Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon have second-best races of year with Southern 500 top fives

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – In the Southern 500, the 25th race in a very long season, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon had their best nights of the year.

That’s saying a lot about the seasons of Busch, who won the Daytona 500, and Dillon, who won the Coke 600, two of NASCAR’s other three crown jewels.

Both finished in the top five of Sunday night’s race, with Busch placing third ahead of Dillon.

Busch led seven laps, his most this season, following a round of green-flag pit stops in the middle of the final stage before being overran by Martin Truex Jr. with 42 laps left.

“I was hoping for one more yellow,” Busch said. “If there was a yellow with 30 to go, we were a really good car on short-run speed and that was the longest run at the end. Those guys caught us on their fresher tires. But to just to be in a position to win the Southern 500 is great. Didn’t quite get the job done, but third is really nice for a big, marquee race.”

In Busch’s 21st Darlington start, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned his third top five. It was his first since 2010 when he was with Team Penske.

It was also just his third top five since he won the Daytona 500 after his No. 41 Ford survived a wave of leaders dropping off with empty fuel tanks.

“We’re chipping away at it,” Busch said. “The Daytona 500 win was great, but it seemed like it put us behind for a while. But honestly, the balance in the Ford, that’s what we’ve been working on and now we’re finding things we change on the car and it hooks up the front and the rear at the same time. We haven’t been hooking up the front, unhooking the rear and vice versa. So it feels we’re finding the balance on our Ford that way.”

Sunday’s finish was also his second top five in a row after a late surge two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway to place fifth.

The results come in the month since it was announced SHR was not picking up his option for 2018.

Though he’s safely locked into the playoffs, Busch said his team was already in postseason mode.

“We’ve had a couple good runs, but, still, we’ve got 11 weeks ahead of us,” Busch said. “We treated this whole weekend like it was the playoffs. Richmond will be the same thing next week.”

While Busch prayed for a late caution, Dillon was giving grace for the race staying green for the final 101 laps.

Dillon enjoyed his best night since gambling on fuel to win the Coke 600 in May for his first Cup win.

On Sunday, Dillon gambled instead on tires over the last stretch of the race.

“We thought our car was really good on long runs, that’s (why we made the decision) to stay out there and it’s kind of scary because (you might) have a flat tire or you just run out of tire,” Dillon said. “I was good enough to save tires. I like long runs, always been a long-run kind of driver. Short runs, I’ve been working hard to get better at. Glad it went long there at the end.”

While it gave him his third top five of the year, it was his first in 13 races. But it was also just his fourth top 10.

By this point last year the Richard Childress Racing driver had 10 of the 13 top-10 finishes he would earn.

“We’re never giving up, and RCR is working hard,” Dillon said. “We were down pretty bad. That race at Charlotte, after that we’ve got a slump. Just a lot of hard work going on at the shop knowing we’ve got to get better. It feels pretty good to have run like this.”

Dillon put together his race in a paint scheme and firesuit honoring Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 win in the Southern 500.

“I’ll tell you what, this is one (firesuit) I’ll probably want to keep, man,” Dillon said. “To bring out this Dale Earnhardt car, it means so much to so many. I’m glad we represented it well. This is a pretty hot firesuit, I must admit it. I love it. I might get Dale Jr .to sign it and put it up.”

NASCAR America: Erik Jones’ racing roots in Byron, Michigan

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After a feature looking at his upbringing in Byron, Michigan, Furniture Row Racing driver Erik Jones spoke with NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Marty Snider about the early years of his racing career.

The journey to his NASCAR career began with a yard cart that his late father, Dave Jones, brought home one day when he was 3.

“I rode that all day long around the yard,” Jones said. “Winter time would and we had like a gravel circle driveway in front of our house. When it would snow over I would get the kart out and ride it around in the snow because I could slide and I thought that was pretty cool. I would get it stuck about every five minutes out in the snow.”

Jones would then get out of the kart and find his dad in their barn to come out get him out.

Now 21, Jones also discussed how much his dad was involved in his career until his death in June 2016 after a battle with cancer.

He also explains how he’s never stayed in any series for more than one year in his career.

Watch the video above for the full discussion.

NASCAR America: Scan All from Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland

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“I sure as (expletive) hope that’s all out of our system.”

