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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Gotcha! Cole Pearn’s trick is a treat for Martin Truex Jr. at Sonoma

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Martin Truex Jr. took advantage of a strategy play by crew chief Cole Pearn and cruised to his third Cup win of the season Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

Truex’s team faked as if it was going to pit on Lap 73 — Pearn told Truex to pit on the radio — and that brought in Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Truex stayed out another eight laps. With fresher tires, he charged through the field and took the lead shortly before Harvick made his final pit stop on Lap 91. By the time Harvick completed his stop, he was too far back to challenge for the win.

Harvick placed second, finishing 10.5 seconds behind Truex — the largest margin of victory at Sonoma.

“That was awesome!” Truex said on the radio after crossing the finish line.

“Basically the 78 faked us out and decided to run seven or eight more laps,” crew chief Rodney Childers told Harvick after Harvick had made the pit stop on Lap 73.

With Truex winning, there remain just six different winners this season.

After the race, Childers apologized to Harvick.

“I kind of let everybody down there. I apologize,” Childers said on the radio.

“All good,” Harvick said. “Always want to win but stuff happens.”

Clint Bowyer placed third. He was followed by Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.

Stage 1 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Stage 2 winner: Denny Hamlin

How Martin Truex Jr. won: Crew chief Cole Pearn’s decision to act as if the team would pit on Lap 73 but then hold Truex out eight more laps, put the race in Truex’s hands. With the race going caution-free to the end, the strategy worked perfectly.

Who had a good day: Stewart-Haas Racing placed all four cars in the top 10 for the second time in the team’s history, duplicating what it did at Phoenix in March. Kevin Harvick was second on Sunday, Clint Bowyer placed third, Kurt Busch was sixth and Aric Almirola finished 10th. … Chase Elliott’s fourth-place finish marked the eighth consecutive race he’s finished 12th or better. … Erik Jones‘ seventh-place finish marked his second top-10 result in the last nine races.

Who had a bad day: AJ Allmendinger won the opening stage but then missed a shift and finished last (38th). … The power steering went out on Ryan Blaney’s car with about 50 laps left. Blaney quickly fell in the standings, finishing 34th.

Notable: Martin Truex Jr.’s win snapped a streak of nine different winners in the last nine years at Sonoma.

Next: Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway at 2:30 p.m. ET on July 1 on NBCSN.

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Stage 1 winner AJ Allmendinger blows engine at Sonoma

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AJ Allmendinger lost the engine on his No. 47 Chevrolet on Lap 33 of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, not long after winning Stage 1.

Allmendinger was running in 13th when the engine blew, a result of a bad shift. It is his first DNF at Sonoma.

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver, a favorite to contend in road course races, had started the race in fifth and made it to second before drifting back.

Once the race leaders pitted with four and three laps left in the stage, Allmendinger took the lead.

Allmendinger has started in the top five in the last five Sonoma races and not finished better than 14th.

“I haven’t missed a shift on a road course in 10 years,” Allmendinger told Fox Sports 1. “Just me. I was trying to be so patient, so smooth with it. It was unexpected. It’s on me. I let everybody down here.”

Jamie McMurray also experienced a mechanical issue that caused his engine to shut off and lose oil pressure, ending his day.



NASCAR community pays tribute to World of Outlaws driver killed in crash

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The NASCAR community paid tribute to World of Outlaws driver Jason Johnson, who died after a sprint car crash Saturday night at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway.

Johnson crashed after a restart racing for the lead. Witnesses said that Johnson’s car flipped and went through billboards outside Turn 3, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Johnson won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals. He finished sixth in the points last year in the World of Outlaws.


Today’s Cup race at Sonoma: Start time, lineup and more

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There has been a different winner in each of the last nine Cup races at Sonoma Raceway, site of today’s Cup race. Those nine winners have been Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick.

Will there be a 10th different winner at the road course?

Here is all the information for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley will give the command to start engines at 3:01 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 110 laps (218.9 miles) around the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 25. Stage 2 ends on Lap 50.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 10:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEMBroadway Under The Stars in Sonoma Valley, Transcendence’s Meggie Cansler will perform the anthem at 2:55 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 80 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kevin Harvick led the final 22 laps to win last year’s race. Clint Bowyer placed second. Brad Keselowski finished third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for full qualification results.