Long: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch rivalry adds spark to playoffs

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JOLIET, Illinois —Maybe sometime Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski will laugh about days like Friday, but not now, not anytime soon.

Their relationship was built on conflict, sustained by dissent and festers.

There is little common ground between the two former Cup champions who form the closest thing to a NASCAR rivalry that compares to Richard Petty vs. Bobby Allison or Dale Earnhardt vs. Geoff Bodine.

While those drivers expressed themselves with the bumper, the current generation used Twitter on Friday to add spice to the opening weekend of the Cup playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway.

Keselowski has been talking for weeks about Toyota’s advantage, suggesting last month at Michigan that Toyotas would sandbag for fear that NASCAR would take cars from each manufacturer for inspection.

Informed of Keselowski’s comments that weekend, Busch told ESPN: “Brad’s a (expletive) moron.’’

That didn’t deter Keselowski, who continued his public crusade against Toyota’s advantage.

He spoke of it earlier this week and continued Friday on Twitter after Toyotas took the top four spots in practice, forecasting an advantage by one manufacturer not seen in decades.

Busch counterpunched.

They went back and forth on Twitter — much like they’ve raced each other at times, neither giving — and continued their duel after Busch’s blistering pole lap, which was nearly 2 mph faster than the next car.

Keselowski, who rose from a family team before it went bankrupt, won’t back down from what he believes are injustices.

Busch doesn’t put up with what he perceives as b.s.

On the track, their battles have been memorable, particularly multiple incidents at Watkins Glen, including contact this year. After that run-in, Busch radioed his crew that they had “better keep me away from that (expletive) after the race.’’ 

Friday added another layer to a strained relationship that Keselowski wrote about two years ago — and upset Busch.

Asked if anything has happened lately to make him speak up again about Toyotas, Keselowski said: “No, other than NASCAR’s complete inaction to level the playing field which is the precedent that has been set the last few years. Other than that, no.

“There are natural cycles where cars, teams, manufacturers whatever go up and down. At the start of the year, we were at the top of the cycle. And at this moment, we are not where we need to be. With respect to that, we were at the top and it seemed like there were a lot of rules changes to slow us down and now you have cars that are so much faster than the field and the complete inaction by anybody.’’

Busch mocked Keselowski.

“Maybe I’m confused on what rules were changed,’’ Busch said. “The Penske group was 100 percent for the no-skew rule and they got what they wanted over the off-season and we were against that. Take what you want, we just went to work. Moving on.”

But Busch had more for his foe.

“If you ask Brad, he can fix the world’s problems, that’s all there is to it,’’ Busch said. “It’s just a fact of the matter that no one else is doing anything, they’re putting their head down and going to work and he thinks that somehow the big brother is going to come up and help him. I don’t know what the point is, we all just work hard and do our jobs. I wouldn’t think that all the speed we’ve got for the rest of the year is just here this weekend. I would like to think it’s here for the next 10.”

Keselowski said there’s a reason why he’s the only Ford driver to be so aggressive in speaking about Toyota’s run.

“I like my position at Team Penske and feel pretty secure in driving there for a long, long time,’’ said Keselowski, who signed a multi-year exertions this summer. “I am not looking over my shoulder worrying about getting a ride with another manufacturer one day and that gives me some privileges that maybe some other guys don’t have.’’

Busch had something else he wanted to say about Keselowski but forget. Moments later, he remembered.

“I’m way behind in payback, just FYI,’’ Busch said. “He’s way ahead so if anybody is going to be getting it, it’s going to be him.”

Just like how they did it in the old days.

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Ben Rhodes fastest qualifier at Eldora

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Ben Rhodes posted the fastest lap in qualification for the Eldora Dirt Derby with a lap of 86.801 mph, but he will have to wait until after his qualification race to know if he will lead the field to green. With his fastest lap, Rhodes will be credited with winning the pole.

He beat dirt midget racer Logan Seavy (86.747 mph) by .013 seconds. Seavy is making his Camping World Truck Series debut.

Tyler Dippel (86.368), Grant Engfinger (86.146) and Stewart Friesen (85.997) round out the top five.

Wendell Chavous (81.919) and Cody Coughlin (86.264) hit the wall during their qualification runs. Chavous qualified 33rd. Coughlin qualified 24th.

