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Crew chief for Kurt Busch says team has ‘got to be better’

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Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch has led one lap since his season-opening victory, dealt with alternator issues in back-to-back races, and was eliminated by an accident in another race.

The result is that the five-time Bristol winner enters this weekend’s Cup race at the high-banked, half-mile track 15th in points.

“We’ve got to be better as a race team,’’ crew chief Tony Gibson said Tuesday on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We don’t feel like we’re running strong enough. (Teammate Clint) Bowyer has been carrying the flag over here at our place, he’s been doing extremely well.’’

Bowyer, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing this season, is the team’s highest-ranked driver in the points. He’s ninth. Kevin Harvick is 10th, Busch 15th and Danica Patrick 29th.

Things have not gone well for Busch since his last-lap victory in the Daytona 500. After placing seventh at Atlanta, alternator issues thwarted his efforts at Las Vegas (30th) and Phoenix (25th). He placed 24th at Auto Club Speedway and was 37th after he was collected in a crash at Martinsville. He rebounded to finish 10th at Texas before Easter.

Gibson said the holiday break came at a good time for the team.

Kurt Busch celebrates with his crew after winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 26, 2017. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I believe that everybody just needed to catch their breath because so many things had happened, the highs and the lows and they were coming so fast,’’ Gibson told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “You just need downtime no matter what. It’s the guys that are winning every weekend and running top five every week that don’t want the break. I felt like we were kind of middle of the road. We had two good weeks, and we had three bad weeks and another good week.’’

Gibson admits a challenge for SHR has been the switch from Chevrolet to Ford this season and understanding the car.

“We knew that there would probably be some ups and downs and we were kind of preparing ourselves for that,’’ Gibson said of the manufacturer change.“Daytona, a lot of it is luck, preparation meets opportunity, that’s luck. We did our homework there and all our cars ran really well. We dodged some bullets. We fixed some damage and won it and were on a high, but in the back of your mind, going into Atlanta and those places, it was such an unknown for us as a company what we were going to have going into some of these other racetracks.

“We know that if at least one of our cars is running good or two of them, we can do it. Our company has the capability of running up front. We’ve just got to find something. This aero balance has been really, really messing with Kurt a little bit. It’s been a different, different program for him. We’ve been in the Ford simulator a lot trying to work on balances and things to do to try to catch up.

“We are getting better. We’re learning. Went to Texas and had a great race there and a good solid day. I think we learned some things. We’ll try to take this momentum from this last race at Texas and build on that.’’

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Check out Southern 500 paint schemes for Erik Jones, David Ragan and Landon Cassill

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Monday saw the reveal of three paint schemes for the Sept. 3 Southern 500 (on NBCSN). Here’s a look at the cars for Furniture Row Racing’s Erik Jones and Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan and Landon Cassill.

Jones, who is in contention for the Rookie of the Year award in the Cup Series, will honor previous winners of the award with his paint scheme. Specifically, the No. 77 Toyota will pay tribute to the Rookie of the Year recipients from 1984-89.

The scheme will feature pictures of Rusty Wallace (1984), Ken Schrader (1985), Alan Kulwicki (1986), Davey Allision (1987), Ken Bouchard (1988) and Dick Trickle (1989).

Ragan’s No. 38 Ford will be sponsored by Good Sam. Ragan’s paint scheme is an ode to the RV company’s early days. It was founded in 1966.

Cassill’s paint scheme probably looks familiar. It’s the same one the team used for the last Southern 500 when Chris Buescher drove the N0. 34. The team had to call an audible after Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing beat them to the punch on a Kulwicki tribute scheme. Fortunately, Cassill was cool with it.

MORE: Retro Rundown of 2017 Southern 500 paint schemes.

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Bump & Run: Taking stock of the NASCAR season

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What has surprised you the most about this season?

Jeff Burton: My biggest surprise is that there really hasn’t been a flaw in the new stage racing format. I believed that something would happen that revealed a flaw that no one had anticipated but we have yet to see it.

