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Kurt Busch off to fast start, now looking for right goove at Las Vegas

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It’s only two races into the season, but Kurt Busch is accomplishing goals set before the year.

Heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch has scored a series-high 22 stage points.

“We had a big focus on stage points, especially Stage 1,’’ said Busch, who has scored 13 of his 22 stage points in the opening stage.  “That was a weak area last year, and we hope to continue the trend of getting points early in the race and lead laps. Last year was my career low with laps led. With Truex leading all the laps it was tough to break through.

“We knew we needed to work harder and to go stronger at the beginning of the races. I hope we are able to continue that trend. Stage 2 is still interesting to me because you can try to go for points in Stage 2, but then it puts you behind for the run to the finish. We are still trying to sort through the best way to approach the mid portion of the race.”

Busch had 93 stage points for 36 races (2.6 stage points per race) last year.

Busch also led 16 laps last year. This year, he led 16 in the Daytona 500 and 52 at Atlanta on the way to an eighth-place finish.

Those could be a good sign for Busch, who has never won at his hometown track (younger brother Kyle won at Las Vegas in 2009).

“I put too much pressure on myself every year that I come back, and I keep trying to come back and be loose and just let the race come to us,’’ Kurt Busch said. “I hope we are able to find that raw speed in the car that we need in the second half of the race. I have always been a good qualifier here and the team always brings me great cars but when you have a race that is so early in the season, a lot of the performance value at the end of the race comes from work done in the off-season.

“I know we are as prepared as we can be. My teammate (Kevin Harvick) won last week. There is no reason why the 41 car can’t win here this weekend. It would mean the world to me. I have won Daytona and Charlotte and been close at the Southern 500. Vegas ranks up there in the top-five for me.”

Here’s a look at drivers who have scored the most stage points through Atlanta:

22 – Kurt Busch

20 – Kevin Harvick

18 – Ryan Blaney

18 – Brad Keselowski

18 – Martin Truex Jr.

16 – Aric Almirola

16 – Joey Logano

13 – Kyle Busch

11 – Clint Bowyer

11 – Michael McDowell

11 – Paul Menard

Saturday schedule for Cup at Sonoma, Trucks at Gateway

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Cup cars are only on the track for qualifying today at Sonoma Raceway, and Camping Work Truck teams will qualify and race at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Johnny Sauter has won three of the last five Truck races. Brett Moffitt won last weekend’s Truck race at Iowa.

Here’s today’s schedule at both tracks:

(ALL TIMES ARE EASTERN)

At SONOMA RACEWAY

10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. — Cup garage open

2:45 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-vehicle/two rounds (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

4:30 p.m. — K&N Pro Series West race; 64 laps, 127.36 miles (airs at 6 p.m. ET June 28 on NBCSN)

At GATEWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK

11 a.m. — Truck garage opens

Noon – 1 p.m. — Final Truck practice (No TV)

5:45 p.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (airs from 7-8 p.m. on FS1)

7 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. — Driver introductions

8:30 p.m. — Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200; 160 laps/200 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Kurt Busch fastest in final Cup practice at Sonoma

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Kurt Busch posted the fastest single lap in the final practice for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway with a speed of 94.061 mph.

He beat second-place Denny Hamlin (94.012 mph) by .040 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (93.718) had the third fastest lap, but the team will have some work to do before Saturday’s qualification. With nine minutes remaining on the clock, he ran into the back of Bubba Wallace in the esses and did significant damage to his nose. Wallace landed 34th on the chart with a speed of 91.641 mph.

Jamie McMurray (93.549) and Kevin Harvick (93.441) rounded out the top five.

Harvick (91.468) had the quickest 10-lap average – leading a sweep of the top three by Stewart Haas Racing. Busch was second quickest at 91.452 mph with Clint Bowyer third quick at 91.443 mph.

William Byron broke an axle seal in final practice, but the team was able to get him back on track with 24 minutes remaining in the session. His speed of 92.279 mph was 25th fastest.

Click here for the full report from final practice.

Friday Truck Series practice report from Gateway

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Second practice

Last week’s winner, Brett Moffitt topped the speed chart in Friday evening’s practice session for the Eaton 200 with a speed of 137.191 mph.

He beat second-place Myatt Snider (136.658 mph) by .128 seconds.

Johnny Sauter (136.608), Riley Herbst (136.355), and Ben Rhodes (136.219) round out the top five.

Herbst is making his Truck Series debut this week.

Also making his Truck debut is Zane Smith, who posted a lap of 136.120 mph to land sixth on the chart.

Christian Eckes (135.906) failed to back up his series-leading speed from the first practice session and was only ninth fastest, but he had the quickest 10-lap average of 135.039 mph.

Click here for complete results from practice 2.

First practice

Rain canceled the practice session at Gateway that was scheduled to run from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. Eastern time.

When they finally got on track, Eckes posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session with a speed of 134.360 mph. He is making his Truck series debut this week.

Eckes’ speed was .009 seconds faster than Noah Gragon (134.324), who landed second on the speed chart.

Rhodes (134.120), Moffitt (133.817) and Matt Crafton (133.706) rounded out the top five.

Rhodes had the quickest 10-lap average of 133.466 mph.

With the first practice canceled at Gateway, NASCAR added a final practice session scheduled for Noon – 1 p.m.

Click here for complete results from practice one.

Denny Hamlin offers advice on how to deal with critics on social media

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Denny Hamlin, who has been fined by NASCAR for comments on Twitter, and was vocal toward critics after this year’s Daytona 500, says he’s found peace on how to deal with those on social media who don’t agree with him.

“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people, and you all should do the same,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’m making a (request) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people who make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers. Don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by, talk about the positives and I’m not a positive person.”

Asked how does one ignore such divisive comments, Hamlin said: “You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exit. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.’’

Hamlin has been better at doing so since the Daytona 500. He faced negative reaction on social media to the contact he and Bubba Wallace had at the end of the Daytona 500.

They engaged in a brief shouting match in the garage area after Hamlin learned that Wallace had taken a dig at him on national TV about a recent comment about drivers using Adderall.

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