Coca-Cola 600

Even in victory, frustration prevailed for some with Joe Gibbs Racing at New Hampshire (VIDEO)

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For as much as Joe Gibbs Racing celebrated Denny Hamlin scoring the organization’s first Cup win of the season and Daniel Suarez tying his career high with a sixth-place finish Sunday at New Hampshire, there was much to lament.

Matt Kenseth saw his chances to win end with a questionable pit call late. Kyle Busch’s hopes of victory faded when he was caught speeding twice in the final 65 laps.

Without the missteps from Busch and Kenseth’s team, Hamlin likely doesn’t win.

That’s the type of season it has been for Busch, who has found numerous ways to lose Cup races, allowing five drivers to score their first win of the season.

Consider Busch’s season of frustration:

  • He pits from the lead during a late caution at Phoenix. Ryan Newman stays out and leads the final six laps — the only laps he leads — to win. Busch finishes third.
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passes Busch on the final lap of overtime to win at Talladega. Busch finishes third.
  • Austin Dillon gambles on fuel to win the Coca-Cola 600. Busch finishes second and follows it with his mic drop in the media center.
  • Ryan Blaney passes Busch with 10 laps to go to win at Pocono. Busch, on older tires, falls back to ninth.
  • Busch starts on the front row for the final restart at Kentucky. He has two fresh left-side tires, while Martin Truex Jr., the leader, did not pit. Truex wins. Busch finishes fifth after starting on the pole
  • Busch leads 95 laps at New Hampshire but two late speeding penalties on pit road end his chances to win. He finishes 12th.

“This is another one I threw away for us,’’ Busch said on the radio to his team after the race Sunday.

Crew chief Adam Stevens replied: “We win as a team and lose as a team.’’

Busch is winless in his last 35 Cup races heading into this weekend’s event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — site of his last Cup win.

There’s no doubt his car is fast enough to win. He’s led at least 95 laps in seven races since his Indy triumph a year ago but has yet to return to victory lane.

While Kenseth hasn’t had as many close calls, he can relate to miscues hurting him. He finished third at Atlanta despite two speeding penalties. He placed fourth at Bristol despite a speeding penalty.

Then came the pit call that cost Kenseth the win at New Hampshire and extended his winless drought to 36 races, a full season. When the caution came out on Lap 263, most of the lead field pitted. Kenseth led. Ratcliff called for a two-tire change. That got Kenseth off pit road first but the rest of the cars behind him took four tires. 

Kenseth restarted alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr., who did not pit. Kenseth took the lead after the restart but could not hold off Hamlin, who quickly passed with his four fresh tires. Kenseth never had a chance at the lead the rest of the 301-lap race and finished fourth.

“I let you down,’’ Ratcliff said on the radio after the race. “We should have won.’’

The Gibbs teams are getting closer to winning. Just as Hamlin forecasted in April at Richmond.

“I think we are slowly getting better, we’re gaining more knowledge trying to figure out what it is that we need to work on,’’ Hamlin said at the time. “I think we’ve identified some areas where we need to work. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen this week, it won’t happen in a month. Some things are going to take a long time for us to get better at, but I’m very confident that when push comes to shove, we’re in September starting the (playoffs), we should be hopefully back where we were, if not better.’’

Hamlin notes that even with his win at New Hampshire, more work remains.

“I think we’re there except for two cars,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports on Sunday. “(Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson) are the only ones that continually beat us on speed. As far as the rest of the field, I feel we’re there on speed. Our teammate (Busch) has been like the third-fastest car and we’ve been the fourth consistently just about every week. We’re there where we need to be, but I still feel like for speed-wise, we need more to catch those two.’’

As the Gibbs cars contend for more wins, the difference will come down to execution and not making mistakes.

“There’s a lot of things we can do to be better,’’ Hamlin said. “We have a championship-caliber team. We just have to get our cars a little bit faster. I’m running laps out there as good as I feel that I can do. My car is doing everything that I need it to do but (Truex) is just faster.

“He’s running me down, and he’s passing and putting a straightaway on me. I’m thinking (crew chief Mike Wheeler) there’s nothing else I can give you. I don’t want to screw up our car and finish sixth. Just leave it where it is and hope those guys make mistakes.’’

Sunday, it was his teammates who made the mistakes and Hamlin took advantage.

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NASCAR on stage racing: ‘Definitely here to stay’

Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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A senior NASCAR executive reiterated the sanctioning body’s support for stage racing but noted potential changes will be examined for next season.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, made the comments Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Asked about the status of stage racing as NASCAR nears the midpoint of the season for its national series, O’Donnell said:

“Definitely here to stay. We’ll sit down with the same group that kind of came up with that concept. We really liked what we’ve seen, and the industry does as well, the strategy that is playing out.

“The things that will be on the table, do you add one (stage), do you look at the different stages in terms of lengths, the number of caution laps, maybe starting the second stage from Lap 1 instead of kind of eight laps in versus caution laps counting or maybe take those off the backend. A lot of those things will be on the table for us but continue to be real enthusiastic how those are playing out.’’

The only change with stages in Cup this season was NASCAR’s decision to add a fourth stage for the Coca-Cola 600, the sport’s longest race of the season.

NASCAR announced last week it was adjusting the stages for the Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The stages will end after Lap 30 and Lap 60. Previously, the stages were to have ended after Lap 25 and Lap 50. The change was made after consultation with teams on expected fuel and tire runs.

