Kurt Busch

Photo by Dustin Long

Charlotte to treat upper groove with same traction compound Bristol used

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In hopes of having better racing in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway has been applied to the upper groove in all four corners with the same traction compound, PJ1 TrackBite, as used at Bristol Motor Speedway, NBC Sports has learned.

The track also plans to use a tire dragging device to help the upper groove.

The move comes just days after the All-Star Race faced criticism for its lack of action and just three lead changes in the 70-lap event. Also, last year’s Coca-Cola 600 saw Martin Truex Jr. lead 392 of 400 laps.

“We talked through this opportunity with the track, teams, drivers and Goodyear,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, in a statement.“There was agreement that this process would enhance the racing we see at Charlotte Motor Speedway and ultimately would make for an exciting Coca-Cola 600.”

Drivers expressed their frustration during and after the All-Star Race about not being able to run multiple lanes. Winner Kyle Busch complained on the radio to his team during the event about how he wished NASCAR would have cleaned the top lane so cars could try to run there.

Ryan Blaney expressed his feelings with the one-lane racing in the corners after the race.

“You can’t pass anywhere,” he said. “It’s not great track conditions, to be honest with  you. It’s just on the bottom.”

Said Kurt Busch after the race: “We’re all running qualifying laps, so it’s gonna be tough to pass.  We need the outside groove to come in a little bit quicker, but I thought it was a good race for adjustments, restarts, the excitement value from in the seat.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s playoff chances may rely on if he can win a race

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CONCORD, N.C. — Even with 15 races remaining before the playoffs begin, car owner Rick Hendrick says he thinks Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have to win a race if the retiring driver hopes to have one last shot at a Cup championship.

Earnhardt is 25th in the points heading into this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He’s 77 points behind Trevor Bayne, who holds the final playoff spot at this time. Drivers can earn up to 70 points this weekend with an extra stage. The maximum number of points is 60 for all other Cup races.

A win before the playoffs begin in September grants a driver, who starts every race, a chance to compete for the title. If there aren’t 16 winners by then, the rest of the playoff field is filled based on points.

Through the first 11 races, eight different drivers have won at least once. Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski each have two wins, while five others have single victories: Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman and Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch.

Stage points could play a key role in who fills the final playoff spots and that might not be good for Earnhardt. He has 19 stage points (teammate Chase Elliott has 94) but none in the last four races.

“I think we’ve got to win now,’’ Hendrick said last week. “A lot of people can start having problems. We’ve got to do the best we can and let it take care of itself. The cars are fast enough to win. I’m hopeful we can pull it off.’’

Said Earnhardt: “That makes it a lot easier when the boss man tells you what you’ve got to do.’’

Earnhardt wasn’t as confident after Saturday night’s All-Star Race. He finished 18th in the 20-car field and apologized to fans on Periscope after the race.

“It’s hard not to get down,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve been racing a long time and it’s hard not to get down. Right after that, it’s hard to keep your chin up, really hard. I’ll get my chin up again in a couple days.’’

That’s kind of how his season has been.

He was leading the Daytona 500 when Kyle Busch’s tire blew and Busch wrecked in front of Earnhardt, collecting him. Earnhardt finished 37th.

A pit road speeding penalty, flat tire and loose wheel contributed to a 30th-place finish at Atlanta.

A pit road speeding penalty dropped him to the rear at Martinsville and then he was collected in a crash. He finished 34th.

An oil cooler issue contributed to his crash at Bristol and a 38th-place finish.

Teammate Jimmie Johnson didn’t know Earnhardt was to his outside and slammed him into the wall at Richmond. Earnhardt finished 30th

A loose wheel forced him to pit late at Talladega. He finished 22nd.

He thought he had a loose wheel and pitted late at Kansas, giving up a top-10 spot. He finished 20th.

“I just know that in our notes over the last four years there we have tires that shake,’’ Earnhardt said. “Why there and why not other places? Don’t know. But at Kansas every third set might shake. It’s just something that I needed to remember before the race so when that happened, I didn’t freak out because we’ve had so many loose wheels so it’s in the back of my mind.

“I jumped the gun. It was my mistake. Full responsibility for costing us a lap and whatever else it costs us. Could have finished in the top 10. Car was real fast. It’s frustrating. If I had just talked to myself and said, ‘Be aware of those vibrations, it’s just what you have at that particular racetrack for some reason,’ then I might not have been so quick to jump on the loose wheel bandwagon like I was.’’