Points leader Johnny Sauter posted a time of 81.908 mph and was 34th among the 39 trucks that took time.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Kyle Busch joins Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features a guest appearance by Kyle Busch.

Rutledge Wood will host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton joining Busch from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

  • We’re live from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte for another edition of Wednesdays with Dale Jr. Today, we’ll be joined 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch.
  • The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota Camry will talk about his 2018 season. He currently leads the Cup Series in race wins (5) and playoff points (30). He’ll discuss being part of the “Big Three” along with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. and how this group of champions have separated themselves from the rest of the field.
  • What are his thoughts entering this weekend’s race at New Hampshire?
  • Busch will also give his take on several other topics, including tonight’s Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway. Kyle Busch Motorsports has three trucks in the field. Should NASCAR add a dirt race to either the Cup or XFINITY Series? We’ll get his answer tonight.
  • Plus, Kyle and Dale Jr. will answer questions provided by the fans who use the hashtag #WednesDale
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/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 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

5-hour Energy to end NASCAR involvement at end of season

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Furniture Row Racing announced Wednesday that it is seeking sponsorship of the No. 78 car for next season with the announcement that 5-hour Energy will not return after this year.

5-hour Energy became the major co-primary sponsor this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats for 30 Cup races. 5-hour Energy joined Furniture Row Racing in 2017, serving as a majority primary sponsor on the No. 77 car with Erik Jones.

Wednesday’s announcement comes just days after reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. won at Kentucky Speedway for his fourth Cup win of the year.

5-hour Energy has been a primary sponsor in NASCAR for nearly a decade, including the seven in Cup.

Rise’ Meguiar, President of Sales for Living Essentials, parent company of 5-hour ENERGY, issued a statement on the business decision.

“Since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2017, the team has delivered on every promise. In addition to being a championship team, winning races and putting 5-hour ENERGY in victory lane multiple times, they have also become part of our family.  We cannot thank Barney Visser, Joe Garone, Martin and the entire Furniture Row Racing team enough for the pride they have given us.  They are a first-class group on and off the track.  Although 5-hour ENERGY has made the business decision to leave NASCAR, we will be fans and friends for life, and we look forward to finishing strong in 2018.”

Said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing, in a statement:

“I want to first send a sincere thank you to everyone at 5-hour Energy for being an excellent and loyal partner. The way 5-hour Energy has activated its programs over the years demonstrated a commitment and creativity as a NASCAR race team sponsor. We understand that companies do change business strategies, but friendships last forever and that’s how we feel about 5-hour Energy.”

“Being a perennial championship contending team with a talented driver in Martin, Furniture Row Racing continues to be committed in offering a new sponsor not only success on the racetrack but also the benefit of a strong marketing platform with our powerful team of partners – Bass Pro Shops, Auto-Owners Insurance, Toyota, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress.”

This decision by 5-hour Energy comes as Truex’s contract with Furniture Row Racing ends after this season. He was asked last weekend at Kentucky about where things stood with a new contract.

“We’ve got some stuff to figure out, for sure,” Truex said. “I don’t plan on doing anything different. Just give the team some time to figure things out. We’re all kind of trying to figure it all out together so we can make it happen.”

So what needed to be figured out?

“Just sponsorship commitments and all the stuff that goes along with that,” Truex said. “Figuring out how much money we have to spend, when do we get it, how much are we getting and where can we spend it. Just trying to figure out all the details honestly. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces to be put together that we haven’t finished yet. Honestly, we haven’t been in a big hurry to get it done. In due time.”

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Matt Crafton hopes dirt racers show Truck regulars respect at Eldora

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Who isn’t playing in the dirt tonight?

That’s almost an easier question to ask than who will be competing in the Camping World Truck Series’ sixth annual Eldora Dirt Derby.

There will be 39 drivers competing for spots in the 32-truck field, including Cup drivers Ryan Newman and Ty Dillon. Then those lucky drivers will set out to claim Eldora’s Golden Shovel.

Among the series regulars is Matt Crafton.

The two-time series champion is the only former Derby winner in the field. The ThorSport Racing driver claimed his only win of 2017 at Eldora, a reward for having set out to better himself at dirt racing the last few years.

Matt Crafton (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

“I feel it’s difficult,” Crafton said Monday in media teleconference. “But a lot of the dirt guys probably don’t think so. I came from an asphalt background, and I’ve raced some dirt in the last four or five years just because I knew we were going to Eldora, and last year I just went and bought my own dirt car, just bought my own modified and went and raced, oh, 12, 15 races last year and put a lot of focus on it just because I thought that was such a cool race to be able to win and get that golden shovel and that trophy and say we won on asphalt, we won on dirt, we’ve won some other places.  So that was a very sweet victory for sure.”

He’s winless this season, as he was entering this race in 2017, but Crafton doesn’t see “why we can’t” become the first repeat winner of NASCAR’s only national level race on dirt.

“We definitely should be able to if we put ourselves in the right position,” Crafton said. “There’s got to be a lot of the dirt ringers, if you want to call them that, and the guys that race dirt every week.”

Who are some of the dirt “ringers” who look to prevent Crafton’s repeat bit?

There’s Stewart Friesen, the dirt modified winner turned Truck regular who finished runner-up to Crafton last season.

Then there’s 63-year-old John Provenzano, a dirt specialist making his Truck debut.

Dirt modified drivers Kyle Strickler and RJ Otto will also make their series debuts with smaller teams.

“They’re going to be very tough, and hopefully they race with respect and don’t tear you up,” Crafton said. “That’s some of the things that I worry about. A lot of them are coming out here, and it’s going to be their one shot to drive a truck, and they don’t get to go race Martinsville or any other place, and they’re going to get to come to Eldora, and hopefully they respect us like we would respect them if we came into their series on one of their big shows.”

Logan Seavey stands by his truck during practice for the  Eldora Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Crafton may as well have been talking about Logan Seavey.

The 21-year-old native of Sutter, California, is a Toyota Racing Development driver set for his NASCAR debut tonight with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Sutter is the 2017 POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series champion and currently leads the point standings while driving for Keith Kuntz Motorsports.

“I guess I was the next guy in line,” Seavey told NBC Sports. “I was sitting there talking with Jack (Irving)(Toyota Racing Development’s Director of Team & Support Services) one day and he just randomly said, ‘Hey, do you want to run Eldora?’ Of course the answer is ‘Yes.'”

Seavey has never competed in a race at Eldora and wasn’t expecting to until later this year.

“I think for all disciplines of dirt racing Eldora is the Mecca of racing,” Seavey said. “It’s definitely a huge one on the bucket list and like I said before, I never really expected my first time there to be in a Truck. I would have more thought a midget or a sprint car.”

Seavey, who is driving the No. 51 Toyota, once thought the idea of competing in NASCAR as a “pretty far fetched goal” until TRD came calling.

“That path became a lot more clear,” Seavey said. “It’s definitely a possibility now. It’s definitely one of my goals, try to make it racing in NASCAR.”

He barely had time in recent weeks to prepare for his first NASCAR race due to his busy midget schedule that included six races (and one win) in four states over 10 days. That resulted in roughly four hours spent at KBM in two separate visits.

But his resources in preparation included Christopher Bell, who earned his first Truck Series win in 2015 at Eldora while racing for KBM.

“He had lot of advice to give me this week,” Seavey said. The biggest piece of advice? “I think it’s just find your limit in practice. You don’t want to have to run real hard in the race and not know how the truck’s going to react. That’s something that happened to him last year. He ran hard in the middle of the race and spun out and wrecked his truck. I think you’re going to have to find your limits in practice … just get as comfortable as possible. That way you can limit your mistakes throughout the race and hopefully come out of there with a clean truck.”

In two practice sessions Tuesday night at Eldora, Seavey placed 14th in the first and sixth in the final session, where he also had the second-best 10-lap average behind Crafton.

Seavey said there is “definitely a fine line” when it comes to racing his own race and competing for the win against series regulars who are also gunning for points.

“At the end of the day if you want to make it in this sport, you gotta run up front and you gotta win races,” Seavey said. “I think that’s your No. 1 goal, to run up front and win. You obviously want to gain the respect of the other racers, especially if you’re hoping to compete in the series later. But at the same time, you might not get to that series if you don’t run hard and try to win. … But you obviously got to do it with respect and not make other people too mad and make yourself look bad.”