Ryan: Bond between Kyle Busch and Adam Stevens already has passed many tests

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Kyle Busch calmly walked through the Watkins Glen International garage Sunday afternoon, debriefing on the myriad factors that kept him out of victory lane in the Cheez-It 355.

There was a rash of caution flags. Followed by a surprising lack of them.

Then there was the decision to stand down from chasing winner Joey Logano and save fuel for a scenario that never materialized.

The order came from crew chief Adam Stevens, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Busch as they exited the back gate of the road course’s Sprint Cup work area.

It was a symbolic show of solidarity for a formidable duo that somehow has been on the losing end of fuel-strategy plays in consecutive races.

Watkins Glen was the kind of character test that can fray a crew chief-driver relationship in NASCAR beyond repair, requiring dizzying leaps of faith and logic and a firm reliance on trust and communication.

It naturally conjures analogies to a marriage, and the partnership heading the No. 18 Toyota already has endured – and overcome – some of the tribulations that might face any longtime couple.

Separation. Stress. Second-guessing.

Though Busch’s success (four wins) surely has helped since his return from missing the first 11 races with a broken right leg and fractured left foot, it’s clear the bond with Stevens has been galvanized by the adversity of their first year in Cup together.

“I’m with Adam 100 percent of the way all the time,” he said. “He’s doing a great job right now.  We’ve obviously got some things clicking, and he knows what he’s doing, so for me to argue that point doesn’t make any sense.”

If he would have been more upset about how he finished second, few would have blamed him.

With about 20 laps remaining Sunday, Busch was told to begin conserving fuel because Stevens had a hunch: With leader Kevin Harvick and several other drivers attempting to stretch their fuel for what seemed an astronomically optimistic length, there would be a rash of cars running dry near the checkered flag.

That would lead to late-race mayhem and a caution flag that would set up a green-white-checkered finish.

Busch didn’t have enough fuel to last through a potential overtime. So Stevens bet on the come and pulled the reins back on his driver, who had made his final pit stop on the same lap as Logano.

As the No. 22 Ford pulled away, Busch agonizingly feathered the gas pedal with the knowledge that the emphasis on fuel economy would cost him a shot at the win if the race stayed green – which it did.

“I could’ve passed (Logano),” he said. “I felt like I was better than he was, but my crew chief called in scared on the fuel situation from last week, and I don’t blame him. We definitely didn’t want to run out again. We wanted to make sure we could be there at the end.”

There has been an outsized amount of focus this week on Busch’s word choice, implying that “scared” was some sort of veiled shot at his crew chief. That misses the fact that Busch was smiling as he said it, but it also ignores the point that there’s a new layer to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver this season.

This isn’t a rehash of the “New Kyle Busch” narrative that became so tired, it produced Twitter memes and parody accounts. There always will be a churlish and petulant side to his personality (witness his postrace Xfinity interview at New Hampshire). It’s actually part of his appeal.

As a new father, Busch, 30, naturally has a different outlook on life in the wake of recovering from injuries that he fretted might prevent him from racing again.

But the reason that he is simpatico with Stevens simply is because they have been through so much the past six months. It is keeping them on the same page — even when they lose a very winnable race.

Stevens profusely apologized to Busch on the radio afterward. It probably was appreciated, but it wasn’t necessary. Attaining a top-30 ranking in the points is the primary goal because it ensures Busch will make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The runner-up at Watkins Glen put Busch within the top 30 by six points – a week after he’d suffered a 23-point swing at Pocono Raceway by running out of fuel on the final lap and remaining 13 points outside the top 30.

With four races remaining in the regular season, he is over the hump and provisionally in the Chase.

“We couldn’t afford running out of gas like we did last week and taking home an even worse finish,” Busch said. “I’m sure that was weighing on Adam’s mind and just playing it a little bit more cautious, which is fine.”

As they worked through Sunday’s disappointment, Busch and Stevens were fine, too.

Given all they’ve been through, that’s worth remembering.

 

NASCAR Awards: Scene on the red carpet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community gathered at the Music City Center to commemorate the 2022 season and celebrate Joey Logano‘s second Cup title.

