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Ryan: The essence – and excellence – of Kyle Busch are worth celebrating


MARTINSVILLE, Virginia – Roughly thirty minutes at Martinsville Speedway laid bare the essence of what makes the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion the most compelling, polarizing and engrossing personality in NASCAR.

On older tires and with a set of brakes that were intermittently balky, Kyle Busch capped a dominating performance (leading 352 laps, the most at Martinsville since 1998) in the STP 500 with the first weekend sweep in the 69-year history of the 0.526-mile oval.

On the team radio, he delivered a message (“Time for all you haters to shut up! Whooo! Martinsville, baby”) brimming with snark and swagger – which he punctuated via a trademark smoky burnout in his No. 18 Toyota and his exaggerated winner’s bow with the checkered flag.

On the victory lane stage on the frontstretch, he celebrated as the family man with wife Samantha and infant son, Brexton, who seemed vaguely aware that Dad had accomplished something really big and reached up for a high-five.

“Happy! Happy! Happy!” Busch exclaimed while bouncing his 11-month-old in his arms beside the grandfather clock trophy that had eluded him for 11 years and 21 starts at the oldest and smallest track on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

There are many sides to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and many resultant reasons why he is perhaps the biggest lightning rod for an infamously fickle fan base that gets offended by the smallest of transgressions by Busch.

Sunday’s postrace radio chatter lit up Twitter with those very haters calling him a cheater and poor sport. It was reminiscent of when he celebrated a 2009 Xfinity Series victory at Nashville by slamming a trophy guitar like a rock star, immediately bringing fan accusations that he desecrated the sanctity of NASCAR with a playful attempt at playing Pete Townshend.

Essentially, though, all that matters about Busch really should be this: We are witnessing one of the singular talents in stock-car history enter the prime of his life and career.

With his first win at Martinsville, Busch, 30, is in striking distance of winning at every track on the circuit. Only victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Pocono Raceway stand between the 2015 champion and a feat that hasn’t been achieved by Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart.

“I wouldn’t say it’s immortality or anything,” Busch said. “It’s certainly neat to be able to show your diversity and being able to go out there and win at any single style of racetrack that there is. I think that just shows talent and obviously, too, you’ve got great people behind you. I wouldn’t be able to be here if it wasn’t for (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) or Toyota or Joe Gibbs Racing or even my sponsors with M&M’s.

“This was a really good day for me, and being able to accomplish this one, this one is pretty cool.  When we get down on the checklist, we’ll further talk about that.”

Busch’s greatness, though, has been too good to ignore over the past year after returning from foot and leg injuries that cost him the first 11 races of the 2015 season.

Martinsville was his sixth victory in 31 races since the comeback and the 35th of his career. Though he pulled the second-loudest chorus of boos in prerace introductions (outdone only by Joey Logano), his victory celebration drew mostly raucous cheers from a few hundred fans who stuck around on the frontstretch to chant “Kyle, Kyle, Kyle.” Many were wearing other drivers’ gear, too – an indication of the respect level for a career that already is worth of the Hall of Fame.

It was suggested in his postrace winner’s interview that Busch could surpass the Cup win total of David Pearson, who didn’t earn his 35th until age 34 on his way to 105 that ranks second to Richard Petty’s 200.

“Man, I thought I’d get that question when I was like 75,” Busch said with a laugh, noting Johnson had reached 77 only two weeks ago. “Y’all just asked Jimmie if he could make it to 100. We’ve got a long ways ahead of us. Let’s get to 50 first; how about that?”

We’re going to have to start winning two a weekend,” Stevens, his crew chief, cracked. “Can we do that?”

Well, yes. All things seem possible with Busch, and it’s not because of the publicly mercurial persona that often emerges (last week, NASCAR fined Busch $10,000 for skipping his media obligations after ridiculing the sanctioning body’s decision to withhold a caution that cost him an Xfinity win).

