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2017 Season in Review: Kyle Busch

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Kyle Busch

CREW CHIEF: Adam Stevens

TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing

POINTS: Second

WINS: Five (Pocono 2, Bristol 2, Loudon 2, Dover 2, Martinsville 2)

LAPS LED: 2,023

TOP 5s: 14

TOP 10s: 22

POLES: 8 (Dover 1, Pocono 1, Kentucky, Indianapolis, Pocono 2, Watkins Glen, Chicago, Loudon 2)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Busch was the winningest and most successful driver in the JGR camp in 2017. Had Martin Truex Jr. not won the season finale at Miami, Busch could have been anointed champ, given he finished second in the race and championship battle. … Busch’s 8 poles was a single-season high for him (previous high was 3 in both 2013 and 2014). … With his eight poles, Busch had the best single-season starting average of his career (7.2). … Overall, Busch has finished 1st through 4th in the final standings four of the last five seasons: 4th (2013), 10th (2014), first (2015), third (2016) and second (2017).

WHAT WENT WRONG: Try as he may, Busch just couldn’t overtake Truex for the championship. As much of a cliché as it sounds, every time Busch had a chance to draw even with Truex, the driver of the No. 78 was able to hold him off. Still, it’s nothing to be ashamed of to finish second in the championship battle. … It took a while for Busch to get going in the season, struggling to finishes of 38th (Daytona), 16th (Atlanta) and 22nd (Las Vegas).

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2018: Busch is at his best when he loses an important race by a close margin. Expect him to come back in 2018 and prove he’s a more dominant driver than Truex and potentially will go on to win his second Cup championship since earing his first crown in 2015.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Picture Perfect: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race topped only by family photo

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RICHMOND, Va. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. smiled when he walked to his Xfinity car for the first practice at 8:30 a.m., when he worked later in the day in the NBCSN booth, when he stood next to wife Amy and daughter Isla before the Xfinity race and when he climbed from his car after winning a stage, leading 96 laps and finishing fourth.

The last time Earnhardt had this much fun in a car?

“When I was racing late models in the ‘90s probably,” Earnhardt said on pit road. “I had a lot of fun in the late ‘90s running the Xfinity Series (but) I didn’t know how good I had it. (In) the Cup garage, it’s so damn cutthroat it’s hard to have fun in there.”

Friday, he oozed energy. Earnhardt spoke as quickly as his Chevrolet ran. He laughed. He bobbed. He raised his hands.

He took it all in just as the fans did at Richmond Raceway. They rejoiced when the No. 88 led. They roared when he was introduced before the race and exclaimed as he stood on pit road after running 250 laps. They followed their pied piper as he walked down pit road to the media center. Halfway there, he diverted his path so he could walk with them, sign autographs and take selfies.

Other than a win – which went to Christopher Bell – the day couldn’t have been much better. Especially since he sought to manage expectations by saying before practice began that he hoped to score a top-10 finish.

“You just can’t assume you can miss eight months, 10 months and come in and win, much less run in the top five,” he said.

As the day progressed, a top-10 finish would be almost a disappointment.

Earnhardt was fast during the day, qualified second and put himself in position for a strong run.

“Right around three-quarters of the way through that race, I’m like, ‘Man if I don’t win now I’m going to be disappointed,’ ” Earnhardt said. “I had backed myself into a corner with my expectations getting too high. It’s easy to be disappointed that we didn’t win because we should have, but I didn’t do a good job on that one restart. I just spun my tires.”

Even so, Earnhardt called it a “fun night” and noted the challenges for JR Motorsports to bring a fifth car to the track, especially with three of the organization’s drivers competing in the playoffs: Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Tyler Reddick.

Yet, the car for the boss proved to be the best. Earnhardt even won a stage, which he noted on the radio to his team after it happened.

“I never won a freaking stage before. It’s kind of embarrassing to be honest with you,” Earnhardt said with a smile. “It felt good. I had fun doing it.”

That feeling, though, couldn’t compare to what he felt before the race when he stood with Amy and Isla for pictures in front of his car.

“Being with Isla, that meant a lot to me,” Earnhardt said of his 4-month old daughter. “I don’t know what she’ll think of my racing career and how that will register with her since she won’t have experienced any of it. We got to have one race together. Pretty important moment for me.”

But it might not be the last. Earnhardt talked about running another race next year. He might return to Richmond or go to Atlanta.

That’s for another day.

On this day, after he had given his fan base and himself one more memory, there was still something else to do.

“I can’t wait to get back to the (motor home),” he said.

And celebrate his accomplishment with his wife and daughter.

 and on Facebook

Results, point standings after Xfinity playoff opener

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Christopher Bell punched his ticket to the second round of the Xfinity playoffs by winning Friday’s race at Richmond.