The event can be seen at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Here is a look at the scene on the red carpet before Thursday night’s NASCAR Awards:

Joey Logano and Brittany Logano (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Ryan Blaney and Gianna Tulio (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kyle and Samantha Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Chase Elliott (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Alex Bowman and Crystal Marsh (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Tyler Reddick and Alexa De Leon (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Denny Hamlin and Jordan Fish (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Daniel Suarez and Julia Piquet (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Chase Briscoe and Marissa Briscoe (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Christopher Bell and Morgan Bell (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Austin Dillon and Whitney Dillon (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kyle Larson (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

William Byron and Erin Blaney (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kevin Harvick (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Ross Chastain and Erika Turner (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Austin Cindric (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kurt Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Harrison Burton and Jenna Petty(Photo: Dustin Long)
Mario Andretti (Photo: Dustin Long)

Chase Elliott wins NMPA Most Popular Driver Award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott won his fifth consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver Award on Thursday.

The announcement was made during the NASCAR Awards at the Music City Center. The show will air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Elliott is one of only five drivers to win the award since 1984.

Bill Elliott won it from 1984-88, 1991-2000 and 2002. Dale Earnhardt won the award posthumously in 2001. Darrell Waltrip won it in 1989-90. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won it from 2003-17. Chase Elliott has won it every year since.

Noah Gragson was voted as the Most Popular Driver in the Xfinity Series. Hailie Deegan was voted as the Most Popular Driver in the Camping World Truck Series.

Kevin Harvick to make decision on future by Daytona in February

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former Cup champion Kevin Harvick says he’ll know by Daytona in February his plans beyond 2023.

Harvick’s contract with Stewart-Haas Racing ends after the upcoming season. 

Harvick said Thursday before the NASCAR Awards that “it could go either way at this particular point” on what he’ll do, but he affirmed that “going into Daytona, I’ll know what I’m going to do.”

The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 19. Harvick anticipates making an announcement by then.

“We’re at a point where everybody needs to know what’s going on,” Harvick said. “There’s too many tentacles to everything that happens. Whether it’s the race team, driver management company, every element needs to know. It’s not fair to anybody to have to start the season not knowing.”

Harvick turns 47 on Dec. 8. Next season will be his 23rd in Cup. His debut came a week after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Harvick was selected by car owner Richard Childress to drive for Earnhardt’s team. 

Harvick has gone to win the 2014 Cup championship and 60 races at Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s tied with Kyle Busch for ninth on the all-time Cup wins list.

Harvick won two races last season. His victory last August at Michigan snapped a 65-race winless streak. He followed that by winning the next weekend at Richmond. 

Harvick has won at least two races in nine of the past 10 seasons. He has scored 41 of his 60 Cup wins since he turned 37 years old.

“Kevin, I think, is probably the No. 1 leader of the drivers, as he should be,” two-time Cup champion Joey Logano said Thursday. “He’s been around the longest. He’s very accomplished. He’s very smart. He’s been through the ups and downs. He’s lived it. There’s wisdom in experience. It’s great to hear his opinion on where we are as a sport.”

Harvick’s business interests include a management company that represents Cup drivers Ryan Preece, Harrison Burton and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., along with other athletes. Harvick also has worked as a broadcaster on NASCAR Xfinity races for Fox Sports, earning positive reviews. 

Harvick’s son Keelan, who is 10 years old, races and has competed in karting in Europe. 

“He’s got one more race in Italy … and then we’ll start all over again,” Harvick said of his son.

Harvick went overseas after the season finale at Phoenix to watch Keelan race.

“I think he’s definitely matured a little bit since he’s been making these trips,” Harvick said. “I think it’s important to have that culturing aspect of life to be comfortable to do things like that anywhere in the world.”

The NASCAR Awards program airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 3 on Peacock. To sign up for Peacock, go here.

BJ McLeod, Live Fast team move to Chevrolet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Driver/owner BJ McLeod and Live Fast Motorsports will race in Chevrolets beginning with the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Live Fast has been a Ford team.

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Live Fast is owned by McLeod, Matt Tifft and Joe Falk. Jessica McLeod, BJ’s wife, is the team’s chief operating officer.

“Our team is excited to make this transition to Chevrolet,” BJ McLeod said in a statement released by the team. “Chevrolet Camaros have proven great success on the track, and Live Fast Motorsports is looking forward to becoming a part of this advance.”

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The team will use ECR engines.

McLeod had one top-10 finish in 29 starts in the Cup Series last season.