“No, the cool thing about Kyle is he’s exactly the same, no matter what,” Stevens said. “At Vegas, we were just terrible. I mean, we were going to finish three or four laps down based off of practice, and he had the biggest smile on his face the entire weekend, and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, pal, you always give me the good stuff for the race,’ and I’ll be darned, but we did.”

“He’s just a pleasure to work with in that regard.  It’s very even keel.”

That’s reflected in his winning record. Busch has won at every short track, where aggression is needed to bang fenders for positions. He has won at both restrictor-plate tracks, where a deft application of uncanny strategy is required to overcome the arbitrary nature of the draft. He has conquered both road courses, where smooth driving and perfect shifting and braking are rewarded.

It seems a foregone conclusion that conquering Pocono, Charlotte and Kansas is inevitable. Maybe hitting the century mark (Busch would need to average roughly five wins per season into his mid-40s) is doable.

“I’d certainly love to get that high,” he said. “Hell, I’d love to have 200, but we know that’s probably not going to happen. But we’ve (won) now 35 times, and we’ll see if we can’t get more.”

Of course, he will.

And when he does, fans will find reasons to be awed, angered and engaged by it.

That’s the essence of Kyle Busch.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back at No. 1

NASCAR Power Rankings
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Kevin Harvick is the No. 1 driver in this week’s NASCAR rankings.

Martin Truex Jr. held the top spot for just a week before Harvick reclaimed the crown with his series-leading ninth Cup win of the year Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This week’s rankings includes three ties as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Round of 16

Harvick takes his power rankings lead to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the start of the Round of 12.

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three wins in the last five races: Dover, the Southern 500 and Bristol night race.

2. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 7): Finished seventh at Bristol for his third top 10 in five races. His 11 top fives so far matches his total from each of the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 12 top fives in 2017.

3. (tie) Kyle Busch (Last week No.  9): Finished second in Bristol after he started from the rear due to inspection failures. Has three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

3. (tie) Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Followed consecutive third-place finishes with an 11th at Bristol.

5. (tie) Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 1): Finished 24th in Bristol following contact with Denny Hamlin after an unscheduled pit stop.

5. (tie) Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): After winning at Richmond, Keselowski had a rough night in Bristol. He finished 34th due to power steering problems.

7. (tie) Aric Almirola (Last week unranked): Finished fifth in Bristol for his third consecutive top 10 and his fourth in five races.

7. (tie) Clint Bowyer (Last week unranked): Placed sixth in Bristol for his third consecutive top-10 finish and to keep his playoff chances alive.

9. Austin Dillon (Last week No. 3): Placed a respectable 12th to finish the first round after consecutive top fives.

10. Erik Jones (Last week unranked): Placed third in Bristol for his seventh top-five finish of the season and his second in the last three races.

Also receiving votes: Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin

NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.


No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.


Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.


Brad Daugherty: Michael Jordan to NASCAR is ‘huge moment’

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Brad Daugherty calls Michael Jordan’s ownership of a Cup team a “huge moment for NASCAR.”

Jordan and Denny Hamlin will co-own a Cup team next season. Bubba Wallace will be the driver. Jordan will become the first Black majority car owner of a full-time team since Wendell Scott owned and raced cars in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Daugherty, the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team currently, is excited about Jordan’s entrance into NASCAR.

“It’s a big momentum shift for this sport culturally, period,” said Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and an analyst for NBC Sports. “Three years ago, this would have never happened. A year ago, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s the timing. If the timing is right and you have someone like Michael Jordan put his brand and what he’s all about into whatever you are doing, it adds a lot of credibility. I look forward to whatever he can bring to the table to help continue to build NASCAR.”

Daugherty told NBC Sports that Jordan can help the sport reach more people.

“The eyeballs are going to be incredible,” Daugherty said of Jordan’s potential impact. “The opportunity for entrance into the sport will be made more available as far as people being aware of the availability to get involved in NASCAR as a fan or as a business. There’s just so many different areas that will light up just because of who he is and what he represents. His entire legacy creates opportunity for everyone.

