Ryan: A day of fast cars but frayed emotions for Joe Gibbs Racing


MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Busch flipped a thumbs up and a discordant message at team owner Joe Gibbs while briskly walking away from the pits Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

“—ing great teammate,” Busch said.

Without acknowledgement, Gibbs stoically walked a few yards down the track’s pit lane to the No. 11 Toyota, where the object of Busch’s ire, Denny Hamlin, still was completing postrace interviews.

Was Joe Gibbs Racing – the epitome of harmonious cooperation a week earlier in rear-guard formation at Talladega Superspeedway – suddenly in need of smoothing out some fissures within a NASCAR fortress that largely was impenetrable in dominating much of the Sprint Cup season?

“I don’t think so,” Gibbs told NBC Sports. “I think they kind of handle stuff like that themselves, but, you know, our guys are all very competitive. You got three different sponsors, and everyone’s going hard. That’s part of being in a good situation and having good cars.

“I think all three of them are racing extremely hard, and I think probably all three of them were going for it as hard as they could. I think that can happen when you have three good cars.”

JGR had four great cars in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500, but it was understandable why the powerhouse with half of the remaining eight Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders left the 0.526-mile oval with an empty feeling.

Carl Edwards finished 36th after blowing a tire on his No. 19 Toyota just before a scheduled pit stop with 160 laps to go. Teammates Busch (fifth), Hamlin (third) and Matt Kenseth (fourth with a race-high 176 laps led) all earned top fives that were served with a whopping double-combination reality check.

There will be no scenario in which JGR’s dream regular season – 13 wins in 26 races — will end with the championship decided in an intrasquad battle within the walls of its Huntersville, N.C., headquarters.

That was ensured by the continued resurgence of Jimmie Johnson, who quickly is emerging as the JGR dream killer of the 2016 playoffs.

With his 79th career victory, the six-time series champion catapulted into the championship round of the playoffs and will have the opportunity to prevent another driver from advancing next week at Texas Motor Speedway, where he has won four consecutive times in the annual November race.

Whichever three cars – JGR or otherwise – that are title-eligible for the Nov. 20 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will have to contend with Johnson, who has a two-week jump-start on the competition and the history-making motivation of tying an all-time record with a seventh title.

Though JGR has yet to win in the Chase, the team seems undaunted by the prospect of wresting a title from Johnson’s grasp.

“I think anyone can be beat,” Hamlin said. “I wouldn’t deem anyone better than the rest.  I think that any car that makes it in, whether it be points or wins, is going to be tough to beat.

“It’s not deflating from my standpoint because we still had a very good showing.  Our cars all ran really, really well throughout the entire day.”

The first half of Sunday’s race did belong to JGR and Toyota ally Martin Truex Jr.

Camrys occupied the top four slots for long stretches and showed deference on restarts (with the first-place car taking the outside so the second-place car stayed on the preferred bottom line and allowed the leader down).

But after the final restart on Lap 387 of 500, it understandably turned into a scramble that engendered some ill will, namely from Busch.

“We worked so good together that we just gave the win to (Johnson) today,” he said, sardonically adding. “So, JGR all the way.”

Busch’s primary issue was that Hamlin had raced so hard against him and Kenseth that it ruined any chance of a Gibbs car catching Johnson while simultaneously clearing a path for runner-up Brad Keselowski to knife by in traffic.

“You had the slowest Gibbs car holding up the rest of the line, and all we did was let somebody else (Keselowski) from another organization pass us and go up there and chase down (Johnson),” Busch said. “That could have been either (Kenseth) or myself if it wasn’t for (Hamlin) holding the rest of us up.”

Laughing after being told Gibbs said he lets his drivers settle their differences (“That ain’t true. He gets right in the middle.”), Hamlin said he hadn’t talked to Busch after the race. He also was puzzled by his teammate’s anger.

“I may have held those guys up for a little bit of that final run but definitely don’t think I was holding anyone up at the end, for sure,” Hamlin said. “I had no idea why anyone was mad at me, to be honest with you. If somebody is mad at me, honestly I don’t know why.

“None of us were going to get (Johnson). That’s real talk there. Someone’s upset, I think it’s just because we all had a top‑three car during the end of the race, and we ended up three, four, five. That’s never happy.”

It’s hard to make everyone happy in a sport where “teammates” are racing tooth and nail for positions on every lap.

For JGR, it figures only to get harder from here.

Erik Jones gets belated Truck Series championship gift

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When Erik Jones won his 2015 Camping World Truck Series championship, he was still two years shy of the legal drinking age.