Even before the poor run in the All-Star Race, Hendrick said the team shouldn’t be overcome with dread.

“We just have to take a deep breath and do what we know how to do,’’ Hendrick said.

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What Drivers Said after All-Star Race

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Kyle Busch earned his first All-Star win Saturday night. He and others in the race had much to say about the event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

KYLE BUSCH — Winner: “It’s the All-Star Race for one and for two, we’ve never won at Charlotte in a Cup car so we finally achieved that goal tonight and won the All-Star race and won a million bucks, so there’s reason to celebrate and to celebrate big. Can’t say enough about Adam Stevens (crew chief). You have Adam Stevens and these guys in the pit box and you can rely on them all day long. I had to do that tonight. You know we weren’t quite the fastest car, but we made the right changes when it mattered most. We made the right moves when it mattered most and we got the most out of our night tonight and got here to victory lane. Feel so relieved, alluded, proud and excited all in the same time.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “My pit crew has been awesome all year and I don’t want to take anything away from them. We came down pit road the leader and three people passed us, that was pretty much the difference there. But, in 10 laps, track position is huge. We just didn’t have it there at the end. We had the best car out there, for sure. In traffic I thought it was really good. I thought we had it most of the race but that’s how racing goes. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But I think we had a really fast car today. We’ll go onto the 600, that’s a long race, and try it again.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 3rd: “When you’re the second-place car, you can’t jump the leader. But everybody in the second, third, and fourth row is going to jump and do what they can to roll-up on the situation. So, I was really hopeful of old tires and being on the bottom. They’d be able to hold that lane back, especially Kyle (Busch) and how good he is on race starts. And it just didn’t happen. He got in there. I had a decent start. They weren’t able to push me and get me going. And I had a couple of shots at him. He wasn’t handling too well at the start of the run, but I just drove too hard.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 4th: “You’ve got to do something special in the Monster Energy All-Star Race. We did everything at an A-minus tonight. The pit stops were good. The car was good. The restarts were good. The calls and adjustments were good. Nothing stood out as excellent.  I love the format.  Monster did a great job with this traditional format. Having the option tire I thought was really neat for the crews to use and everybody used them before that last round, how about that.” 

Jamie McMurray – Finished 5th: “The racing was great. The restarts were awesome. It’s interesting how the tire strategy worked out where no one had the greens at the end because track position was so important. I got us behind with missing my pit stall on our qualifying because our car was probably a little bit better than where we finished.  But, pretty pumped for next week. I thought we were the best car on the long run, even though you only had 20 laps tonight, but next week we will have lots of that. So, yeah, I’m really excited.” 

Kevin Harvick – Finished 6th: “We just didn’t put it together there when we came down pit road. We got behind and at that point you don’t have enough laps to make it up.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 7th: “I was happy we made that last round. I guess I was the only car of the open guys to make it to the last round, so that was kind of cool. Just hard to start in the back and expect to move that far forward. Had a good car, though, I was happy about that.  Hopefully, we can take some of that toward next week.” 

Joey Logano – Finished 8th: “We had to just shoot for the fence doing anything we can do to try to make our Shell/Pennzoil Ford a little faster. It was just slow. There are no better words for it. I feel like we kind of got screwed up as soon as practice started and we had issues with our brakes. We had a bad qualifying effort because of that, which set us towards the back. We didn’t practice our car either, and we couldn’t make it any better and it showed in the race. We weren’t very quick at all and we couldn’t pass cars and couldn’t move around the race track. We’ve got a little bit of work to do for next week.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 11th: “You can’t pass anywhere.  It’s not great track conditions, to be honest with you. We had to try something to get our average up or try to win a stage and that’s what we tried.” 

Clint Bowyer – Finished 13th: “It was a good try. Track position is key and you try to do something to get track position and you don’t have the upper hand. They’re better than you on that deal. I think if we would have had tires and started up front, we’d have been hard to handle tonight. We were a good car all night long, it’s just this format and the way the race is. You can’t complain about it because it is what it is. It’s the All-Star Race and everybody wants to be a part of it, it’s just unfortunate that your hands are tied.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 20th: “It’s pretty disappointing. I thought like tonight, even though we only ran 20 laps, our performance was better. As we made a couple of passes I thought we were keeping pretty good speed, beating everybody except for the leader right there. It was encouraging. I felt like we were going to run better but it’s just kind of the way the year’s going. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Just got to ride it out until it turns.”

