Kurt Busch and No. 41 team didn’t wait till Chicago to flip the switch

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — While everyone is waiting to see if Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team will turn into their usual playoff selves this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, Kurt Busch decided not to wait.

The Daytona 500 winner enters the playoffs after earning three straight top-five finishes. The stretch began last month at Bristol Motor Speedway and continued two weeks later in the Southern 500 after Busch made a request of his team.

“In all honestly, you have an off week, there’s a reset and then now there’s 12 weeks to run out the season,” Busch said Wednesday at playoff media day. “I said ‘Why are we saving anything? If we are saving anything, why are we saving it? Let’s just go now.'”

The all-out philosophy turned into a third-place finish at Darlington Raceway, his first top five at the track in seven years.

The No. 41 team answered again last weekend at Richmond, where the Stewart-Haas Racing car placed fourth. It was the first time Bush has earned three top fives in a row since 2015 when he had four through June and July.

The stretch comes after Busch only finished in the top five once in the 22 races after he won the Daytona 500.

“There wasn’t any objections and it’s been nice,” Busch said. “Everybody really jumped in to give more. All these 26 races we’re always giving it our all, but these last 10 weeks, these last 12 weeks. Let’s go after it even more. That’s the playoff intensity that I want in my guys to understand and to enjoy it as well.”

Busch hasn’t won at Chicago in 16 starts. His best result is third in 2015. With the Cup Series only visiting the 1.5-mile track once a year, Busch said he and his teams rely on research on “sister tracks” to Chicago. But for Busch, those don’t include similar looking 1.5-mile tracks.

“Chicago is a worn out mile-and-a-half track,” said Busch, who took part in a test at the track earlier this year with fellow playoff drivers Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, among others. “The test went really well for us, but you compare it to similar tracks, like Darlington. I know Darlington isn’t a mile-and-a-half, but it’s fast. It has worn out asphalt. …

“Atlanta’s a sister track and then Homestead is a sister track to Chicago. All the worn out mile-and-a-halves are the way you prepare for Chicago.”

But in going all-out at Darlington and Richmond, is Busch worried he’ll have hurt his chances in the first round?

“It could go two ways,” Busch said. “Everybody shows up in their stuff at Chicago and we’ve already brought all our stuff and now are we going to be behind? But these last couple of years we saved everything for Chicago and we run the same position. It’s as if we should have brought the stuff sooner and gathered better momentum, better finishes and had more opportunities to win races.

“Worst-case scenario, you get eliminated after this first round. So what did you do? You spent 25 races prepping for three? No way. I want to go and try to win every week and in this game it’s tough. … There’s a game within a game. I hope we made all the right moves and we can go to Chicago knowing we’ve got our stuff and it should be comparable to what everybody brings.”

If Busch’s plan works out, he could set himself up for a run at the second Cup championship of his career. He won the first title in the playoff era in 2004. He won that crown for Roush Fenway Racing in a Ford. The manufacturer hasn’t won the Cup trophy since.

Busch and his team will try to execute their plan with the knowledge that Busch’s future at Stewart-Haas Racing is cloudy. SHR announced it was not picking up its 2018 option on Busch early last month, but later added it expected him to be back in the No. 41.

Busch said “there will be” an announcement on his future as “I have more or it’s complete.”

But now Busch and his team faces the present, which includes the imminent playoffs.

“It’s my job to show them – and I’ve done that since the break – we’re going (to tracks) to win, we’re going there to execute as a team, and we’re gonna get all we can out of this playoff run knowing that there are some variables still out there as far as my contract and where the sponsorship will all line up,” Busch said. “It’s a matter of just focusing on the task at hand and that’s each practice, each qualifying session and each race.”

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Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.

Las Vegas weekend schedule

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NASCAR’s postseason continues with the Las Vegas weekend schedule, as the Cup Series begins the Round of 12.

In addition to Cup, Las Vegas Motor Speedway will host the Xfinity Series’ playoff opener and the second race of the Truck Series’ opening round.

More: Kevin Harvick on pole for Cup race

Here is the Las Vegas weekend schedule:

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 25

Noon – 2 p.m. ET – Truck Series haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

2 p.m. – Truck Series garage opens

2 – 8 p.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

2:30 – 3 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m.  – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

8:50 p.m. – Truck Series drivers report to vehicles

9 p.m.- Truck Series race; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Truck Series haulers exit


Saturday, Sept 26.

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

1 p.m. – Xfinity garage opens

1 – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access screening in progress

5 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:20 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity race; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

9:30 p.m. – Xfinity haulers exit

10:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. – Cup haulers enter


Sunday, Sept. 27

Noon – Cup garage opens

Noon – 6 p.m.  – Cup garage access screening in progress

6:50 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

7 p.m. – Cup race; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Photo: Dustin Long
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Pilot error played a key role in the August 2019 crash of a plane carrying Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family, a final report by the National Transportation Safety Board stated Wednesday.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla were on board the plane, which crashed after a hard landing at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport on Aug. 15, 2019. The report stated all three suffered minor injuries. 

The NTSB listed the probable causes of the accident as: “The pilot’s continuation of an unstabilized approach despite recognizing associated cues and the flight crew’s decision not to initiate a go-around before touchdown, which resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion, and the pilot’s attempt to go around after deployment of the thrust reversers.”

A “go-around” occurs when a pilot pulls out of a landing and gains altitude to make another landing attempt.

The report stated that “the flight crew made several comments about the airplane flying too fast and allowed the airspeed to increase well above the reference speed for the approach.”

The report stated that “the pilot did not extend the speedbrakes upon touchdown, which landing checklist required, but instead attempted to deploy the thrust reversers immediately after touchdown, which was a later item on the landing checklist.”

Earnhardt’s Cessna 680A Citation Latitude bounced twice upon landing as it traversed the 5,001-foot runaway.

After the fourth touchdown, the right main landing gear collapsed. The plane went off the road and through a 400-foot long area of grass. It went down an embankment, through a creek and a chain-link fence. It continued up an embankment. The plane came to rest about 600 feet beyond the runway at the edge of a four-lane highway.

The passengers and two pilots escaped as the plane burned.

The full report can be read here.