Long: Kyle Busch’s victory adds to debate of if he belongs in Chase


In a season where fans have dissected the racing, debated rule changes and defended or denounced the Confederate flag at NASCAR events, Kyle Busch has created another topic to discuss:

Should a driver who misses nearly a third of the season be eligible for the Sprint Cup championship?

Busch’s victory Sunday at Sonoma Raceway moved him closer toward that goal. He needs only to be in the top 30 in points after the Sept. 12 Richmond race to be Chase eligible.

Based on projections, Busch must average a 14th-place finish in the next 10 races to qualify for the Chase.

“This is extremely hard to average what we’ve got to average,’’ car owner Joe Gibbs said Sunday.

Maybe not.

Busch has bettered that average three of the past four years in the races that compose the final 10 before the Chase.

Although history does not guarantee a repeat performance this summer, there’s the chance that Busch could make the Chase despite missing more than 40 percent of the races that set the championship field.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350

Should he win the title, some fans will question NASCAR’s system. If a driver can become champion without competing in every event, what is the value of the 26 races used to set the Chase field?

Busch never got the opportunity to run every race this season after his car slammed into an unprotected wall in February at Daytona International Speedway. Busch broke his right leg and left foot in the accident and missed the first 11 Sprint Cup points races.

For a sport that talks so much about safety, Busch’s Daytona crash was a failure. NASCAR and track officials found a way to cover the concrete wall inside Turn 1 with tire barriers the day after Busch’s crash. Why it wasn’t done beforehand is troubling.

“What happened … should not have happened,’’ Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said a few hours after Busch’s crash. “That’s on us.’’

He’s right. That’s why NASCAR waived the requirement for Busch that a driver must compete in every race to be in the Chase. Still, he needed to win a race and be in the top 30 in points.

One can argue that there’s no way to determine if Busch would have emerged unscathed had his car hit a tire barrier or a SAFER barrier at Daytona.

Even if injuries forced Busch to miss a month, it seems likely he would have easily met the top 30 rule – older brother Kurt is 10th in the points after missing the season’s first three races because of suspension.

Critics also can note that Kyle Busch was injured in an Xfinity race and shouldn’t have received a NASCAR waiver lifting the requirement that a Chase driver compete in every event.

If he’s so valuable to his Sprint Cup team, why was he racing in that series? It’s an easy question to ask, but some sponsors in the Xfinity Series are more interested in being affiliated with a Cup driver without paying Cup sponsorship fees.

Without Cup drivers in those Xfinity programs, it would likely limit how many teams participate. So drivers and teams take that gamble, knowing a Cup driver in the Xfinity Series can get hurt.

While there are many layers to the question if Busch should have a chance to contend for the championship, another poor finish in the coming 10 races could make this debate moot.

Even if he makes the Chase, he and his team have to advance through three rounds before racing for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in about five months.

Busch admits the next 10 races will be challenging.

“You’ve certainly got to play it out all the way through,’’ he said. “That’s one of the things that maybe I haven’t been so good at over the years. You’ve got to have that focus for not just one week but for a long time, and 10 weeks is a long time, so we’ve just got to do our job, both (crew chief Adam Stevens) and I. We can’t screw up.’’

Busch says his task is not insurmountable.

“This team is good enough to be (Chase eligible), and I should be good enough to be that way,’’ he said.

If Busch makes the Chase, is that a sign the championship format is in disrepair or an example of a remarkable comeback?

If he wins the championship, will it taint the season or add to Busch’s legacy?

Each champion has their own trials. No driver in the sport’s history has ever faced – or had to face – a challenge quite like Busch’s.

If he wins the title, he’ll be a worthy champ and deserve to have his name alongside the sport’s other champions despite not starting every race this season.


NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin


NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.