“Now, we start talking diversity with what he’s able to do from a corporate standpoint and also just from a legacy standpoint with his brand. It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited because I think more people now, more than ever, will take a look at NASCAR with a keen eye and keen interest and be excited about maybe participating as a fan or as a business partner or as someone wanting to learn how to drive a race car or own a race team. The more notoriety the better.”

NASCAR stated Monday: “Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”

Jordan told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that the deal came together in about 10 days because of the chance to hire Wallace.

“When (Hamlin) told me there was a possibility of getting Bubba Wallace, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is perfect!’” Jordan told The Observer. “If I’m getting involved in NASCAR, then get a Black driver (with) a Black owner.”

For all that Jordan can bring to NASCAR, Daugherty knows that the competition can prove challenging.

“I’m sure he’s committed to next season and we’ll see how that goes and if it goes well, you go beyond that,” Daugherty said. “He had a (Superbike) team for a long time and loved that. He understands it’s a different business model. He’s at the point in his life, he’s like Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and those guys to where it’s really not a detriment to him financially if he’s not making money. We’ll have to see how much he can stomach because it’s an interesting business model for sure.”

Jordan told The Observer he’s in it to win.

“If I’m investing, if I’m a participant, then I want to win! I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” Jordan said.

Daugherty looks forward to seeing Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace at the track.

“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” Daugherty said. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”

Daugherty also looks forward to something else next year.

“Look forward to racing against those guys,” he said, “and trying to kick their butts.”

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

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Germain Racing car owner Bob Germain announced Monday that he has sold the team’s charter and will end the team after this season.

The charter was purchased by a new team that will have Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan as owners and Bubba Wallace as the driver.

Germain said in a statement that the No. 13 team will continue the rest of the season with Ty Dillon as driver.

“Being an owner in NASCAR for the last 16 years has been a thrilling and rewarding adventure,” Germain said in a statement. “From winning two NASCAR Truck Series championships in 2006 and 2010 to competing at the highest level of motorsports in the Cup Series for the last 12 seasons, I have experienced the highs and lows of our sport. I’m extremely proud of what Germain Racing has accomplished at every level and I will be transitioning out of ownership with many memories and friendships. I appreciate the interest and offers made over the last couple of weeks and I am excited to see how the sport continues to grow in the future.

“Thank you to GEICO for their loyalty to Germain Racing for over a decade. It has been a great source of pride for our team to represent their brand on the track. Doug Barnette with Player Management International has facilitated our GEICO relationship since the beginning and I truly appreciate his efforts. Finally, to my employees: building a team camaraderie and creating a family atmosphere has been a highlight of this journey. I will miss each of you.”

Germain pondered a sale when GEICO decided not to renew its contract after this season with the team.  GEICO is one of NASCAR’s Premier Partners, joining Busch Beer, Coca-Cola and Xfinity.

Dillon spoke in late August about the challenges facing single-car teams in Cup.

“The model is very tough right now for single-car teams,” he said. “I’m hoping that NASCAR is going to change it and help on it. But it needs to change for one-car teams to be more successful that haven’t already been at the top level of the sport or have an incredible amount of money to leapfrog into the top spot. If you don’t have three or four teams to spread the wealth with big name sponsors and a lot of money behind the effort, it’s just not a model that’s going to survive long term.”

Hamlin acknowledged the challenge a one-car team can have.

“I do believe that the (ownership) model will hopefully get better,” Hamlin said before last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Do I think it’s fixed? No, I think there is still some work to be done to make the model a viable business. You want a business that everyone wants to be a part of, not the ones that are fleeting. Certainly, I think NASCAR is trying it’s best to make the teams a little more healthy. I think that outlook toward the future is what’s interesting to me.”

Germain Racing is the second team to sell its charter since August. Leavine Family Racing announced it had sold its charter on Aug. 4. Spire Motorsports purchased it and will be a two-car team in 2021.