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

5 Comments

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.

source:
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.

 

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

0 Comments

A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

0 Comments

Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

0 Comments

Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

MORE: A better way to determine the Cup champion?

Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.