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Kyle Busch, interim crew chief Ben Beshore off to a strong start

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Kyle Busch keeps driving strong, but adversity keeps proving to be stronger.

Busch has not won a NASCAR Cup race in 29 starts, his most recent points-paying triumph coming in last summer’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s one of the longest winless streaks of Busch’s Cup career.

Thus far this season, he’s had five top-five finishes, including runner-up showings at Martinsville and Charlotte and third-place showings at Phoenix and Talladega.

But adversity has had the upper hand in several races, as well. There were DNF’s at Daytona and Bristol and a 22nd-place performance at his home track in Las Vegas.

And let’s not forget the embarrassing situation last week at Dover. Busch started from the pole and had what appeared to be a very strong car.

Kyle Busch and interim crew chief Ben Beshore combined Friday to earn the pole for Sunday’s Pocono 400 NASCAR Cup race at Pocono Raceway.

But when an air gun mistake caused a tire not to be attached and fell off as Busch pulled away from pit road, it was arguably the costliest bit of adversity this season.

While Busch managed to rally to finish 16th at Dover, the loose tire episode cost him crew chief Adam Stevens, regular rear tire carrier Kenneth Barber and rear tire changer Jacob Seminara – all three suspended by NASCAR for the next four races for the tire incident.

“It was human error, an accident,” Busch said. “The (air) gun didn’t get flipped from reverse to forward and it’s just part of it.

“Human error, I make mistakes all the time and Adam (Stevens, crew chief) makes mistakes all the time. We just have to live through it.

“That’s a big penalty and it’s unfortunate that we have to live through it. The way the rule was written, it’s intent of the rule wasn’t quite what transpired there, but we live and die by the rule book I guess so the consequences are there.”

Stevens isn’t just Busch’s crew chief, he’s also become a close confidant and friend since assuming his spot on the No. 18 pit box at the start of the 2015 season.

Their relationship extends well past the racetrack, and it’s led not only to a NASCAR Cup championship in 2015, but also nine Cup wins for the No. 18 team.

“Adam is the reason why we are successful,” Busch said. “He puts together a game plan and we learn how to be able to go through the weekend without him.

“It’s just an unfortunate circumstance with our team. But we’re strong and a good group and we’ll continue to focus on what we need to. That’s all we can do.”

In place of Stevens as crew chief for the next four races will be Ben Beshore. He’s far from a stranger to Busch: he’s the No. 18 team’s chief engineer.

In the first day of working together Friday, during the first practice session of the weekend as well later in the afternoon in NASCAR Cup qualifying, Busch and Beshore worked very well together, resulting in Busch earning the pole for the second straight race.

“So far, so good and to come out here gives us the No. 1 pit selection and gives us the track position to start, but we have to keep it,” Busch said. “As we saw last week, we definitely missed the eight-ball on that and screwed it up pretty early in the race and knocked ourselves down and out almost.”

In a way, there’s a kind of juxtaposition with the current circumstances for Busch and Stevens, who had to learn how to succeed for 11 races when Busch was sidelined with a broken right leg and fractured left foot during a crash in the 2015 Xfinity Series season opener.

Now, Busch has to learn how to succeed for four races without Stevens.

“I think it will be hard,” Busch said. “We’ll do what we need to do. … To work as hard as we do and do what we do without him, it’s going to be fun because it is a challenge.

“But it’s also sad at the same time because you have to be without one of your main people.”

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Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Busch. He puts last week’s disappointment behind him with another fast car and (this time) a clean day in the pits.

Dustin Long

Denny Hamlin. He sweeps New Hampshire and Toyota continues its dominance at this track.

Daniel McFadin

Kyle Larson. After charging through the field from the rear in July and finishing second, the No. 42 team finishes the job today.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kevin Harvick. He hasn’t been heard from much recently, but this is the kind of track Harvick is at his best. He wins and moves on to the Round of 12.

Today’s Cup Series race at New Hampshire: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – The middle race of the first round of the playoffs offers teams that had a bad start a chance to recover or fall further behind.

The pressure builds with the 16-team field cut to 12 after next weekend’s race at Dover.

Here are the details for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern):

START: Marc Del Vecchio, chief technology officer, ISM Connect, will give the command to start engines at 2:07 p.m. Green flag is set for 2:15 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 300 laps (317.4 miles) around the 1.058-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 8:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Marine Corps Veteran, “The Singing Trooper,” Daniel M. Clark will perform the Anthem at 2:01 p.m., followed by a flyover from two F-15C Eagles from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 1:30 p.m. The Performance Racing Network radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. on goprn.com and affiliates. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 81 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin led 54 of 301 laps to win the July race. Kyle Larson placed second. Martin Truex Jr. was third. Kevin Harvick led the final six laps to win this race last year. Matt Kenseth was second. Kyle Busch placed third.

 STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup

 

Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer tied at top of Xfinity playoff standings

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Justin Allgaier and Cole Custer are tied for the top spot in the Xfinity playoff standings after the playoff opener at Kentucky Speedway.

Each driver has 2,057 points.

Allgaier finished third after bouncing back from losing a tire on Lap 19 and going two laps down. He was two laps down for 27 laps and one lap down for 30 before getting back on the lead lap.

Custer, who finished fifth, won the first two stages of the race, earning two playoff points in the process.

The top five in points are Allgaier, Custer, Elliott Sadler (-2), Daniel Hemric (-5) and William Byron (-6).

Click here for the points standings.

Results from Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway

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Tyler Reddick scored his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win, leading a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Reddick beat teammate Brennan Poole by 14.5 seconds in the playoff opener.

Reddick is the seventh different winner in the last seven series races. He led twice for 66 laps. Reddick had not led any laps until Saturday night.

Playoff contender Justin Allgaier rallied from two laps down after a right front tire went down early in the 200-lap race to finish third. Ryan Preece placed fourth. Rookie Cole Custer, who won both stages, finished fifth.

Click here for race results