Nate Ryan: Martin Truex Jr.’s emergence as the championship favorite. It was expected he would run well and be a playoff contender and winner, but Furniture Row Racing regularly outrunning Joe Gibbs Racing as the best-in-class Toyota team has been a surprise – as has Truex’s runaway lead in the playoff points standings. He and crew chief Cole Pearn have become the crew chief-driver combination that is setting the pace in every way possible, whether it’s lap speeds, setup decisions or strategy calls.

Dustin Long: That there have been 14 different Cup winners (13 eligible for the playoffs) at this point in the season, which is already the most number of winners in an entire Cup season since 2013.

What driver has impressed you the most this season?

Jeff Burton: Martin Truex Jr. Speed and consistency is hard to achieve. He has been the guy that seems to be in the battle every single week. 

Nate Ryan: William Byron. His promotion to the Cup Series is well deserved, because he has proven the past two years to be an absolute prodigy with his acclimation to Xfinity and trucks. It makes one wonder if he already would have been a Cup winner if he had started his racing career in earnest before becoming a teenager.

Dustin Long: I’m amazed what William Byron has done for his relative lack of experience compared to drivers who started before they hit first grade. His ability to handle pressure situations has been noteworthy. While the challenges will increase next year, I’m already interested to see how he will do in Cup.

What storyline most intrigues you for the coming weeks?

Jeff Burton: I’m intrigued about the playoffs. There will be a big time driver and team that doesn’t advance into the playoffs. Watching who can take control and who can’t step up will be very interesting to witness.

Nate Ryan: The impact of playoff points on the championship race and how it affects who advances in each round. The suspicion here is that there will be much second-guessing and re-examination of decisions made during the regular season that had unanticipated repercussions months later.

Dustin Long: I’m intrigued to see if Kyle Busch and his team can finally eliminate the mistakes that have plagued them throughout the season and prevented Busch from possibly an epic season. With two wins in the last four races, he’s on the verge of a breakout that will lead to a dominating title run. Will it happen?

SunnyD extends sponsorship deal with Roush Fenway Racing

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SunnyD has extended its contract with Roush Fenway Racing to sponsor Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s team through the 2019 season, the organization announced Tuesday.

SunnyD will add races as primary sponsor each season, although how many was not announced.

The company has been the primary sponsor of Stenhouse’s car in three races this season – Atlanta, spring Bristol and Indianapolis. SunnyD will next sponsor Stenhouse in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We’ve had a great time partnering with SunnyD the last two years,” Stenhouse in a statement from the team. “It’s one of the coolest paint schemes on the track, and we’ve had a lot of fun promoting their classic brand. I’m excited that we have extended our relationship, and I can’t wait to see how much fun we can have with SunnyD in victory lane.”

“We are very excited to announce that we tore up the old contract and signed a new one that extends for another season and adds additional races with Ricky and Roush Fenway,” said Henk Hartong, Chairman of Harvest Hill Beverage Company, owners of the SunnyD brand, in a statement. “I’m very proud of our relationship with Jack Roush, Steve Newmark and the entire Roush Fenway team. It is something that we wanted to lock in for the foreseeable future. Ricky is one of the rising young stars in NASCAR and we have seen great response to the program from the passionate NASCAR fans.  We are pleased to bolster our association with him and Roush Fenway.”

Stenhouse has two wins this year and will be in next month’s playoffs.

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Martin Truex Jr. continues to dominate NASCAR Cup playoff grid

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Martin Truex Jr. continues to dominate the weekly NASCAR Cup playoff standings.

Truex did not gain any extra points during Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race, so he remains with 35 points, but that’s still a large spread over those chasing him.

Bristol winner Kyle Busch jumped from fifth to second place in the standings with 20 playoff points.

Kyle Larson fell back to third place (18 points), Jimmie Johnson fell to fourth (16) and Brad Keselowski is fifth (14).

As for the playoff bubble, Chase Elliott is 69 points ahead of the cut-off line, followed by Matt Kenseth (+61) and Jamie McMurray (+58) with two races left until the playoffs.

Outside the playoff cut line is Clint Bowyer, who dropped from 31 to 58 points down and Joey Logano from -98 to -117. Erik Jones climbed from -130 to -127, and Daniel Suarez dropped from -139 to -163.

 

Here’s this week’s playoff standings grid: