Kurt Busch running strong into playoffs and for many more years to come

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Short term or long term, Kurt Busch is in for the long haul. Whether it’s the upcoming NASCAR Cup playoffs or continuing to drive for several more years, he’s planning on going at things at full speed.

At the end of this season, Busch will be a free agent driver, as his contract at Stewart-Haas Racing has not been renewed. However, there are some mixed messages there as shortly after Busch made the revelation over a month ago, SHR tweeted that it wanted Busch to return.

So far, nothing has been confirmed, so Busch is approaching things as if he’ll be a free agent — unless things change.

The biggest thing for the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion right now is to start the playoffs on a strong note. The winner of this year’s Daytona 500 struggled for much of the first 26 races, but he, crew chief Tony Gibson and the rest of the No. 41 team seem to have hit upon something in the last several races.

Busch has shown vast improvement of late, particularly the last five races, where he’s finished — in order — eighth (Watkins Glen), 11th (Michigan), fifth (Bristol), third (Darlington) and fourth (Richmond).

“We started off with a huge bang, we won Daytona,” Busch said. “Since the engine change at Indianapolis, It’s like we have all the pieces now and know where we need to plug them in and where to go.”

Busch and his team have the potential — and momentum heading into the playoffs — to become perhaps the biggest and best sleeper candidate to go all the way to the final round of the championship.

And then there’s the 39-year-old’s long term viability to not only remain relevant and successful in NASCAR Cup — either with SHR or another team — for several more years. While other drivers are calling it quits, Busch says he still has much to do and achieve.

“As long as I’m with a competitive car to win races,” Busch said when asked how many more years he may still race. “To me, my heart’s in it, my body still feels young. I love the travel and have learned more about the history of our sport and places we go and race and the reasoning we race on certain tracks.

“… The contract thing, we’ll see how it all plays out. Being a free agent, it’s an interesting market now for drivers.”

Check out more about Busch’s thoughts about his tenure remaining in the following video.

 

Truck practice report at Atlanta

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Justin Haley was the fastest in the first of two practices Friday for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He had a top lap of 178.029 mph.

Daytona winner Johnny Sauter was second with a lap of 177.040 mph. He was followed by Myatt Snider (177.040 mph), Stewart Friesen (176.995) and Noah Gragson (176.589).

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Truck practice will be from 4:05 – 4:50 p.m. ET.

Click here for Truck 1 practice

Police investigating vandalism, theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway

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The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a report of vandalism and theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the track, which last hosted a NASCAR Cup race in 1996, suffered damage of about $10,000 when several trespassers were on the grounds last weekend. No arrests have been made.

The report states that several windows were broken and other damage was done to the structures. Also, large amounts of electrical wire and circuit breakers were reported missing.

The investigation continues.

North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted NASCAR Cup races from 1949-96. Winners included Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Junior Johnson, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon, who won the final race there.

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Others’ predictions motivating Austin Dillon after Daytona 500 win: ‘I guess they don’t believe it yet’

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Fresh off the greatest victory of his NASCAR career, Austin Dillon already has motivation to win the next.

The Richard Childress Racing driver heard others predict this week that the Daytona 500 would be his only victory this season.

“I think on Race Hub, Brad (Keselowski) and Chad (Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson) saying that we weren’t going to win again,” Dillon said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “So, that was good to hear. That was something to get me fired up a little bit more and our team, get those competitive juices flowing again. So, we will just keep rocking it however we can. We still have a lot to work on.”

Prior to Daytona, Dillon’s lone win in four seasons as a full-time Cup driver came in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. His No. 3 Chevrolet qualified for the playoffs the past two seasons, but his top 10s (13 to four) and average finish (15.9 to 18.6) slipped demonstrably from 2016 to ’17.

“So yesterday in my group text with my buddies they watched Chad Knaus and Brad Keselowski, and it was like, ‘All right, it’s time to keep knocking them down, I guess they don’t believe it yet,’” Dillon said. “We’ve got to step up though at RCR. We’ve still got a lot to prove. It’s a speedway race, even though it’s the biggest race in our deal, it’s a speedway race.  We’ve got a lot more to prove.

“(Competition executive) Andy Petree and all the guys are RCR are working hard. I think coming down to a two-car team move is big for us. We’ve got to take advantage of that. I’m not going to lie, I’m tired right now, but we are going to kick butt this weekend and get back regrouped and get in the groove and try and gain as many bonus points as we can.”

But qualifying for the playoffs by winning the season opener should be a morale booster that avoids any letdown.

“The one thing they don’t have right now that we have is a win,” Dillon said. “So, we are on top right now, and no matter what they can’t take that away, and we are going to keep working.  I don’t expect us to lay down at all. I feel like now more than ever we need to go head on and go after it.”

Xfinity practice report from Atlanta

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Christopher Bell posted the fastest lap in the first of two Xfinity practice sessions Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bell posted a lap of 178.447 mph. He was followed by Joey Logano (177.323 mph), Cole Custer (175.933), Ryan Reed (175.688) and Kevin Harvick (175.487). Daytona winner Tyler Reddick (175.388) was sixth on the speed chart.

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Xfinity practice will be from 3:05 – 3:55 p.m. ET

Click here for practice 1 report