered a seat in a new ride that would expand the organization to four cars next season. The push for Busch is being made by team co-owner Gene Haas, who Zipadelli explained only wants Busch for the seat that apparently would be funded and sponsored by Haas’ CNC machine company Haas Automation, Inc.
“As far as Kurt’s deal, that is moving forward,” Zipadelli added. “We spent time this week talking about buildings and expanding. So as far as that part goes, we’re pretty much committed. If we can get it all worked out, we’re going to add that link.”
Meanwhile, Childers informed his Michael Waltrip Racing team he wouldn’t be returning in 2014 to crew chief Brian Vickers. Although he has nothing officially lined up, it appears to be a mere formality until he finalizes a deal to move to SHR next season to crew chief Kevin Harvick.
“It’s actually not 100 percent done but I think everybody has a good idea what it is,” Childers said.
Zipadelli has spent the last three weeks lining up driver replacements — first was Max Papis at Watkins Glen, then Austin Dillon last week at Michigan — and a deal was worked out to get Martin freed from his commitments with MWR, where he shared a seat with Vickers, to replace Stewart everywhere except Talladega going forward.
That allows Zipadelli to concentrate on what has obviously become a very aggressive plan to turn SHR into a NASCAR powerhouse.
“We are looking to do whatever we can to make Stewart-Haas a better place to race, give our drivers better resources, crew chiefs,” Zipadelli continued. “Our goal is to give our teams a better product to race every week going into Daytona. With four good drivers next year, I think that it gives us that opportunity.
“Our owners are aggressive. It’s kind of exciting. It’s fun in a time where everybody is kind of going the other way, we’ve got owners that are committed to stepping up and hopefully making Stewart-Haas a bigger and better place in the future.”
The team committed last November to bring Harvick aboard in 2014 but Stewart said in July in releasing Ryan Newman they didn’t have the current capability to keep Newman and add Harvick. SHR had already expanded this season to three cars with the addition of Danica Patrick and early-season struggles across the board had led many to believe the team was suffering growing pains.
Now comes this chase of Busch, who has resurrected his career following his 2011 firing from Penske Racing. Driving for single-car team Furniture Row Racing, Busch is currently ninth in the standings and in line for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“Obviously, something’s changed,” Zipadelli added. “Gene Haas is our partner and started this many years ago; he’s always liked Kurt. We talked about Kurt last year, putting him in the 39 (driven by Newman). Things just didn’t work out; it’s nothing Ryan did wrong. He’s done a great job; he’s a great guy, a heck of a driver.
“This kind of got sprung on us 14 days ago. Gene just showed some interest in having the ability to put something together; that’s really all it is. It’s something we’re working on; I don’t know if it all will come together.”
Helio ready to go in Sonoma after scary crash
SONOMA, Calif. — After Stewart wrecked his NASCAR season by breaking his leg in a sprint car crash, Helio Castroneves admits he wondered whether it was such a good idea to drive a Brazilian stock car on an unfamiliar street course in the middle of the IndyCar season.
Castroneves is a race car driver, so he did it anyway.
And he barely emerged intact from a wreck of his own.
“It wasn’t a fun call from Roger (Penske),” Castroneves said, grinning.
Castroneves realizes he nearly ruined his chance to win his first IndyCar championship in his Team Penske Chevrolet with his misadventure two weeks ago in Ribeirao Preto. His brakes failed at more than 120 mph before a tight turn on a brand-new course and he slammed his stock car into a wall.
After three stitches on a bone-deep cut in his shin and a few days of rest for his sprained neck, he’s ready to resume the IndyCar chase. He leads Scott Dixon by 31 points in the standings with five races left in the season.
“My biggest concern was a little pain in the neck because it was such a violent hit,” Castroneves said Friday after practice at Sonoma Raceway. “But they took X-ray, CAT scan, MRI — they did everything that’s possible. Thank God it was clear. By Wednesday, I was 100 percent. I’m still a little bruised in my ribs but the position that we sit in the (IndyCar) car, the belt actually avoids the ribs. Honestly, I don’t feel a thing, so I’m very happy.”
So why would Castroneves even take the chance of competing in a meaningless stock car race when he’s so close to the IndyCar title he’s been chasing for more than a decade? And why would he do it just four days after Stewart demonstrated the dangers of dabbling in minor races with his crash in Iowa?
Castroneves answered it’s because he agreed to the deal back in April with the prominent support of sponsor Shell Pennzoil. The race organizers even moved the date to avoid a conflict with the IndyCar schedule.
“I made commitments and sometimes when you make commitments, it’s hard to just say, like, ‘Listen’ …” Castroneves explained. “They prepared the car and they were sending pictures to see how the car was being done. I even had second thoughts after Tony Stewart had a little issue, broke his leg. I’m like, ‘Oh, man, this is not going in the right direction here.’ But sometimes, it happens for a reason.”
With its elevation changes and nasty corners, the Sonoma road course requires drivers to be in tip-top shape. The race often plays a pivotal role in the IndyCar championship chase, with points leaders frequently getting pulled back to the pack in the standings by bad Sonoma performances in recent years.
Castroneves, who won at Sonoma in 2008, believes he can buck the trend even while acknowledging the difficulties of the track nestled between wine country and the San Francisco Bay. He had the second-fastest practice time Friday.
“I’m not sure if it’s wind or the sand that blows into the track but it’s very tough because the track becomes a little slippery,” Castroneves added. “It depends on where the wind is going. This morning, it was one way, and now it’s another way. It can get very confusing. That’s why it’s so difficult — not only because of that but because of blind corners as well. Sometimes you can’t see what’s right after the corner, so it’s a big challenge. It’s a tough business.”
He has been one of the circuit’s most consistently successful drivers for more than a decade, finishing in the top six in 10 of the past 11 years. He finished second in 2002 and 2008 but has never won the overall title.
Defending Sonoma champion Ryan Briscoe also is playing hurt after breaking his right wrist in Toronto last month. Briscoe is eager for his first race since undergoing surgery but acknowledges he’s at only 90 percent effectiveness while wearing a brace on his wrist.
“I’ve been training, so I’ve got a pretty good grip on the wheel,” Briscoe said. “I guess we won’t know until the end of the race whether I start fatiguing or not. The biggest challenge has been getting used to wearing the brace in the car because initially it was getting in the way on the hairpins and stuff. We’ve tried to figure out a method where it doesn’t catch on the belts or anything.”
Vettel fastest in 2nd Belgian GP practice
SPA, Belgium — Sebastian Vettel had the fastest time before his rear tire punctured during Friday’s second practice at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The 3-time defending Formula One champion had to stop with about 20 minutes left. His right rear tire popped and the loose rubber flapped around as he made his way back to the pits.
The German was earlier timed in 1 minute, 49.331 seconds. That was 0.059 seconds quicker than the time of Red Bull teammate Mark Webber and 0.818 faster than Lotus driver Romain Grosjean.
It was not immediately clear what caused Vettel’s puncture but it could be unwelcome news for Pirelli given the commotion surrounding its fast-shredding tires this season.