As a result, there was one piece missing from his championship celebration – the champagne.

Jones turned 21 last May and he can now enjoy all the benefits that go with it.

On Tuesday, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver tweeted that he’d finally received a commemorative bottle of champagne for his title run win Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Good things do come to those who wait.

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NBC Sports to be exclusive home to IndyCar, Indy 500 in 2019

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NBC Sports Group and IndyCar announced a multi-year agreement Wednesday for NBC Sports to be the exclusive home for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 2019.

The Indianapolis 500 and seven additional Verizon IndyCar Series races will be broadcast annually on NBC. The remaining races will be televised on NBCSN. All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. With the agreement, NBC Sports also will present all IndyCar qualifying, practices and Indy Lights races across its platforms beginning in 2019. Details of NBC Sports’ 2019 IndyCar schedule will be announced at a later date.

“We’re excited to have NBC Sports serve as the exclusive home of IndyCar, which represents the most competitive open-wheel racing in the world,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “We’re honored to bring the Indianapolis 500, one of the most prestigious events in all of sports, to NBC, further enhancing NBC Sports’ Championship Season. We’ve seen consistent growth for IndyCar on NBCSN in the past decade, and we hope to continue that growth throughout the series by leveraging the television, digital, production and marketing assets that make NBC Sports a powerful media partner.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“This arrangement brings all of IndyCar to one home, increases our exposure and includes our first direct-to-consumer offer for our fans,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We couldn’t be happier to have start-to-finish coverage of IndyCar season with the NBC Sports Group.”

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, set for Sunday, May 26, 2019, will be the first ever on NBC. The Indy 500 will also be included every year in NBC Sports’ Championship Season marketing campaign, which touts numerous high-profile championship events that are presented across NBC Sports platforms from May to July, including the Triple Crown, The PLAYERS, Premier League Championship Sunday, French Open, Stanley Cup Final, Tour de France, and The Open Championship.

The entire Verizon IndyCar Series will receive unprecedented marketing and promotional support from NBC Sports, which will utilize not only its own assets, but many NBCUniversal assets as well. With the Indy 500 and seven additional races on NBC, IndyCar will have the second-most races on broadcast television in all of motorsports.

NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports Group’s direct-to-consumer product – will offer a package to IndyCar fans that features all qualifying and practices not televised live, all Indy Lights races, and full-event replays. Additional details, including the cost of the Gold offering, will be announced at a later date.


NASCAR America: Comparing today’s drivers to drivers of yesteryear

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With Kevin Harvick‘s recent run of three consecutive wins, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte used the opportunity debate which NASCAR legends they compare Harvick and other current drivers to.

Burton compared Harvick to three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

“I think they remind me a lot of each other because they’re both very aggressive, they both got after it, good at every kind of race track,” Burton said.

Earnhardt sees some of 1983 Cup champion Bobby Allison in Harvick.

“Won a championship, won a lot of races, but wasn’t afraid to put his finger in another driver’s chest,” Earnhardt said.

When it comes to Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Earnhardt compared him and Denny Hamlin to the late Tim Richmond.

“Mainly in style,” Earnhardt said. “They’re the kind of guys that are a little flashy, a lot of flair outside the car. … Tim was that way. He wasn’t scared to flaunt it a little bit and he enjoyed life outside the race car as much as he did inside the race car.”

Watch the above video for more old school driver comparisons.


NASCAR America: Importance of keeping NASCAR connected to grassroots racing

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The importance of grassroots racing to the future of NASCAR is a constant subject these days thanks to the likes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Now NASCAR America’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton get their chance to sound off on the subject.

On Tuesday’s episode, the panel of analysts discussed why keeping NASCAR connected to the short tracks and lower series across the country is vital to the sport’s future.

“We don’t have that national series running old short tracks that draws people to the race track but also draws them to the TV on Saturday and Sunday,” Burton said.

Earnhardt brought up an attempt by Bristol Motor Speedway to purchase the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, last year.  The attempted failed.

“My heart was broken because I thought we had a real opportunity to bring one of the touring series, either the Truck or Xfinity, back to Fairgrounds,” Earnhardt said. “That’s where I think we’re broken or disconnected. The late model guys and the guys that are running on these local tracks don’t have the connection to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series. They need to take those series, Truck or Xfinity, back to the short tracks and bridge that link.”

The three analysts went on to discuss the short tracks and races that were part of their formative racing years.

Watch the above video for more.