Ryan Newman

What a long strange trip this season already has been for Kyle Busch

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At this rate, it won’t be long before someone comes up with a parody version of “12 Days of Christmas” for Kyle Busch.

A little more than a third of the way through the Cup season, Busch is accumulating quite a list to count down. Consider:

Seven top-10s finishes.

A six-word press conference.

Five top-five finishes.

Four-race suspensions (for his crew chief, rear tire changer and rear tire carrier).

Three races lost (in the final 10 laps).

Two catchphrases (“Everything is great’’ and “I’m not surprised about anything.’’)

And a memorable mic drop … or punch thrown … or bloody forehead … or commitment line violation … or All-Star win.

The former champion has packed more into 14 races than some drivers do in a year. Or two.

Despite the hurdles, Busch is fourth in the points heading into this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway.  Of concern, though, is that Busch’s woes have left him with only four playoff points. Nine drivers have more playoff points — earned through stage wins or race victories — than Busch.

While Busch was challenged to make the Chase after missing the first 11 races of the 2015 season, he went on to win the title. The challenge this year is different.

This isn’t about his body healing but his mind.

What’s happened to Busch this season can only add to the frustration from last year. He’s gone 30 races since his last Cup victory. For a driver who knows how close he is to 200 total wins in Cup, Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series (he’s at 173), a winless drought of more than 10 months in Cup can be aggravating.

It’s not just him. His three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates also have yet to win a points race this season. Busch has been close with multiple near-misses and leading 703 laps, second only to Martin Truex Jr. (876 laps led).

Many in the sport say momentum can play a key role in a team’s success. Strong runs can prove uplifting to team members and carry them and their driver through the tasks they face. Poor or frustrating results can wear on a driver and team.

That’s the challenge for Busch and his team in what has been a season full of lowlights and soundbites of frustration.

It started in the Daytona 500 when a tire issue caused Busch to spin and collect Dale Earnhardt Jr., Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth and Ty Dillon.

“Obviously, Goodyear tires just aren’t very good at holding air,’’ Busch told Fox.

Two weeks later, Busch was in a bigger controversy. A last-lap duel with Joey Logano led to contact that spun Busch and cost him a top-five spot (he finished 22nd). Afterward, Busch walked up pit road to Logano and immediately swung at his competitor. Busch missed. In the ensuing melee, he fell to the ground and cut his forehead. With blood trickling down his forehead, he was led away.

“I got dumped,” Busch told Fox. “Flat out wrecked me. That’s how Joey races. He’s going to get it.”

The following week, Logano made Busch miserable again, but in a more indirect way. Logano blew a tire and crashed to bring out the final caution with Busch leading. Busch gave up the lead to pit for two tires. Ryan Newman stayed out, inherited the lead and held it the final six laps.

It was one of three times that Busch has lost the lead in the final 10 laps. He lost the lead on the last lap at Talladega and watched Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrate his first career Cup win. Busch lost the lead with 10 laps to go to Ryan Blaney last weekend at Pocono. Blaney went on to score his first career Cup series win.

Busch finished second in the Coca-Cola 600 but walked away upset with that result. Austin Dillon scored his first career Cup victory, winning on a fuel gamble. A frustrated Busch performed his now-famous mic drop in the media center after that race.

“Different people show their emotions in different way,’’ Busch said five days later at Dover. “Unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious, and I don’t know if it will ever be.’’

Busch won the pole at Dover but saw his race change dramatically on Lap 18 of the 400-lap race. The jackman dropped the jack, signaling Busch to exit his pit stall, but the left rear wheel had not been attached. Busch sped away and the tire rolled off. The Cup Rule Book states that a wheel coming off a car is a four-race suspension for the crew chief, along with the tire changer and tire carrier responsible. They’ll be able to return for the July 8 race at Kentucky Speedway.

Other issues include his runner-up finish at Martinsville after he lost a duel with Brad Keselowski. Earlier in that race, Stenhouse moved Busch out of the way on the final lap of the second stage. Busch moved up the track, allowing Chase Elliott to slip by to win the stage and the playoff point.

