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.

 

Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 at Miami, Brad Keselowski leads Championship 4 drivers

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Kyle Larson won Stage 1 of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, dominating by leading 67 of the stage’s 80 laps, holding a nine-second edge when he took the checkered flag.

Meanwhile, here’s how the four Championship 4 drivers finished after the first 80 laps of the scheduled 267-lap event: Brad Keselowski is second, Kyle Busch is third, Kevin Harvick is fourth and Martin Truex Jr. in fifth.

Truex, with six of his seven wins this season coming on 1.5-mile tracks like Homestead-Miami, wasted little time to take the lead away from pole-sitter Denny Hamlin.

The first caution of the race came out on Lap 6 when Joey Gase appeared to blow a tire and hit the Turn 1 wall hard.

During the subsequent pit stop, the only Championship 4 driver to hit pit road for four new tires was Keselowski, putting him off-sequence of the other contenders.

The move worked, though, as Keselowski quickly climbed from ninth on the restart on Lap 9 to third by Lap 12 and second by Lap 14.

Larson, who also pitted with Keselowski, took the lead away from Truex on Lap 13 and held on for the remaining 67 laps of the stage.

On Lap 38, Jimmie Johnson blew a right rear tire and came to pit road for four new tires. Even though there was no caution, all four championship contenders pitted over the following two laps.

On Lap 58, Harvick passed Truex and into third place for the first time in the race, zeroing on Keselowski in second.

Johnson got into the wall again on Lap 60, even though there was no caution, and sustained moderate damage, pitting for four tires and fuel.

Kyle Busch passed Harvick to take over third on Lap 77.

Sixth through 10th were Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer.

Watch: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fans on what the driver means to them

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The fan base of Dale Earnhardt Jr. is large and devoted.

Those fans, affectionately called “Junior Nation,” has voted Earnhardt as NASCAR’s most popular driver 14 years in a row.

Justin Hartley of NBC’s “This is Us” is a member of Earnhardt’s fan base. The actor narrates the above essay on the close relationship between the driver and his fans.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks to Bob Costas about his career, legacy before final Cup start

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Sunday marks Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s last start as a full-time Cup driver in NASCAR.

NBC Sports’ Bob Costas sat down with the 14-time most popular driver before the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to get Earnhardt’s thoughts before he climbed in the No. 88 Chevrolet for the last time.

Earnhardt addressed what he hopes his legacy will be after 20 years in the sport as a driver, including his impact on attitudes towards concussions in sports in general.

Earnhardt, who will join NBC Sports in 2018, also talked about what life has in store for him in the near future.

Earnhardt also made sure to credit his devoted fan base for making his career possible.

“I understand the driving force behind my success and opportunity in this sport, whether it be inside the car or outside the car, is all because of Jr. Nation,” Earnhardt said. “This year we’ve tried our best to show appreciation to them.”

Watch the above video for the full interview.

 

Furniture Row Racing going for Cup title after year of success, tragedy

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It’s been a historic year for Furniture Row Racing, the Cup team that has its base of operations in an old water bed factory in Denver, Colorado.

With Martin Truex Jr. piloting the No. 78 Toyota, they won a team record seven races and a series record six races on 1.5-mile tracks. Combined with a dominating performance under the new stage racing format, Truex has put the team in its second Championship 4 in three years.

But it’s also been a season of perseverance and tragedy.

NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan narrates the above video essay on the story of Furniture Row Racing’s 2017 season.