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Kurt Busch off to fast start, now looking for right goove at Las Vegas

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It’s only two races into the season, but Kurt Busch is accomplishing goals set before the year.

Heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch has scored a series-high 22 stage points.

“We had a big focus on stage points, especially Stage 1,’’ said Busch, who has scored 13 of his 22 stage points in the opening stage.  “That was a weak area last year, and we hope to continue the trend of getting points early in the race and lead laps. Last year was my career low with laps led. With Truex leading all the laps it was tough to break through.

“We knew we needed to work harder and to go stronger at the beginning of the races. I hope we are able to continue that trend. Stage 2 is still interesting to me because you can try to go for points in Stage 2, but then it puts you behind for the run to the finish. We are still trying to sort through the best way to approach the mid portion of the race.”

Busch had 93 stage points for 36 races (2.6 stage points per race) last year.

Busch also led 16 laps last year. This year, he led 16 in the Daytona 500 and 52 at Atlanta on the way to an eighth-place finish.

Those could be a good sign for Busch, who has never won at his hometown track (younger brother Kyle won at Las Vegas in 2009).

“I put too much pressure on myself every year that I come back, and I keep trying to come back and be loose and just let the race come to us,’’ Kurt Busch said. “I hope we are able to find that raw speed in the car that we need in the second half of the race. I have always been a good qualifier here and the team always brings me great cars but when you have a race that is so early in the season, a lot of the performance value at the end of the race comes from work done in the off-season.

“I know we are as prepared as we can be. My teammate (Kevin Harvick) won last week. There is no reason why the 41 car can’t win here this weekend. It would mean the world to me. I have won Daytona and Charlotte and been close at the Southern 500. Vegas ranks up there in the top-five for me.”

Here’s a look at drivers who have scored the most stage points through Atlanta:

22 – Kurt Busch

20 – Kevin Harvick

18 – Ryan Blaney

18 – Brad Keselowski

18 – Martin Truex Jr.

16 – Aric Almirola

16 – Joey Logano

13 – Kyle Busch

11 – Clint Bowyer

11 – Michael McDowell

11 – Paul Menard

NASCAR America: The challenges of Martinsville Speedway

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What Martinsville Speedway lacks in size compared to other tracks it makes up in difficulty say drivers and NASCAR America’s analysts.

Landon Cassill joined Carolyn Manno, Parker Kligerman and Jeff Burton on Thursday’s show and discussed the challenges of the half-mile paperclip track.

“It can be fun when it’s going well,’’ said Cassill, who will make his Cup season debut this weekend in the No. 00 for StarCom Racing. “That place, if you’re car is not handling well, you can end up going backwards and just by the time you’ve got some clear race track the leader is right behind you. So it can be frustration. I tend to like Martinsville.’’

Kligerman calls racing in the pack at Martinsville Speedway “the most aggressive racing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.’’

Jeff Burton said: “It’s … one of the hardest race tracks we go to period because you have to do it lap after lap after lap and it’s so easy to get, quite simply, just really, really mad at the guy you’re racing with because he’s hitting you and he’s banging on you.’’

Cup drivers have their description of the track. See what NASCAR America’s analysts and Cup drivers have to say about the track that hosts Sunday’s Cup race in the video above.

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Richard Childress Racing reinstates Xfinity crew chief Nick Harrison

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Richard Childress Racing has reinstated Nick Harrison to crew chief  of the No. 3 Xfinity team after he served a five-race suspension for a violation at Daytona International Speedway. 

Harrison’s first race back will be April 8 at Texas.

Harrison was suspended after the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon had a rear suspension violation in pre-qualifying inspection. Harrison and the team’s car chief were ejected by NASCAR after the violation. RCR imposed the suspension.

“I’m looking forward to being back with my team and winning races after my five-race suspension,” Harrison said in a statement from the team.

Brandon Thomas served as the interim crew chief while Harrison was out. Austin Dillon finished a season-best fourth for the team last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Martinsville breakdown, Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features host Carolyn Manno and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut, and Jeff Burton and Landon Cassill from Burton’s Garage.

Among the topics today:

  •  Prepare for paint swapping, bent fenders, and bruised egos. It’s time to go short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway! Jeff, Parker and Landon will tell you what to expect this weekend at the famous half-mile. We’ll also see what it takes to succeed there, as Parker takes us for some quick laps in the NBCSN iRacing Simulator.
  • After making the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason, Aric Almirola is off to the best start of his Cup Series career. Currently 10th in the standings, he’ll tell Marty Snider about his early season success.
  • Since finishing second at the Daytona 500, rookie driver Bubba Wallace has cooled off. Now he faces his first Cup Series start at Martinsville in the iconic No. 43 car, and he’s feeling confident — it’s where Wallace scored his first truck series win nearly five years ago. We’ll examine the struggles he might have to work through this season and also hear his reflections on his early years of racing in the latest edition of “A Driver’s Drive.”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/ If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

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NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)