That’s what Kyle Busch had to say over his radio after he finished 15th, a lap down in the Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

Busch’s day went south after the first stage thanks to two pit miscues the sent him two laps down.

Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. dominate the field to win his fifth race of the year and advance to the second round of the playoffs.

In the latest “Scan All,” True and crew chief Cole Pearn recap their day, which saw them bounce back from their own pit road mistakes.

Here are other highlights from this week’s “Scan All.”

  • “Can’t drive in a straight line. Something’s not right with the front end.” – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just before he made contact with the outside wall. A commitment line violation resulted in Stenhouse finish multiple laps off the lead.
  • “Tell the 1 (Jamie McMurray) I don’t know what happened there but we both got the short end of the stick.” – Ryan Newman after contact between him and McMurray sent McMurray spinning on a restart.
  • (Expletive), that 24 (Chase Elliott) can be so much (expletive) faster than us.” – Kasey Kahne after being told he was two laps down.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Erik Jones recounts rookie Cup season, being taught by Kyle Busch

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Erik Jones, the rookie driver for Furniture Row Racing in the No. 77 Toyota, joined NASCAR America Wednesday for a special show from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The 21-year-old driver won the 2015 Camping World Truck Series title and is teammates with Martin Truex Jr.

With Marty Snider, Dale Jarrett and Steve Letarte, Jones discussed the challenges and lessons he’s faced in his first full-time season in the Cup Series.

“The biggest (milestones) for me were trying to win a race and making the playoffs,” Jones said. “Obviously, making the playoffs didn’t happen. … I look back at the last few seasons and rookies that have been in the sport and it’s so hard to win races now. You just don’t see rookies do it a lot.”

Jones also discussed finishing second to Kyle Busch in the Bristol night race and his relationship with the driver who brought him into NASCAR beginning with the Truck Series.

“A lot of times when I was racing in Trucks and Xfinity and Kyle would come to race I’d always run second to him,” Jones said. “I’m like, ‘you know what the problem is? This is the guy who taught me how to race these cars. So I’m good at all the same tracks he’s good at. Except he’s been doing about 10 more years than I have.”

Watch the video for more.

 

PJ1 adhesive to be applied again to track for this weekend’s races at Loudon

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With the successful use of the PJ1 compound in July’s NASCAR Cup race there, New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials announced Wednesday they will apply the compound again to the track for this weekend’s racing.

The 1.058-mile flat track will play host to the Cup and Camping World Truck Series playoff races, as well as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the American Canadian Tour race series.

“There’s no question that the track bite compound we laid down in July allowed for some awesome racing around the entire racetrack,” NHMS executive VP and GM David McGrath said in a statement. “We received some very positive feedback from the drivers, teams and, most importantly, the fans. The support to do it again in September was overwhelming.”

McGrath said the PJ1 adhesive compound will be added to the first and third grooves in all four turns on Thursday evening. It will be reapplied again on Saturday night to be fresh for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race.

Several drivers gave their endorsement for the move:

Kyle Larson: “I think it’s awesome. I was surprised at how well it worked. I liked the element of it changing quickly and wearing out and then wearing out in different spots and stuff. It just adds an element to us that we have to adapt to. In the past … you kind of just run the same line all race long, but (in July) everybody I got around was running somewhat of a different line, and I thought that was a really cool thing.”

Joey Logano: “The question got put out to a lot of different drivers … from the (NASCAR Cup Drivers Council). We kind of got on our group chat and were talking back and forth about what we thought was best. (In the past) after 10 or 15 laps, everyone is kind of where they are at and passes don’t happen often. The wider we can make the racetrack, the more passes that can be made.”

Kyle Busch: “We always run that one lane here, which I call the middle lane. They were just trying to widen the racetrack a little bit and give a little bit more opportunity for us to be able to run side by side and not feel like we’re crashing here all the time or running into each other on restarts.”

Kevin Harvick: “I like the prospects of us trying different things. As the (summer Cup) race wore on, things changed. You had to move around. The PJ1 is one of those things that can definitely make the race better if you can add more lanes of racing.”

Austin Dillon: “I thought (the PJ1) held on good throughout the race in July; I’m a fan of it. July’s race was a blast and everyone is excited about it this time around. We’re going to be aggressive and just go after it this weekend.”