Richmond also was frustrating for Busch. Running second, Busch followed Logano on to pit road on Lap 378 of the 400-lap race. Logano turned late on to pit road and just crossed the commitment line. Busch followed but his right side tires ran over the orange box at the end of the commitment line. The rule states that a driver must have all four tires below the box. NASCAR penalized Busch, who had to start at the tail end of the field. Instead of vying for the win, he finished 16th.

In this season of chaos, Busch did win but it doesn’t count as an official victory since the All-Star Race is a non-points event.

“Hopefully this is a little bit of momentum, a little bit of wind in our sails, something we can build on,’’ crew chief Adam Stevens said at the time.

The only thing they’ve been able to build on the past two races is disappointment. The question is how much longer will it last?

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What drivers said after Pocono 400

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Here’s a sampling of what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway:

Ryan Blaney – Winner: “Kyle (Busch) stayed out and he was on a little bit older tires and it looked like he was getting pretty tight, especially off of (Turn) 1 and that’s where new tires really seemed to come alive because you could hold the line and get runs on him, downshift and get next to him. I had a big run on him off of (Turn) 3 and he did a good job blocking, and we were able to get under him, but then I had to hold (Kevin Harvick) off. He was super-fast. I can’t thank Kevin enough for racing me clean.  That was really cool of him, but it was definitely hectic. Hopefully the fans liked it. It was really cool.”

KEVIN HARVICK – Finished 2nd: “I got behind a couple times and had a fast enough car to make it back up. And then I missed a shift from third to second. I just have to thank the Roush Yates engine shop for building a pretty sturdy engine because it should have blown up and it never blew up. I think there at the end I just couldn’t get into the corner like we needed to all day and I couldn’t stop like I needed to. (Blaney) could charge the corner, so I needed for him to make a mistake and try to get up underneath him on the exit of the corner. He never made a mistake and did a great job and ended up winning the race.”

Erik Jones – Finished 3rd: “It’s just gratifying. You stick with it and stick to your guns and know what you have and keep doing the same thing week in and week out and sometimes it’s tough to do that. You hope it’s going to come back around and I got the finish I felt like we deserved.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 4th: “It was warm and we battled really hard today and had a nice, consistent run. I just didn’t have any special speed, but we ran good lap times, so I’m really proud of our Haas Automation/Monster Energy guys. It’s great to see a Ford in victory lane, so congratulations to the Wood Brothers. They deserve this. To see Ryan Blaney win, he’s gonna be a superstar in this sport. NASCAR loves him. We love him. He’s a good kid and I’m gonna keep pushing hard, though. We’re chiseling away at this and we’re gonna get in good position.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 5th: “I just didn’t get enough go on the restart, which was a bummer. I don’t know, I feel like I probably could have won it if I had just gotten that launch. Kyle (Busch) got a great launch. He went a tiny bit before the line, but not enough to where NASCAR was gonna call it, and I didn’t get the launch I needed.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 6th: “It was a tough day, but we battled hard after having to start at the back due to an engine change after Saturday’s practice. This team never quits, fought right to the end and did have a shot of winning this thing. But when the race restarted for the final time we weren’t in the preferred outside lane. We wanted to be fourth instead of fifth and have the inside lane. But (Ryan) Blaney got that spot by just beating us off pit road.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 7th: “It was a decent day. I would have liked to finish better, obviously; I just didn’t get the best restarts. It seemed like if I was on the top I was behind guys that were on no tires and they’d be three-wide into (Turn) 1 and I’d be on the very top. And, when I’d restart on the bottom, I’d just get slowed down too much and then I couldn’t have a very good run off the corners. So, my restarts weren’t great. But, our car was a lot better than I thought it would be after practices.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 8th: “I wasn’t real pleased with it. That’s not a comforting feeling if your brakes are going away. But, mine weren’t bad enough. I could manage it. I could kind of keep them in check. I knew kind of when I was pushing them the pedal would fade, but if I took it easy on them they’d come back. So, it was on the edge but manageable.”

