Long: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch rivalry adds spark to playoffs

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JOLIET, Illinois —Maybe sometime Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski will laugh about days like Friday, but not now, not anytime soon.

Their relationship was built on conflict, sustained by dissent and festers.

There is little common ground between the two former Cup champions who form the closest thing to a NASCAR rivalry that compares to Richard Petty vs. Bobby Allison or Dale Earnhardt vs. Geoff Bodine.

While those drivers expressed themselves with the bumper, the current generation used Twitter on Friday to add spice to the opening weekend of the Cup playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway.

Keselowski has been talking for weeks about Toyota’s advantage, suggesting last month at Michigan that Toyotas would sandbag for fear that NASCAR would take cars from each manufacturer for inspection.

Informed of Keselowski’s comments that weekend, Busch told ESPN: “Brad’s a (expletive) moron.’’

That didn’t deter Keselowski, who continued his public crusade against Toyota’s advantage.

He spoke of it earlier this week and continued Friday on Twitter after Toyotas took the top four spots in practice, forecasting an advantage by one manufacturer not seen in decades.

Busch counterpunched.

They went back and forth on Twitter — much like they’ve raced each other at times, neither giving — and continued their duel after Busch’s blistering pole lap, which was nearly 2 mph faster than the next car.

Keselowski, who rose from a family team before it went bankrupt, won’t back down from what he believes are injustices.

Busch doesn’t put up with what he perceives as b.s.

On the track, their battles have been memorable, particularly multiple incidents at Watkins Glen, including contact this year. After that run-in, Busch radioed his crew that they had “better keep me away from that (expletive) after the race.’’ 

Friday added another layer to a strained relationship that Keselowski wrote about two years ago — and upset Busch.

Asked if anything has happened lately to make him speak up again about Toyotas, Keselowski said: “No, other than NASCAR’s complete inaction to level the playing field which is the precedent that has been set the last few years. Other than that, no.

“There are natural cycles where cars, teams, manufacturers whatever go up and down. At the start of the year, we were at the top of the cycle. And at this moment, we are not where we need to be. With respect to that, we were at the top and it seemed like there were a lot of rules changes to slow us down and now you have cars that are so much faster than the field and the complete inaction by anybody.’’

Busch mocked Keselowski.

“Maybe I’m confused on what rules were changed,’’ Busch said. “The Penske group was 100 percent for the no-skew rule and they got what they wanted over the off-season and we were against that. Take what you want, we just went to work. Moving on.”

But Busch had more for his foe.

“If you ask Brad, he can fix the world’s problems, that’s all there is to it,’’ Busch said. “It’s just a fact of the matter that no one else is doing anything, they’re putting their head down and going to work and he thinks that somehow the big brother is going to come up and help him. I don’t know what the point is, we all just work hard and do our jobs. I wouldn’t think that all the speed we’ve got for the rest of the year is just here this weekend. I would like to think it’s here for the next 10.”

Keselowski said there’s a reason why he’s the only Ford driver to be so aggressive in speaking about Toyota’s run.

“I like my position at Team Penske and feel pretty secure in driving there for a long, long time,’’ said Keselowski, who signed a multi-year exertions this summer. “I am not looking over my shoulder worrying about getting a ride with another manufacturer one day and that gives me some privileges that maybe some other guys don’t have.’’

Busch had something else he wanted to say about Keselowski but forget. Moments later, he remembered.

“I’m way behind in payback, just FYI,’’ Busch said. “He’s way ahead so if anybody is going to be getting it, it’s going to be him.”

Just like how they did it in the old days.

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Darlington celebrates NASCAR’s 70th birthday by revealing 4th throwback weekend details

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Darlington Raceway on Thursday celebrated the 70th birthday of NASCAR in a big way, announcing details for the fourth annual NASCAR throwback weekend.

The track revealed the 2018 edition of the throwback weekend will celebrate “Seven Decades of NASCAR,” to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at the legendary 1.366-mile track.

The weekend will include the Cup Series’ Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the Xfinity Series’ Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

NASCAR held its first of several organizational meetings on Dec. 14, 1947, at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. That ultimately led to the official formation of NASCAR on Feb. 21, 1948.

The throwback weekend will honor and feature highlights of some of the biggest moments in the sport’s history over its first 70 years.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Darlington Raceway and the NASCAR industry to celebrate the sport over a seven decade period during our 2018 throwback weekend,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said in a media release.

