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Kurt Busch: Cup test at home track like ‘first day of school’

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Kurt Busch described the first day of NASCAR’s organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the “first day at school” for the 2018 Cup season.

“You have a new group of guys and then there’s the same tendencies that come back into play like tire wear, engine temp,” Busch said Wednesday during a break in the test. “We’re working on pit road speed, which is a new way of doing things on our car. There’s the newness feeling that you’re working through, but it’s exciting.”

Busch was fourth on the speed chart Wednesday.

But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver doesn’t want his No. 41 team to fall into the trap of buying into any hype from the two-day test.

Because the next time the Cup Series arrives at the 1.5-mile track, it’ll be under different circumstances.

“I’m hopeful that we learn all the right things and we don’t jade ourselves in a direction that happens a lot in test sessions,” Busch. “A lot of times test sessions are cooler temperatures than when we race and track grip level is higher than when we race and you can easily get askew from what the real race day setup numbers are going to be.”

On Thursday, the projected high in Las Vegas was 72 degrees, according to wunderground.com. The first Cup race of the year at LVMS will be held March 4. According to accuweather, the historic average high for that day is 66 degrees.

But the newly added fall race, which will open the playoffs, is scheduled for Sept. 16. The historical average high for that day is 93 degrees.

Busch arrived in his hometown for the test after an offseason full of waiting for a new contract to be finalized with SHR and a change in crew chiefs for the defending Daytona 500 winner.

Billy Scott takes over for long-time crew chief Tony Gibson. Gibson now has a job overseeing car production at the SHR shop after spending the last three seasons working with Busch.

“It felt good to get the contract signed,” Busch said. “We had to go through some of the waiting period in what you would call free agency, but it wasn’t all that equivalent to such. It’s more about all the balls in the air with sponsorship, manufacturer, my agenda, the team’s agenda. It’s great to have that behind us. With Billy Scott, new crew chief, that was part of one of the things that I was looking to work on. Where’s the personnel going to fit in? Because I knew in my heart Tony Gibson … wanted to come off the road. We had to make sure we made all the right adjustments behind the scenes for that.”

Before the Cup Series returns to Las Vegas in just over a month, it begins the season at Daytona International Speedway with the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

The 39-year-old driver will seek to become the first driver to win the Daytona 500 in back-to-back seasons since Sterling Marlin in 1994 and 1995.

“Definitely feeling the pressure for Daytona,” Busch said. “Family and friends have been asking me, ‘You won Daytona, do you feel less pressure?’ I feel more. I want to go back there and repeat and it hasn’t been done since the (mid) 90s with Sterling Marlin. That gives us that extra motivation to go there and win. Frankly, I don’t want to share any of the spoils that come with winning Daytona. I want to keep that for ourselves again.”

His win last year was his first points win on a restrictor-plate track. Entering his 18th full-time season in Cup, Busch is still looking for his first victory at his home track.

The March 4 race will mark Busch’s 17th Cup start in Las Vegas. But this year will be the first time he’s gotten two chances to win at it in one season.

“It’s never translated into home-field advantage, I’ve always struggled here in Vegas,” Busch said. “I’ve qualified well over the years but haven’t raced well.”

Busch has one top five at LVMS. That came in 2005 when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing. His average finish is 21.8.

“I’m looking to turn that around,” Busch said. “There’s no sense in having those fast laps at the beginning if you can’t back them up at the end of the race.”

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Coca-Cola 600 resumes after rain delay

Coca-Cola 600
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The Coca-Cola 600 is back under way following a rain delay.

The caution was issued on Lap 49 for rain and the field was brought to pit road. The red flag was issued at 7:07 p.m. ET and lifted at 8:16 p.m. ET.

The top five at the time of the stoppage was Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Joey Logano.

Check back for updates.

 

Denny Hamlin team faces potential penalty after ballast falls off car

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Denny Hamlin was involved in an incident even before Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 got underway that could result in a hefty penalty.

A chunk of tungsten ballast — which teams use to bring Cup cars up to minimum weight standards — fell off Hamlin’s car on a parade lap.

The incident puts Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart and several others on the team in violation of the NASCAR rule book, which means a hefty penalty could be in the offing.

According to the NASCAR rule book, the penalty is 12.5.2.7.4.d: Minimum safety penalty options — “Loss or separation of added ballast from the vehicle will result in a four Race suspension of the crew chief, car chief, and head engineer. If NASCAR cannot identify which series or vehicle the lost ballast originated from, all vehicles entered for that Event from and associated with the team organization identified on the lost ballast may receive the suspensions.”

If NASCAR implements the potential penalty, Gabehart and others could miss the following four races: May 27 at Charlotte, May 31 at Bristol, June 7 at Atlanta and June 10 at Martinsville.

Several of those tracks are good for Hamlin, including winning the Bristol summer night race last year, as well as was fourth at the Martinsville playoff race last fall and 11th at Atlanta.

NASCAR ordered Hamlin back to pit road where the No. 11 crew added a new chunk of ballast to Hamlin’s car. He returned to the race eight laps down.

Here’s what a fabricator from rival team Stewart-Haas Racing tweeted about the incident:

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Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

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Chevrolet drivers swept the top three rows for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600, led by Kurt Busch‘s pole-winning lap of 181.269 mph.

Jimmie Johnson was next with a lap of 181.214 mph. He was followed by Chase Elliott (181.002 mph), Matt Kenseth (180.923), rookie Tyler Reddick (180.905) and Austin Dillon (180.741).

Ford driver Joey Logano, who starts seventh after a lap of 180.451 mph, was the top qualifier not driving a Chevrolet.

TO THE REAR: Matt DiBenedetto (backup car), Brad Keselowski (unapproved adjustment), Aric Almirola (unapproved adjustment), JJ Yeley (unapproved adjustment) and Timmy Hill (unapproved adjustment)

Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Kurt Busch on pole for Coca-Cola 600

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Kurt Busch will lead the field to the green flag for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 after claiming the pole Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It is Busch’s 28th career pole and first at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch is joined on the front row by Jimmie Johnson. Chase Elliott qualified third and is followed by Matt Kenseth and rookie Tyler Reddick. Austin Dillon was sixth, as Chevrolet drivers took the top six spots.

Click here for qualifying results

Aric Almirola spun coming to take the green flag to begin his qualifying lap. He grazed the wall with his rear bumper.

Matt DiBenedetto slapped the wall off Turn 4 during his qualifying lap and will go to a backup car and start at the rear of the field.