Results, stats for the Monster Energy All-Star Race won by Kyle Busch

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Kyle Busch won his first Monster Energy All-Star Race Saturday night in his 12th start in the event.

Busch only won the final 10 lap-stage, finishing ahead of Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Click here for full race results.

Kyle Busch wins first NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte and $1 million

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Scratch one more off Kyle Busch’s bucket list.

The 2015 NASCAR Cup champion won his first career NASCAR Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, capturing Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race.

In his 12th All-Star Race, Busch led all of the 10 laps in the final stage to take home the $1 million winner’s check.

Kyle Larson, who won the first two stages of the four-stage event, finished second, followed by third stage winner Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Sixth through 10th were Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Results, stats for the Monster Energy All-Star Race won by Kyle Busch

Busch becomes the fourth different first-time All-Star Race winner in the last four years, is the 16th different winner in the last 19 All-Star races and is the 23rd different winner in the event’s 33-year history.

And while it was an exhibition, non-points race, it was the first Cup win for any Joe Gibbs Racing driver in 2017.

“There’s reason to celebrate and to celebrate big,” Busch told Fox Sports 1. “We weren’t quite the fastest car, but we made the right changes and the right moves when it mattered most and got the most out of our night tonight and got here into victory lane.”

Keselowski was the only driver of the 10 that qualified for the final 10-lap winner-take-all stage to stay out on-track and not pit to start the final stage in the lead position. But Busch made quick work of Keselowski and streaked onward to victory.

Larson won the first two stages, leading all 40 combined laps. However, when Stage 3 began, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney were at the front of the field, and Larson was third when the green flag fell.

Jimmie Johnson took the lead from Bowyer on Lap 42 and held on to win Stage 3, setting up the 10-driver final stage, which featured Larson, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and defending All-Star Race winner Joey Logano.

With so much money on the line, drivers were both aggressive and cautious from the opening green flag of the 70-lap event. There were no crashes in either of the first two 20-lap stages.

Late in Stage 3, Ryan Newman took his car to the garage after banging fenders with Denny Hamlin, who continued on.

In the All-Star Open that preceded the night’s main event, Bowyer and Ryan Blaney won the first two stages, while Daniel Suarez was the overall Open winner, putting all three drivers into the All-Star Race.

And Elliott was named as the winner of the fan vote, putting him into the 20th and final All-Star Race position.

HOW KYLE BUSCH WON: Patience, which isn’t always one of Busch’s strongest suits, was the key to his win. He did just well enough in the first three stages and then roared from third to the front of the field before even reaching Turn 1 in the final stage and remained in command the rest of the way.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Larson had one of the best races of his career. Sure, he didn’t win, but his two stage wins and finishing second showed Larson likely will be a factor to deal with in next Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Matt Kenseth’s night ended after Stage 1 with an oil leak (finished 20th). Ryan Newman’s banging fenders with Denny Hamlin cost him a chance to race in the final stage (finished 19th). Dale Earnhardt Jr. fought a loose race car all race and finished 18th out of 20.

NOTABLE: Jimmie Johnson came into Saturday night as the only multiple All-Star race winner, with four wins in the last 18 All-Star races, but couldn’t hold off Kyle Busch in the final stage.

STAGE 1 RESULTS (Laps 1-20): Pole-sitter Kyle Larson led all 20 laps to win and earn an automatic berth in the final 10-lap, winner-take-all segment. Kyle Busch was second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.

STAGE 2 RESULTS (Laps 21-40): Kyle Larson continued to dominate, leading all 20 laps to win Stage 2. Jimmie Johnson was second, followed by Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

STAGE 3 RESULTS (Laps 41-60): Jimmie Johnson took the lead on Lap 42 and held on to win the stage. Kevin Harvick was second, followed by Larson, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “I could see a million dollars (go) out the windshield. I just drove too hard.” – Third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson on being unable to hold off Kyle Busch on the final restart.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Coca-Cola 600, the longest race each season, takes place next Sunday, May 28, also at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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