Regan Smith believes he can win the Daytona 500 in place of Kurt Busch

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – From the couch to the cockpit, Regan Smith will enjoy a much better seat for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Instead of watching the winner’s celebration on TV, he could be playing the starring role in the 57th running of the Great American Race.

“The biggest difference is I’ve got an opportunity to hop in a race car that’s more than capable of winning the Daytona 500,” Smith said Saturday morning before practicing the No. 41 Chevrolet in place of suspended Kurt Busch. “I want to make the most of that opportunity.”

Smith, who has become somewhat of a super sub in NASCAR’s premier series the past two years, has exhibited the ability to make a winning cameo on a restrictor-plate track in the Sprint Cup Series.

He actually took the checkered flag in the October 2008 race at Talladega Superspeedway while driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., but the victory was disallowed and handed to Tony Stewart after NASCAR ruled Smith had gone below the yellow line to win.

In his two most recent starts in Cup plate races, Smith finished seventh in the 2013 Daytona 500 and sixth at Talladega two months later while driving for Phoenix Racing.

He will have a car equipped with the same Hendrick Motorsports-supplied chassis and engine Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, where Busch will miss the season opener after being indefinitely suspended Friday.

Smith spent Saturday morning getting acclimated with Busch’s ride, being fitted for the seat and learning the locations for toggle switches and buttons. He then drove in the final practice session.

“There are different things to worry about with the Cup car as compared to the Xfinity car,” said Smith, who has driven for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series the past two seasons and finished third and second in points with three victories. “It might take 15 to 20 laps to understand where (the cars) jump sideways. The situations should be similar, outside of that, and I anticipate it being relatively seamless.”

Smith, who spent Friday practicing for Saturday afternoon’s Xfinity race at Daytona, said he can’t explain his excellence in plate races.

“I wish I knew what led to the success,” he said. “There’s a certain level of comfort at this style of racing (and) trying to outthink guys.”

The Cato, N.Y., native, whose claim to fame is a victory in the 2011 Southern 500, already has familiarity with Stewart-Haas Racing. Last year, he filled in at Watkins Glen International for Tony Stewart, who missed the race after striking and killing Kevin Ward Jr. in a sprint car race. He also filled in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway in October 2012 when a concussion sidelined NASCAR’s most popular driver for two races.

No. 41 crew chief Tony Gibson told Smith the team still believes it can win with Smith.

“I’d say anytime you have a chance to hop in a car that’s fast and more than capable of winning races, you always have an opportunity to showcase your talent,” Smith said. “You have to think that way. I absolutely think we have a shot to win this race.”

He also will have a familiar spotter in Rick Carelli (who worked with Smith a few years ago).

Tony Stewart said last week that SHR had a contingency plan in place if Busch was removed from the car because of a protective order sought by his ex-girlfriend (it was granted Monday by a Delaware family court). Smith said he hadn’t had discussions with SHR about the ride beyond Daytona, nor had he spoken yet with Busch.

“I don’t know if I will or won’t,” he said. “Naturally since he’s been driving the car, it would be beneficial to talk to him and what can I expect out of this car. So if that opportunity presents, we’ll discuss that stuff. Outside of that, I haven’t spoken to him.”

He has been in regular contact with his wife, Megan, who is expecting their first child in a few weeks.

“My wife and I have a very good relationship,” Smith said with a laugh. “We had discussions prior to this happening. I asked her to keep her legs crossed as long as she can if she goes into labor. We’ll do what we can.”

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”