RICKY STENHOUSE JR – Finished 11th: “I’m really proud of my team. We struggled all weekend with the handling of our car so to leave Pocono with an 11th – place finish is a true testament of the strength of our team. Our focus this year is to be consistent. We definitely learned some things for next time.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 13th: “The balance felt good for most of the race, but would tighten up in Turn 3 every now and then, so I had to really focus on my entry and exit in that corner. One of the biggest challenges was the heat. By lap 28, it felt like my A/C unit overheated or something and from there I had no air conditioning. I was alright during most of the race, but that red flag was just miserable. I was able to make it through and started dumping water on my face when I could, which helped a little bit. But we battled through the challenges; that’s what this team does. We were able to hang on and grab a 13th-place finish.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 14th: ”Unfortunately we had overheating issues with trash and then we sustained an exhaust leak that made my driver’s seat extremely hot during the race. It’s a shame. It’s like we never had the chance to show our muscle. We were just tending to issues that kept creeping up, instead of focusing on getting our car better to contend with the front-runners.” 

Danica Patrick – Finished 16th: “All in all, it was a clean day for the Aspen Dental Ford team. We didn’t make any mistakes at all and ended up with a solid finish. I wish we’d had more grip there at the end, but overall it was a good day for our team.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 17th: “I thought we had a pretty good car on long runs today, but we got into the wall and that ruined our race. We got a lap down but battled back. Our guys didn’t give up and we got an OK finish.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 18th: “There was so much strategy in today’s race at Pocono. Once we got close to what we needed, we started playing with a strategy to make up track position in the final two stages. It’s so important at this track, but so hard to get once the field spreads out. It worked how we needed it to, and our car really started to come around there at the end. I took off on that last restart and picked off a couple other cars in the short amount of time that I had. Now I’ll focus on our plan for Michigan next weekend.’’

Paul Menard — Finished 20th: “Matt (Borland, crew chief) and the team did a really good job finding the right balance. The pit crew did a great job. We were able to race around the top 15 for a majority of the day and had some really good speed in the final segment. Our fuel strategy worked and by the time the final pit stop came around, we were in position to score a top-10 finish. I’m not really sure what happened on that last restart, but I didn’t get the best restart and messed up shifting gears into Turn 1.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 21st: “We just kept getting tighter throughout the day. We made adjustments all day long but our Ford Fusion was still tight on the exit of the corners. We’ll regroup and get after it next week in Jack’s (Roush) backyard in Michigan.”

David Ragan – Finished 25th: “We had good strategy by Derrick Finley and our 38 team. We had one weak run – the second-to-last run when we were racing for the lucky dog. I don’t know if we had a funny set of tires or if we went a little too far on an adjustment, but that was our weakest run. All in all, we made improvements on the car. We just have to start a little bit better at the beginning of these races, but I’m proud of this Overton’s team. They had good strategy and a good day on pit road and we were able to salvage a decent finish.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. — Finished 26th: “I’m just so bummed out and frustrated with myself. I know my family is going to be hard on me after this, not to be so hard on myself, but I’m competitive and I want to win races and I want to lead laps. Just wanted to have a good showing, and to speed four, five times, same segment, that was pretty tough to swallow, and then this race just going green the whole time … it was just not our day.”

Landon Cassill – Finished 27th: “We got it better later, but we just didn’t have a very good first half of the race and we never had a chance to fight back.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished 34th: “I was going down the front stretch about halfway and the right front popped. I had been fighting serious brake problems for a while. So, I’m guessing it had something to do with that.  But it happened in the middle of the front stretch so I just kind of rode the wall, blew my brakes off, rode the wall to the backstretch, which actually was a very easy ride for where it happened. Just disappointed that happened, that is three weeks in a row we have had issues.” 

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 36th: “No, (the brake pedal) went right to the floor and I saw a replay inside the medical center. The smoke, I think, is the brake fluid coming out of wherever failed and onto the rotors. I can only speculate that I got the brakes too hot and when I went to the brakes they just traveled straight to the floor. I didn’t even have a pedal to push on. At that point, I threw it in third gear and I was just trying to slow it down. I was heading to the grass and I was wondering why I didn’t turn right and get to the wall sooner, but I’m fine. Certainly, a big scare. I haven’t had a scare like that since 2000 at Watkins Glen.” 

