Kurt Busch’s contract won’t be renewed by Stewart-Haas Racing (video)

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Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch will become the latest NASCAR star on the free agent market.

Stewart-Haas Racing informed the No. 41 Ford driver that it wouldn’t be picking up his option for next season, a source with knowledge of the negotiations told NBC Sports. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The team had until midnight today to pick up the option after which Busch would be permitted to negotiate with other teams about a ride for 2018. It also is possible Busch still could return to Stewart-Haas Racing by signing a new contract.

The team still is awaiting word on the status of Monster, which has been a primary sponsor on Busch’s car the past two seasons. The energy drink company is weighing its future as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier series (it must decide by this year whether to pick up a two-year option for 2019-20) and as a team sponsor.

Busch had expressed optimism at Daytona International Speedway that he would return to the team, which he joined in 2014 after a one-season stint with Furniture Row Racing.

I don’t have any worries,’’ Busch said June 29. “I know that I deliver for the team. Our performance level is one that shouldn’t be in question, winning the Daytona 500 is special, but performing week in and week out, the deliverables that I bring sponsorship-wise that comes into play.

“I know that they’re working with NASCAR, Monster Energy is trying to sort out issues with NASCAR … so there are a lot of moving parts, but I don’t feel any fear whatsoever. I actually feel very confident in the sponsorship that I bring, Ford Performance’s involvement with Stewart-Haas and how I’ve blended in with this team. I feel great.’’

Busch joins Matt Kenseth as a former NASCAR Cup Series champion who doesn’t have a confirmed ride for next season.

Stewart-Haas Racing declined comment on the story. The team sent a tweet about Busch’s future.

Racing community mourns death of sprint car driver Greg Hodnett

Photo: Knoxville Raceway
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Greg Hodnett was killed in a crash Thursday night during a sprint car race at BAPS Motor Speedway, the World of Outlaws confirmed. Hodnett was 49.

“To me, Greg represented the true gentleman competitor in the pit area,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter.

Hodnett was the 1993 Rookie of the Year in the World of Outlaws and went on to win 20 races. He won the feature on the opening night of the Knoxville Nationals last month and went on to finish 15th in the Knoxville Nationals later that week.

Many in NASCAR offered their condolences Thursday night.

Dale Jr. Download: Dale talks return to racing at Richmond

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make a brief return to NASCAR racing Friday night in the Xfinity Series race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

On this week’s “Dale Jr. Download,” Earnhardt discussed how he secured the services of his former Cup spotter, T.J. Majors, who is now the spotter for Joey Logano.

Earnhardt went straight to the Captain.

“I emailed Roger Penske myself,” Earnhardt revealed. “Directly to Roger. He goes, ‘Oh yeah, no problem.’ Cause T.J. said, ‘You’re probably going to have to go all the way to the top for this one, for me to be able to come spot for you.’ They don’t want him going to another team and spotting.”

Watch the above video for more.

Podcast: Despite ‘epic failure’ in Vegas, Christopher Bell bullish about dirt tracks for Xfinity, Cup

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NASCAR’s latest foray onto dirt might have been an “epic failure,” but Christopher Bell believes the Xfinity and Cup series can successfully slide around those surfaces in the future.

“I think there would be no problem at all,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said this week during an episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “No challenges at all going to the right dirt track with the right people in place.”

That apparently wasn’t the case last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, whose dirt track played host to a K&N West race Sept. 13. It received less than flattering reviews, namely from a two-time defending winner of the prestigious Chili Bowl.

“Vegas was an epic failure,” said Bell, who has been racing midgets and sprint cars for much of his career. “Total epic disaster.

“But it was because they didn’t have the right people in place taking care of the racetrack. Dirt racing is 100 percent dependent upon track preparation. It doesn’t matter what dirt track you go to, some nights are awesome, and some nights are awful, and it’s just due to the preparation, and that’s just the name of the game in dirt racing. So I think you take Cup cars and Xfinity cars to the right place, and it would be a great show.”

What tracks would be best suited for stock cars? Bell listed several:

–Eldora Speedway, which has been a candidate for more NASCAR races  after playing host to the Camping World Truck Series since 2013 (Bell, the 2017 truck champion, won the series’ race there in ’15);

–Knoxville Raceway in Iowa;

–Calistoga Speedway in California (“I don’t know about the facility itself, but the track would be an excellent place.”)

–The dirt tracks at Las Vegas and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“There are racetracks all over that could do it,” he said.

Running Cup or Xfinity on dirt might require some modifications – possibly a slightly softer tire (trucks and K&N ran an “extremely hard” tire that has limited grip, “but if they wanted to, they could do it tomorrow and have no issues with it.”) and a unique suggestion from Bell to remove the windshields.

“The biggest thing is the windshields,” he said. “That’s a huge problem running stock cars on dirt. At Eldora, (track owner) Tony (Stewart) does a really good job of getting the surface prepared, but we all want a racetrack that has moisture in it, right?

“But you can’t have moisture in it because the windshields get too mudded up, and then you can’t see. Well, the extreme opposite happened at Vegas, where we had no moisture in the racetrack, and not only could the fans not see, the drivers couldn’t see, either. They went out there, they watered it a little bit to calm the dust down, but still you get so much dust that sits on the inside and outside of the windshields, that it’s really hard to see. The windshields are the biggest problem (for) dirt racing (with) stock cars.”

Bell has stayed true to his roots this season, running 52 races between NASCAR and dirt tracks. He has four victories as an Xfinity Series rookie, entering Friday’s playoff opener as one of the championship favorites.

“I do like my chances,” Bell said. “The schedule is right up my alley. I love 1.5-mile racing. It’s my favorite. It’s just awesome.”

During the podcast, Bell also discussed:

–Why he left his native state of Oklahoma to further his sprint car career;

–The similarities with Kyle Larson in his path to NASCAR;

–His desire to stay out of the limelight.

To listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, click on the embed above, or you can download the episodes at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Fantasy advice, Richmond preview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and previews this weekend’s races at Richmond Raceway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut.

On today’s show:

  • The Cup Series playoffs continue this weekend on the 3/4-mile short track of Richmond Raceway. Alex Bowman holds the final transfer position by six points, while teammate Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin are among those trying to knock him out. Does their past performance at Richmond indicate where they’ll run Saturday night?
  • Around the world for more than 50 years, Team Penske has set the standard in motorsports excellence. As Roger Penske and his organization celebrate their 500th major motorsports victory, we take a special look back on the journey to, perhaps, their greatest accomplishment yet.
  • We’ve got some last-minute NASCAR Fantasy Live advice as we head into the second race of the Cup Series Playoffs…
  • Plus: The next generation of an American sports dynasty is entering the IndyCar Series. He’s only 22, and if you know your baseball, he has a very familiar name! But who are the top young prospects he’ll be backing in 2019?

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online athttp:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.