It’s Bell’s fifth win of the season.

He beat Ross Chastain, Daniel Hemric, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Tifft.

Earnhardt led a race-high 96 laps and won Stage 2 in his first NASCAR start since last year.

Click here for the results.

Points

With his win, Bell is the only driver who doesn’t have to worry about next weekend’s race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

He’s the first driver to lock a spot in the second round of the playoffs.

While Bell leads the standings, Hemric is second (-28 points).

The top five is completed by Justin Allgaier (-34), Chastain (-37) and Sadler (-38).

Austin Cindric (-62) and Ryan Reed (-63) are in the 11th and 12th spots.

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins Richmond Xfinity race; Dale Jr. places fourth

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Christopher Bell opened the Xfinity Series playoffs with a win in Friday night’s race at Richmond Raceway.

Bell took the lead from Matt Tifft on a restart with 14 laps to go and didn’t look back, as he beat Ross Chastain, Daniel Hemric, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tifft.

The win is the fifth for Bell this year and the first in seven races. He completes a sweep of the season’s races at Richmond. It’s also his first win from the pole.

“It’s not very often that you get to win with a car that’s not a winning car, we’ll take it,” Bell told NBCSN. “Man, I’m just pumped.”

Earnhardt, who made his first NASCAR start since retiring from full-time Cup competition 10 months ago, led a race-high 96 laps and won Stage 2.

“It got my expectations all messed up,” Earnhardt told NBCSN. “I was like, ‘Dang, I got to win now.’ We didn’t have the car at the end. Restarting on the outside is kind of tough. … We’ll try to do another one next year and see where we go.”

Elliott Sadler finished sixth in his last start at his home track.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

STAGE 2 WINNER: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

MORE: Results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Ross Chastain placed second after having to start from the rear for unapproved adjustments. It was his third and final scheduled start for Chip Ganassi Racing … Ryan Reed placed 10th after also starting from the rear for unapproved adjustments. It’s his first top 10 in six races.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ty Majeski wrecked with three laps left in Stage 2 following contact with Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ryan Reed. It’s the 11th DNF for the No. 60 team this season due to a wreck … Katherine Legge placed 28th after causing two cautions in the final stage … No. 1 seed Justin Allgaier wrecked out from contact with Cole Custer on a restart with 25 laps to go.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT No. 1: “That’s the first stage win of my career.” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. after winning Stage 2.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT No. 2: “To be the last time on this track, I don’t have a win, but I have a lot of great memories here.” – Elliott Sadler, who competed in his last race at his home track.

WHAT’S NEXT: Drive for the Cure 200 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval at 3 p.m. ET Sept. 29 on NBCSN.

Daniel Suarez trying to find his place in Silly Season

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RICHMOND, Va. — Daniel Suarez, expected to lose his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing after this season, says he has options but isn’t willing to reveal them.

Suarez is looking for a ride because reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn are expected to move to the No. 19 team with Furniture Row Racing closing operations after this season.

That leaves Suarez on the outside at JGR.

“I don’t really have anything good to say,” Suarez said after qualifying fifth Friday. “When you don’t have anything good to say, it is better not to say anything.”

Suarez removed a reference Joe Gibbs Racing from his Twitter profile this week. Asked about that Friday, Suarez laughed and said: “I’m a driver. I like my family. I like classic cars. That’s what I put in there.”

As for where he might race next year, Suarez said: “We’re talking to a lot of people. I’m sure good things will come our way.”

Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas said last week at Las Vegas that his team has talked to Suarez’s group about the No. 41 car. Kurt Busch’s contract expires after this season with the team, which creates the opening in the No. 41 car. 

Reports have stated Kurt Busch could be headed to the No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing and replace Jamie McMurray.

Another option for Suarez could be Leavine Family Racing. Kasey Kahne won’t return to the No. 95 after this season and car owner Bob Leavine has expressed an interest in aligning with Toyota.

One place that doesn’t appear to be an option is Roush Fenway Racing, which is expected to announce Saturday that Ryan Newman will join the team to drive the No. 6 car next year. Newman’s departure would create a vacancy with the No. 31 car at Richard Childress Racing after this season.

Suarez was encouraged by his run Friday at Richmond Raceway and optimistic about Saturday night’s Cup race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“Definitely the best car I’ve ever had here at Richmond,” he said. “So hopefully I can take advantage of it (Saturday).”

If he can, he could score his first career Cup victory.

We know we can do it,” Suarez said. “Not making the playoffs wasn’t good for us. We had way, way higher expectations than the job that we have done. We have had a lot of different issues though the year. Sometimes things don’t work out.”