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Kurt Busch hopes to be the first and last ‘Sprint’ Cup champion

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There are only five races left in the ‘Sprint’ era of NASCAR.

The cell phone company departs as the title sponsor of the Cup Series following the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20. Clinching this particular title would have a little more meaning for Kurt Busch.

Busch, at 25 and in his fourth year in the series, kicked off Sprint’s 12-year relationship with NASCAR in 2004 when he won the inaugural title, then the Nextel Cup. A corporate merger made it the Sprint Cup in 2008.

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 03: 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion Kurt Busch stands on top of his car while posing with the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup trophy prior the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards outside of the Waldorf Astoria on December 3, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kurt Busch in New York City in December 2004 prior to the Nextel Cup Awards. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

“That would be fun to be able to bookend the championship run with Sprint sponsorship of our series,” Busch said Tuesday during a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway  “It’s been an amazing run for them, a brand builder for both NASCAR and a cell phone company. When you’re the first champion with a new sponsor it came with some fun responsibilities and good promotions.”

Busch won the 2004 title, the first of the “Chase” era, while driving for Roush Fenway Racing.

“It’s neat to see what (Sprint) benefited from and here we are now, it’s at the end,” Busch said. “2004 was a long time ago. It’s time to upgrade the championship trophy to a 2016 one.”

If Busch can survive in the standings until the finale, he’ll have the chance to score the third Cup title for Stewart-Haas Racing – where he has been since 2014. Heading into the Alabama 500 at Talladega, Busch is sixth on the Chase grid, 17 points up on the bubble.

“Last year we came out of Kansas with a top-(six) finish and had 13 points as our cushion,” Busch said. “This year we have a 17-point cushion after we finished 13th (at Kansas). It’s a numbers game, and we feel comfortable where we sit.”

But the fates of Busch and nine other drivers hinge on their result at Talladega, the 2.66-mile track notorious for wrecks that threaten to eliminate half the field.

“All we have to do at Talladega is finish 16th or better, no matter what anybody else does,” said Busch of his best possible clinch scenario outside a win. “It’s the same as having sixth or better or 36th or better because you never know when you’ll get caught up in the big wreck and end up 36th or worse.”

In his 17 years competing in the Sprint Cup Series, Busch has never won a points paying restrictor-plate race. He’s finished third five times at Talladega but hasn’t earned a top five there since 2007.

His average finish at Talladega through 31 starts? Just on target at 16.3.

“It’s nice to have points in our pockets,” said Busch. “That’s the best feeling.”

NASCAR America: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. talks Phoenix finish, racing roots

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joins NASCAR America to go over his fourth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver also shares his racing origins in Mississippi and the hobbies he and girlfriend Danica Patrick share with each other.

Stenhouse is in his fifth full-time year competing in the NASCAR Cup Series with Roush Fenway Racing.

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: Alaska

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NASCAR America continues its journey through the United States with the second chapter in “50 States in 50 Shows.”

Following South Alabama Speedway, the show features Capitol Speedway and Alaska Raceway Park in Alaska.

Owned by Nancy and Wes Wallace, Capitol Speedway is a 3/8th-mile oval and features sprint car racing and demolition derbies.

 

Kevin Harvick crew chief fined, suspended one race for encumbered finish

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Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, has been suspended for one NASCAR Cup Series race and fined $25,000 for an unapproved track bar slider assembly last weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

The penalty, a L1 infraction, results in an encumbered finish. Harvick placed sixth in the Camping World 500.

The No. 4 team has also been docked 10 driver and owner points. Harvick was seventh in the standings after four races. He trailed leader Kyle Larson by 61 points. The loss of points drops Harvick one spot to eighth behind Jamie McMurray.

Harvick has not won a race yet, which would qualify him for the playoffs.

MORE: Brad Keselowski closes crew chief for three races, team docked 35 driver points

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NASCAR docks Brad Keselowski, Team Penske 35 points; suspends crew chief Paul Wolfe

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NASCAR docked Brad Keselowski 35 points, suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined Wolfe $65,000 because Keselowski’s car failed inspection after finishing fifth in last weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR also docked the team 35 owner points for the L1 infraction. NASCAR stated that Keselowski’s result is an encumbered finish.

NASCAR cited Keselowski’s car for failing weights and measurements on the laser platform. NASCAR stated in Wednesday’s penalty report that the team failed the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station. 

MORE: NASCAR suspends crew chief Rodney Childers one race

Team Penske issued a statement Wednesday:

“We have acknowledged the penalties levied against the No. 2 team following last weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.  The race cars returned to the race shop today and we are in the process of evaluating the area in question. In the meantime, we have decided Brian Wilson will serve as Brad Keselowski’s crew chief at Auto Club Speedway while we evaluate our approach relative to today’s penalties.”

The penalty drops Keselowski from second in the standings to fourth heading into this weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

The more significant issue is how this could impact Keselowski, who already has a win, in the playoffs.

The top 10 in points before the playoffs begin earn additional points. The points leader earns 15 playoff points. The driver second in the standings earns 10 playoff points, the driver third in the standings earns eight playoff points, the driver fourth in the standings earns seven playoff points. It goes down to the driver 10th in the standings earning one playoff point.

Those playoff points carry through the first three rounds, which is different from last year. Falling behind in the regular season – or losing points because of a penalty – could have ramifications in the playoffs. 

“I think it’s real important to explain why points matter this year,” Keselowski said on Fox Sports 1’s “Race Hub” on Wednesday night. “Last year, you got a win and you locked in and you got to the next round. This year with points, you still lock in with wins. The difference is there’s a huge points bonus for having the most points at the end of the season that carries all the way through the playoffs, and you only get that bonus if you’re one of the best cars and leading up front at the end of the regular season, which requires having a lot of points. Thirty-five points is a pretty big deal, and so is 10 points for Kevin (Harvick) and his team.”

 

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