Matt Kenseth glad Erik Jones news is out so he doesn’t ‘have to pretend anymore’

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LOUDON, N.H. – In the wake of the news he won’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt Kenseth had a busy week – which didn’t involve fretting about his NASCAR future.

Kenseth spent his week hanging in Wisconsin with childhood friends from his hometown of Cambridge, traveling to Detroit to take in a Metallica concert Tuesday at Comerica Park. Though he read Tuesday’s release from JGR announcing Erik Jones as his replacement in the No. 20 Toyota, Kenseth said he mostly had been disconnected and had “nothing new to report there at the moment” when asked if he’d been contacted by prospective teams.

“I hope to race next year,” he said Friday before practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I still enjoy racing. I still feel like I could be an asset to somebody, so I hope so.”

The 2003 champion, said he had “a pretty good indication” about his impending departure from Gibbs for “about the last 12 or 13 months.” He said there was no firm timetable for finding a ride after breaking the news he didn’t have anything for 2018 last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

“I probably have some personal cutoff times, maybe to some point,” he said. “But not really. It’s only July. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m really not that concerned about it. I’m OK. Everything’s fine.

“I’m just glad they finally put it out so you don’t have to pretend anymore. Everyone asked Erik about it last week, and it was, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. Nobody’s told me.’ It’s just better to get it over with, get it done. Everybody can ask you about it, everybody can move on and get back to racing.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. predicted last week that Kenseth would land another ride, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson echoed that sentiment this morning. Hendrick’s No. 88 Chevrolet, which is being vacated by Earnhardt, would seem among the best options for Kenseth.

“I don’t think he’ll be left out in the cold,” Johnson said Friday. “I know Junior had a similar response last week. Matt’s just too good. The guy can win races and win championships, and that won’t be overlooked, but I do feel like Matt’s at a point in his career where he’s not going to take just any ride.”

With indications that JGR’s choice of Jones was sponsorship-driven, Kenseth said he wasn’t taking the move personally.

“It’s a business,” he said. “They’ve got their reasons. It doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it necessarily or agree with it. But yet I’m not the most subjective person because we’re talking about me. It’s been great.”

Kenseth joined Gibbs in 2013, winning a series-high seven races in his first season with the team. He has notched seven more victories in the past three seasons (though none this year).

“When I first went there we had a two-year deal,” he said. “We definitely fulfilled that. I felt like we got the 20 car back to winning again, and be a contender, which it wasn’t for four or five years. We won a whole bunch of races.

“We got two different sponsors to come and renew and be real good sponsors. We got Dewalt to come back there, which Erik will benefit from the next couple of years. Got (Dollar General) to renew that first time and stuff. I feel like we did a lot of great things. I feel like I helped them do what they were trying to accomplish with the car. At the same time, it was a great opportunity for me to go try something different where I was at in my career. I don’t think there’s anything to be bitter about or feel bad about. We’re both living up to the agreements we made.”

Kenseth isn’t expecting his team to be affected by the news, either, which might have been indicative of why he spent the week seeing his favorite band for the first time in 10 years.

“I actually had an incredibly fun week,” said Kenseth, who named one of his cats after Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. “(The concert) actually made me feel 20 again for about four hours, which was pretty fun. I could still hear when I got home, so that was good.”

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”