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Brad Keselowski: Wrong message sent by some about Kyle Busch’s mic drop

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DOVER, Del. — Brad Keselowski says that the way Kyle Busch’s frustration and mic drop were portrayed as signs that Busch has the most desire to win “makes me want to throw up.’’

Keselowski said the message sent was not the proper one.

“If I’m going to send a message for my daughter, or for kids or fans of mine, I want that message to be that that is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the true definition of the most desire and most passion to win,’’ Keselowski said Saturday at Dover International Speedway.

Busch uttered six words in the media center after finishing second in last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. After there were no more questions, Busch punctuated his frustration by dropping the mic on the table and exiting.

Busch said Friday at Dover that while people show emotions in different ways, he admits that “mine has never been very gracious, and I don’t know that it ever will be.’’

Busch said the frustration with losing the Coca-Cola 600 and not sweeping the All-Star Race and the 600 upset him as he dwelled more on the result.

Keselowski took issue with the way some in the media portrayed Busch’s actions.

“When people go out and write articles, or the media come out and say that’s a reflection of him having the most desire to win, makes me want to throw up,’’ Keselowski said Saturday after presenting the National Military Family Foundation a $20,000 donation from his Checkered Flag Foundation.

“Not only is that a terrible message to send to anyone who is aspiring to be a part of the sport, that is a terrible message to send to anyone in general in this world that that is a reflection over your desire to win.

“When I look at teams and people in this sport, they all want to be associated with those that have the strongest hunger and desires and passions to be successful. That’s natural. That includes myself.

“That message to be conveyed, whether it’s through the media or through different mouthpieces, is a terrible message that has serious effects not just on our sport but on our society. I don’t think that’s acceptable. Your desire to win can be expressed in a lot of other ways that are productive.’’

Keselowski, who starts eighth in Sunday’s race, said there are better ways to reveal passion and desire.

“You want to show me desire and passion to win, it’s what you do when nobody is watching,’’ he said. “That’s what desire and passion is to win.

“I would say that anybody that aspires to be great in this sport or life, that’s what they should be looking at.  That’s the message we should be sending to kids and other people.’’

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Kyle Busch on his emotions: ‘I guess I should care less’

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DOVER, Del. — Kyle Busch says don’t blame him for his emotional outbursts, including his angry mic drop after last weekend’s runner-up finish in the Coca-Cola 600.

Blame genetics.

Or maybe blame a higher power.

“Different people show their emotions in different ways,’’ Busch said Friday after winning the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Dover International Speedway. “Unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious, and I don’t know that it ever will be.

“I’m kind of learning that as the days go on. My son is 2 years old. I see where it came from. It’s genetics. I’m sorry. It’s just who I am. That’s what I was given. If there is anybody to blame, it’s probably the guy upstairs.

“I can probably get better and go to training and classes and everything else, but I don’t know. It is the way it is. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been blessed to be in the opportunity that I’m in. I’ve got great sponsors and partners that are with me, and they’ve stuck with me through a lot worse than what happened this week and that’s through relationships.

“Those people that are close to me, understand me and know me and know who I am outside the race track as a personable person, as a friend. That’s why I’m able to continue to have the relationships and that sponsorships that I do.’’

His success also makes it easier to overlook any warts with his attitude when things don’t go well on the track.

Such was the case last weekend. Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 on a fuel-mileage gamble. Dillon’s first career Cup win denied Busch his first victory of the season. Busch heads into Sunday’s AAA 400 on a 28-race winless streak. He’s never gone more than 35 starts between Cup wins since his first series victory in 2005.

The frustration over the Charlotte loss built as Busch headed to the media center after doing interviews on pit road.

“I sat in my car for a few seconds and kind of dwelled on the loss a little bit extra before the TV interview,’’ Busch said. “Then got to the media center, that time kind of grew and I realized what we missed out on. That was an opportunity to be able to win a Coke 600. Driving as hard as you do for 600 miles and passing (Martin Truex Jr.), I thought that was for the win.

“Then watching (Jimmie Johnson) run out of fuel and hearing (Austin Dillon) was in front of us. You were hoping that he would run out for your own sake, but he didn’t. There’s nothing to take from (Dillon’s) win.

“That’s a marquee event. I’ve won two of them (Indianapolis and Darlington) and that would have been the third and would have only left the Daytona 500.’’

The 2015 Cup champion also was frustrated because he saw his chances of sweeping Charlotte end after having won the All-Star Race the week before.

“There were a lot of things kind of riding on the line that meant a lot to me and would have been special to me,’’ said Busch, who has 38 career Cup victories, 87 career Xfinity wins and 48 Truck victories. “I guess I should care less about those sort of things and not show that sort of emotion.’’

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NASCAR America: Austin Dillon, Richard Childress on importance of Coke 600 win

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In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the key players in Austin Dillon‘s big win sat down with NBC Sports to share their thoughts on how it came to pass.

With images from Dillon’s first four years in the Cup Series interspersed throughout it, Dillon, owner Richard Childress and crew chief Justin Alexander relive the Coca-Cola 600 and Dillon’s journey to winning in the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet.

The win came at a track Dillon raced on as a teenager in a Bandolero that had the No. 3 on it, a number that has been in the Childress family for decades.

Watch the video above for the full look back at Dillon’s win.