Jamie McMurray – Finished 37: “I didn’t really even see the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) car wrecking until I just went down and I got on the brake pedal and my pedal started to go to the floor and I had a little bit that I could kind of pump it and I thought I was going to be okay.  And then, I don’t know if I got into some oil or what happened, but I just started spinning and didn’t have any brakes.  So, it was really weird that we kind of both had the same thing happen at the same point on the racetrack, but fortunately, we are both okay and yeah, move on.” 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 38th: “It’s just my fault. I wish I could say that the shifter is different and something is out of line or not something I was doing last year as far as where we had the shifter mounted for Pocono. This really concerns me coming back here and the road courses you know. But, we haven’t had any problems all year long, but at places where we do a lot of shifting I don’t know what is going on, what I’ve got to do or why this is really happening out of nowhere. We don’t really have an answer to it other than me just having to pay more attention, but I mean I’ve been doing this all my life and this isn’t a common issue, but it has been this weekend.”

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Kyle Busch takes pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Pocono Raceway

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Kyle Busch earned his second straight pole of the season and 28th of his NASCAR Cup career during Friday’s qualifying for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Busch topped the speed charts with a best lap of 179.151 mph, faster than outside polesitter Martin Truex Jr. (178.543 mph). Busch did so without crew chief Adam Stevens, who started a four-race suspension today for last week’s tire mishap at Dover.

“Any week that you’re able to qualify first and get the No. 1 pit selection is hopefully a good omen,” Busch told Fox Sports 1. “It’s all about the speed that our guys have bringing to the racetrack. We’ve been really fast. Our cars have been showing good speed the last few weeks, so it’d be nice to show speed through 400 miles on Sunday.”

Truex, who for the second straight week also qualified alongside Busch at Dover, joked about the outcome, telling FS1, “Damn him. What else can you say? It was a good day for us. We had a lot of issues with the car. … Just one of those days that really tested us and we came out with second. It was a good day.”

Third through 12th were Matt Kenseth (178.108 mph), Ryan Blaney (177.897), Kurt Busch (177.799), Brad Keselowski (177.792), Kyle Larson (177.557), Jamie McMurray (177.368), Joey Logano (177.256), Ryan Newman (177.026), Michael McDowell (176.918) and Kevin Harvick (176.561).

McDowell’s effort was impressive, his highest start ever at Pocono (previous best was 27th in 2013).

“That’s a big jump, going from 27th to 11th,” McDowell told FS1. “We unloaded with a good car and just made it better every run. We haven’t been great in qualifying, but we’re coming off three straight top-20s, so we’ve had good cars and good speed and today we put it all together.”

It was also his best qualifying effort this season and equaled his 11th qualifying spot last summer at Watkins Glen.

Hendrick Motorsports struggled during the session, with Dover winner Jimmie Johnson being the highest qualifier – albeit 19th.

Chase Elliott qualified 25th, Kasey Kahne 26th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 28th.

However, Earnhardt’s run will essentially not count as he blew an engine in practice earlier in the day and then had to replace it, meaning he will start Sunday’s race from the back of the 39-car field.

Earnhardt tweeted that even though he’ll start at the back of the pack, NASCAR preferred that he make at least one qualifying attempt.

This is the second time this season that Hendrick Motorsports failed to place one of its four cars in the final round of qualifying. The other time was Texas, when the cars of Earnhardt, Elliott and Kahne did not make an attempt because they couldn’t get their cars through pre-qualifying inspection in time.

Jimmie Johnson was the only car to get through inspection then, qualified 24th and then won the race.

Click here for full qualifying results.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

 

 

Ty Dillon, Ryan Newman discuss cause of overtime crash at Dover

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Two of the drivers in the nine-car accident at the end of last weekend’s NASCAR Cup race at Dover say that they weren’t aware there was as much oil dry on the backstretch.

Ty Dillon was running fourth with Ryan Newman below him in fifth when Dillon lost control after hitting the oil dry, which absorbs fluids on the track.