“We have been era specific the past three years,” Tharp added, “so we felt it was important to recognize the 70th anniversary of NASCAR with our ‘Seven Decades of NASCAR’ celebration next season and give the teams, sanctioning body and others a wider brush to paint a picture capturing memorable moments we might not have celebrated in year’s past.”

Memorable moments to be celebrated include several that took place at Darlington itself, including Ned Jarrett’s record-setting 14-lap victory in the 1965 Southern 500, Ricky Craven’s record-setting photo finish win over Kurt Busch in 2003, and Jimmie Johnson’s 2012 Southern 500 win, which gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career victory, among others.

Cup winners of the first three throwback weekends have been Carl Edwards (2015), Martin Truex Jr. (2016) and Denny Hamlin (2017).

As has been the case for the first three throwback weekends, the track will once again issue commemorative tickets for the Southern 500.

“We have produced commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program, which is an important part of our platform,” Tharp said. “We appreciate how much the fans have supported Darlington Raceway and want them to walk away from our weekend with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport.”

Front Row Motorsports adds Michael McDowell, expands technical alliance with Roush Fenway

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Front Row Motorsports will field entries for David Ragan and Michael McDowell in 2018 while expanding its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, the team announced Thursday.

McDowell joins the Bob Jenkins-owned team after four years of driving the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing before being replaced by Kasey Kahne.

The native of Phoenix, Arizona, McDowell replaces Landon Cassill as Ragan’s teammate.

McDowell, 32, has 249 Cup starts since 2008, but only two full-time seasons under his belt. He made one start for Front Row at Watkins Glen in 2013.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

Ragan returns to Front Row for his fifth season. Ragan earned the organization its first Cup victory in 2013 at Talladega. Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives and 39 top-10 finishes in his Cup career.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a press release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

Crew chief assignments have not been finalized. FRM will announce sponsor partners and driver car numbers at a later date.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Last Ride’ diecast is Lionel Racing’s bestselling ever

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has set a new benchmark for Lionel Racing’s most purchased diecast in its 25-year history.

Lionel Racing, NASCAR’s official diecast producer, has announced that the diecast of Earnhardt’s “Last Ride” No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup season finale last month is now its bestselling diecast in company history.

The “Last Ride” car is based on the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet that Earnhardt drove in his rookie Cup season in 2000.

The previous bestseller was another Earnhardt diecast, for his 2014 Daytona 500 win.

Lionel Racing says that QVC’s “For Race Fans Only” show that featured Earnhardt and unveiled the car helped contribute to sales. But even without QVC, sales of the “Last Ride” diecast outpaced the 2014 Daytona 500 diecast by more than 10,000 units.

“The demand for this car has been simply astounding,” Lionel Racing President Howard Hitchcock said on the company’s website. “The fan response to this diecast is a true measure of how much Earnhardt has meant to both casual NASCAR fans and serious diecast collectors.”

Lionel Racing has also revealed the top-10 selling diecasts for the year, which you can find below. Earnhardt has six cars on the list. Chase Elliott has two and Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney each have one.

Casey Mears likely to split 2018 between NASCAR, Global Rallycross and Stadium Super Trucks

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Casey Mears still plans to compete part-time in NASCAR in 2018, but he’s also looking to expand his racing horizons.

The veteran NASCAR driver told The Checkered Flag recently that he also expects to race in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, as well as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series.

“Right now I’m talking to a few NASCAR programs to do maybe limited stuff,” Mears told The Checkered Flag. “I don’t have anything that would be a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.

“I’ve been speaking with Robby Gordon in the Stadium Super Truck program. I think that’s a really cool up-and-coming-series and I’d definitely like to be involved with the GRC. It looks like a lot of fun.

“I think there’s enough difference between all those that it could leave room for doing a bit of both so we’ll see how it works out.”

Mears did not race in the Cup Series in 2017, having lost his ride at the end of 2016 to Ty Dillon in the No. 13 Geico Chevy. He has amassed 488 starts and one win (2007 Coca-Cola 600) in his Cup career, along with 13 top fives and 51 top 10s.

However, he did compete on a part-time basis in 2017 in the Xfinity Series, making 14 starts, with season-best finishes of ninth place at both Richmond and Road America. He also has 107 Xfinity starts with one win, 16 top fives and 34 top 10s.