Long: Familiar scene has new meaning for Kurt Busch after Richmond victory


RICHMOND, Va. – Confetti flew. Champaign sprayed. Crew members hugged.

The scene rarely deviates during the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. For all the repetitive pictures and interviews, Sunday’s spectacle in Victory Lane at Richmond International Raceway was different. Not for what it was, but what it meant to Kurt Busch.

Shadowed by tabloid headlines and a protective order granted to his ex-girlfriend by a Delaware Family Court Commissioner, Busch missed the first three races after NASCAR suspended him.

But that’s taking a look only at part of the picture.

The former champion won multiple races all but twice from 2002-11 before his career crashed with a series of public outbursts catalogued on YouTube that cost him his ride with car owner Roger Penske. Busch spent most of the 2012 season driving for a team that had limited funds and little chance of winning most races. He became more recognized for his ode to Ricky Bobby and “Talladega Nights’’ than any success on the track.

When car owner Gene Haas abruptly decided to expand to four cars, he plucked Busch from Furniture Row Racing for the 2014 season, accepting the driver’s “Outlaw” image. Haas knew about second chances, having served about 16 months in prison for tax fraud before he was released in May 2009.

In their sixth race together, Busch won. In his sixth race of this season, he won again.

“Redemption story,’’ said Keith Rodden, crew chief for Kasey Kahne, who flashed a thumbs up sign to Busch on pit road as the latter drove toward Victory Lane. Rival team owner Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson each congratulated Busch after his win.

All that Busch had gone through in his career, all that he has gone through since his ex-girlfriend accused him of domestic abuse – a Delaware Family Court Commissioner concluded that it was “more likely than not” Busch committed the act, but the Delaware Department of Justice declined to press charges –  made Sunday’s win and trip to Victory Lane different.

“I can appreciate it more,’’ Busch said after his 26th career Cup victory, which tied him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen in all-time series wins.

“As I’m older, I can appreciate it more because of the time and effort that it takes to assemble a good group of guys,” Busch said. “That’s where I recognize what now I might have took for granted when I was racing with Jimmy Fennig in the Roush days, and when we won the championship (in 2004).’’

As for the courtroom drama and suspension, Busch said it wasn’t difficult to separate that from racing because he was “standing on the truth the whole time.’’

What happened off track had an impact. Upon his return to racing last month at Phoenix International Raceway, Busch concedes he drove with “too much of a chip on my shoulder.’’

Even so, his car was fast and he often was in contention. When he was close, though, something happened to snatch victory away. He was headed for the win at Auto Club Speedway last month when a debris caution extended the race. Brad Keselowski passed Busch on the final lap to win. Busch finished third.

With crew chief Tony Gibson sidelined by kidney stone, Busch charged to the lead at Bristol Motor Speedway last week before giving up the spot when he pitted and those behind him didn’t with 34 laps to go. Shuffled back, he couldn’t avoid an accident, and he placed 15th.

While he led 127 of the last 128 laps Sunday, nothing out of the ordinary happened at Richmond to send Busch home wondering what he could do to win.

“After the race last week, I felt like, you know, just settle down, get into the groove where you let the race come to you and let the talent of the crew members come into play, and that way we all carry the same weight,’’ Busch said. “I think I was just trying to carry too much weight.’’

That’s another reason why this win is different from the Martinsville victory a year ago. Then, he had a new team and was with Daniel Knost, who was in his first year as a crew chief.

“I felt the responsibility of being a mentor,’’ said Busch, who was visited by Knost in Victory Lane. “This year I feel the responsibility of being the driver and doing my duty because I know I’ve got the best guy on the box with Tony Gibson, the best lead engineer with Johnny Klausmeier, the best car chief, best front‑end guy, rear‑end guy, tire guy.

“Everybody on our team is at a top level so I don’t have to do anything other than drive, and that’s what Gene Haas wants me to do and he’s not happy with one win. He wants multiple wins.’’

For all that he’s gone though, Sunday’s race also gave Busch something else.

“The chip on my shoulder,’’ he said, “will now be a trophy that I get to carry out of here.’’

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

William Byron wins Cup pole at COTA


William Byron will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron won the pole with a lap of 93.882 mph around the 3.41-mile road course Saturday. He becomes the first Cup driver to win a pole at four different road courses: Charlotte Roval (2019), Road America (2021), Indianapolis road course (2021) and COTA (2023).

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Byron will be joined on the front row by Tyler Reddick, who had posted the fastest lap in Friday’s practice and fastest lap in the opening round of qualifying Saturday. Reddick qualified at 93.783 mph.

Austin Cindric (93.459 mph) qualified third. Former IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, substituting for an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, qualified fourth with a lap of 93.174 mph. AJ Allmendinger (93.067) will start fifth.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

Ross Chastain, who won this event a year ago, qualified 12th. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen qualified 22nd, former world champion Jenson Button qualified 24th, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 31st and IndyCar driver Conor Daly qualified 35th.

Sunday Cup race at Circuit of the Americas: Start time, TV info, weather


Is this Toyota’s weekend?

Chevrolet won the first four races of the season. Ford won last weekend with Joey Logano at Atlanta. Is it Toyota’s turn to win its first Cup race of the season? Or does Chevrolet return to dominance?

Chevrolet drivers have won 11 of the past 12 Cup races on road courses. The exception was Christopher Bell‘s win for Toyota at the Charlotte Roval in last year’s playoffs. Chevrolets have won the two previous Cup races at COTA: Chase Elliott in 2021 and Ross Chastain in 2022.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard in “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting at 2:45 p.m. … Driver introductions at 3:05 p.m. … Invocation will be given by Sage Steele, ESPN broadcaster, at 3:30 p.m. … Jaime Camil, actor from “Schmigadoon” on Apple TV+, will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 68 laps (231.88 miles) on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 15. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and moves to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and will also stream at goprn.com; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly cloudy with a high of 80 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

STARTING LINEUP: COTA Cup starting lineup

LAST YEAR: Ross Chastain scored his first career Cup win in a physical battle with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap. Alex Bowman finished second. Christopher Bell placed third.


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NASCAR Saturday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


Saturday will be a busy day at Circuit of the Americas, as all three national series are on the track.

Cup will qualify ahead of the Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series races.

The forecast Saturday calls for sunny conditions and no chance of rain all day. The high is expected to be 69 degrees during Cup qualifying, 76 degrees at the start of the Truck race and 81 degrees for the start of the Xfinity race.

Zane Smith looks to win his second consecutive Truck race at the road course in Austin, Texas. AJ Allmendinger seeks his second consecutive Xfinity win at COTA.

Saturday, March 25

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m.  — Truck Series
  • 2 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)