Ryan: God bless Kyle Busch and trolling Tom Brady-isms


INDIANAPOLIS – Kyle Busch played the Tom Brady card Sunday in an oh-so-perfect summation of all the intangible instigation he brings to NASCAR that resonates well beyond his boundless talent.

After his first win in the Brickyard 400, and his fourth in the past five Sprint Cup races, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was asked about those who insist he is unworthy of championship eligibility because he missed the first 11 races of the season.

“I don’t care what people say,” Busch said. “They pay me to be behind the wheel, and unfortunately due to injury, I wasn’t able to attend the first 11 races of the season.   It’s not like I didn’t want to be there, but my team was still there, and if we win a championship, then it’s not that they’re going to take it away from me.

“As far as right now, Tom Brady is going to be suspended for the first four games of the season, and then he’s probably going to go on and compete for a championship and might even win the Super Bowl, and I doubt anybody is going to take away a Super Bowl championship from that gentleman.”

And then he doubled down in the home of the other team embroiled in the Deflate-gate scandal that resulted in a suspension for the quarterback of the New England Patriots.

“If (Indianapolis Colts quarterback) Andrew Luck got suspended for four weeks and then he participated in the championship game, he’d still be considered a champion,” Busch said. “Either way.”

NASCAR has entered its peak “Rowdy” phase in every way possible.

And it’s glorious.

A season whose first half largely was missing the drama that makes stock-car racing alluring has landed on the storyline that just keeps giving.

That Busch was giving it back Sunday night makes it even better.

The lightning rod of the Sprint Cup Series is armed with innumerable fodder to troll NASCAR Nation with incessant justification.

Yes, if you like applying the letter of the law with the zealotry of a corporate drone who worries about how to staple expense reports, then there might be a rational argument to be constructed for why Busch shouldn’t qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But if you’re of a sound mind, it’s fallacy. He missed 11 races because his car smacked a wall unprotected by a SAFER barrier at Daytona International Speedway, leaving his right leg and left foot a jangled mess.

Complicit in those circumstances, NASCAR deservedly granted Busch a waiver from the rule requiring him to start every race to make the Chase. But he still had to win and make up an 11-race points deficit to reach the top 30 in the standings.

Nine races into his comeback, he’s on the cusp of achieving both well before the regular-season deadline. It’s inconceivable he could be deemed undeserving of racing for the title.

The high ground belongs to the driver that many love to hate.

This is a good thing. Busch, 30, is a recent father and a more mature and measured version of the brash and irascible star who once was famous for storming off after races and smashing a guitar in victory lane.

But another side of Busch still lurks that is polarizing and alluring all at once. Though he has yet to win a championship, he shares some of the swagger that makes Brady a superstar some can’t stand.

In the most memorable stretch of his career before this five-weak tear, Busch once flipped off his former Hendrick Motorsports team members while winning eight of his first 22 starts with JGR in 2008.

It wasn’t the classiest, but it was a captivating moment in a sport too often bleached of its personalities. NASCAR needs its villains, even if Busch donning a black hat is more about archetypes and caricatures than real life.

The surge has magnified his magnetism in a way best expressed Sunday by Joey Logano, who has finished runner-up to Busch twice in three weeks.

“I’m glad he’s back and all, but geez oh Pete, you don’t have to come back like that,” Logano said. “Man, we’ve been working our guts out all year, and he comes right back and is doing it. That’s amazing, the run they’re on.  Obviously he’s definitely going to make it into the Chase.

“He’s got four wins? Golly.”

That kind of awe would prompt a smirk from Busch.

And a scream from his detractors.

Much like Brady and his Patriots, there often isn’t much harmony in the land of Rowdy.

And that means happiness in the world of NASCAR

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. BuildSubmarines.com will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”