The oil dry was used after David Ragan brought out the caution on Lap 398 when he popped a right front tire and hit the wall.

There was a big pile of sand there still from Speedi Dri, and as soon as I hit that, there was no saving it, it was like hitting ice,’’ Dillon said Friday at Pocono Raceway. “We tore up half the field and didn’t really get a good finish to the race. It was unfortunate that that kind of had to happen.’’

Dillon, who led 27 laps, finished 14th.

Said Newman of the oil dry: “There was more there than I thought there was. And I think if was a matter of that we all couldn’t see it. White on white (concrete surface) is still white. You couldn’t see it. And then when (Jimmie Johnson) blew it up and (Kyle Larson) blew it up and (Martin Truex Jr.) and then Ty hit it, and I was underneath Ty, it was craziness. I think there was way more there than we ever realized.”

Newman finished fourth.

The nine-car crash came in overtime. The caution lights illuminated after Johnson crossed the overtime line on the backstretch, meaning NASCAR would not attempt to finish the race under green. Johnson, who was leading, won under caution to collect his 83rd career Cup victory and 11th career win at Dover.

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Stage racing has made an impact but qualifying remains key to Cup success

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Even with how stages have altered strategy and the racing this year, the importance of qualifying remains evident in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Seven of the top 10 in points entering Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway rank in the top 10 in average starting spot. Points leader Martin Truex Jr. ranks second in average starting spot. Brad Keselowski, who has the best average starting spot (6.679), ranks seventh in the points.

Seven of the 13 races this season were won by a driver who started in the top five.

Qualifying at Pocono is scheduled to begin at 4:15 p.m. ET today.

The past two races have been won by a driver who started outside the top 10. Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 after starting 22nd. Jimmie Johnson qualified 14th last weekend at Dover but actually started at the rear after the team made a gear change before the race.

Rookie Ty Dillon, who had a strong run going until he was collected in the overtime crash last week at Dover, said qualifying remains a focus for his team.

Qualifying has probably been our toughest challenge all year just making sure we get good track position,’’ said Ty Dillon, whose average starting spot of 22.077 ranks 24th in the series. “We start anywhere from 20th to 28th every week. It’s just not been our strong suit, but we have raced really well. 

“The thing about qualifying is it is raw speed. It’s just a different level when you come to the Cup Series and qualify. It’s harder than anything you ever do.’’ 

Rookie Daniel Suarez, whose average starting spot of 15.846 ranks 16th in the series, says he sees progress with his team in the area.

“Track position is important,’’ Suarez said. “I feel like last week we made some gains. I honestly feel like every weekend we have been getting better and better. We are still a new team, a growing team, and I really feel like every weekend we are getting stronger and stronger and racing in the top 10.’’

Here is a look at how drivers rank based on their average starting spot this season:

(Some drivers, such as Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson, among others, are further down the list because they’ve missed qualifying after failing to get through inspection and started toward the rear, impacting their average.)

6.679 — Brad Keselowski

8.308 — Martin Truex Jr.

8.769 — Kevin Harvick

9.769 — Kyle Busch

9.846 — Jamie McMurray

9.923 — Matt Kenseth

10.000 — Ryan Blaney

10.154 — Chase Elliott

11.154 — Denny Hamlin

11.154 — Joey Logano

11.615 — Kurt Busch

12.308 — Kyle Larson

13.769 — Ryan Newman

13.846 — Clint Bowyer

13.923 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

15.846 — Daniel Suarez

16.000 — Dale Earnhardt Jr.

17.692 — Erik Jones

17.769 — Trevor Bayne

18.692 — Austin Dillon

20.154 — Kasey Kahne

20.385 — Jimmie Johnson

20.538 — Paul Menard

22.077 — Ty Dillon

23.923 — Danica Patrick

24.308 — AJ Allmendinger

25.846 — Michael McDowell

27.308 — Landon Cassill

28.308 — Matt DiBenedetto

28.923 — Chris Buescher

* Aric Almirola, who is out after his injury from a May 13 crash at Kansas Speedway, has an average starting spot of 22.363.

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