Brian France, drivers have opposing views on pack racing

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LOUDON, N.H. – NASCAR chairman Brian France’s pleas for more pack racing in the Sprint Cup Series has been met by resistance this week from drivers unconvinced it’s feasible.

After winning the pole position for the 5-hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards said NASCAR should limit the practice of bunching cars together in tight groups to its twice annual visits to Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver also posited that it wouldn’t be possible to engineer such racing at a 1.5-mile oval such as Kentucky Speedway, where a lower-downforce rules package made its debut last Saturday and produced a dramatic rise in green-flag passing and raves from many drivers, including Edwards.

“As far as the physics of being able to have stock car racing like that and to have pack race or drafting, I don’t think that’s possible,” Edwards said. “ I think they’re two completely different things. I think we have plenty of pack racing in this sport with the four races (at Daytona and Talladega). I think we should stay as far away from that at the other tracks as possible.

“But NASCAR is not going to make changes based on one driver’s opinion or three or four driver’s opinions. I think Brian France made that clear. But I want to be very clear that I don’t prefer a style of racing, I prefer stock-car racing where you slide cars around and you can race close to one another. The coolest thing is that NASCAR is trying all these things.”

In a Monday interview on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel, France said there “were a lot of things we liked” about the Kentucky race but lamented the lack of drafting and pack racing.

NASCAR will roll out a high-drag package next week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that also will be employed next month at Michigan International Speedway. The objective of the change is the same as Kentucky – enhance the ability to pass – but it’s achieved in a different manner.

At Kentucky, the reduction in downforce was intended to make cars more ill-handling and lessen the importance of aerodynamics that often gives the lead car an inherent advantage over the trailing car. At Indy and Michigan, a 9-inch spoiler will increase drag in the hopes of punching a larger hole through the air on the straightaways that theoretically would increase the closing rates of a trailing car and engender the likelihood of more “slingshot” drafting.

During a break from a three-day test at Chicagoland Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Wednesday that he like the high-drag concept but was skeptical about France’s desire for more drafting and pack racing across the board.

“Yeah, I was surprised by some of his comments about drafting, in particular,” Earnhardt said. “I mean, you’re not going to see drafting at Kentucky, I don’t care what you do. I don’t know how in the heck we’re going to try and accomplish that, if that’s what they’re looking for.
“I thought the racing was good, the fans like it, and I think we had more passing. … You’re not going to draft (at Kentucky). That place is wore out. It’s rough as hell down the straightaways. You ain’t going to draft. You’re going to pass in the corners, you’re going to chase guys around in the corners and get out of shape and beat around each other in the corner and race hard like we did.”

A longtime supporter of removing downforce, Edwards said Kentucky was strong evidence for his plan to “just cut the splitters completely off and the spoilers completely off and just go race.”

But he understands that NASCAR will “try other packages. That’s a scientific method and whatever turns out to be the best direction, hopefully they go all the way down that path and go that direction and let it rip.

“The one thing that I’m very impressed with Brian France and everyone involved is that they’re willing to try things, they’re willing to make changes. They want the exact same thing that the drivers want and the fans want, they just want this to be the greatest sport on earth and to have the most fun watching it and doing it and have it be competitive. I think with that in mind, regardless of everyone’s opinions, if you try a bunch of different things, you pick the best one and move forward or pick a mix of things. I really applaud NASCAR for doing that.”

Edwards, though, cautioned that the subjective nature of evaluating racing makes it difficult to land on a universally commendable direction.

“The way a race looks and the way a race is are two completely different things,” he said. “You can just leave the pace car out there and we can all sit in line nose to tail, and that’s a pretty good picture, but it’s not a race.

“A stock car race is guys taking cars that are not meant to go that fast, they’re not aerodynamic devices, they’re just cars that go race on pavement, and they can race close and guys have to manage the cars because they’re heavy and they’re powerful. That’s a race. I think it’s a very fine line that NASCAR has to walk on between putting on the best competition, which is one thing, and putting on the show that looks the best, which is another. I think there’s less substance (in the latter).”

Las Vegas race results, driver points

Las Vegas race results
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Kurt Busch scored his first career Cup victory at his hometown track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and is the first driver to advance to third round of the playoffs.

Busch led the final 26 laps, taking advantage when a caution came out in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Busch was the only playoff driver who had yet to pit before the caution.

Matt DiBenedetto finished second and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

Click here for Cup race results

DRIVER POINTS

Alex Bowman holds the final transfer spot to the next round. Kyle Busch trails Bowman by nine points. Clint Bowyer trails Bowman by 20 points. Aric Almirola trails Bowman by 27 points. Austin Dillon trails Bowman by 32 points.

Kurt Busch wins Las Vegas Cup race in overtime

Kurt Busch
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After entering the Round of 12 last in the playoff standings, Kurt Busch won Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his first win of the season and advancing him into the Round of 8.

Busch held off Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin to also claim his first Cup win at his home track.

The top five was completed by Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

The two-lap dash was caused by a incident involving William Byron, Christopher Bell and Corey LaJoie with seven laps to go. Bell cut a tire from contact with the wall and as he slowed Byron ran into the back of his car before going into a spin.

LaJoie received damage as he tried to avoid the incident.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joey Logano finished 14th after he had to pit on Lap 91 to fix a left rear tire rub, a result of contact with Kyle Busch following Denny Hamlin’s three-wide pass for the lead on Lap 88Tyler Reddick finished 38th after he tagged the wall late in Stage 2 and went to the garage ending his day … After finishing sixth in the first two stages, Austin Dillon finished 32nd after an overheating problem forced him to pit road for repairs with 50 laps to go.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 2 p.m. ET Oct. 4 on NBC

Check back for more

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

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Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”