Friday 5: Passion on and off the track

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There’s been much to talk about this season but some of the conversation has centered more on what has happened off the track.

Maybe Kyle Busch can help return the talk to the track this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Admittedly, three of the first five races having a margin of victory of 2.6 seconds or more (last week Martin Truex Jr. won by 11.6 seconds) takes away some of the excitement for some even as Kevin Harvick won three races in a row.

Other than Harvick’s dominance, some of the buzzy topics this season has been Harvick talking about the need to build up grassroots racing, why Busch wasn’t interviewed on TV after last weekend’s race at Auto Club (and then his responses to Twitter trolls) and how Austin Dillon and members of his team got tattoos on their rear end after winning the Daytona 500.

All worthy topics to generate conversation, but the discussion on the racing hasn’t been as paramount to this point.

Martinsville comes just in time to change that. The series is back at the track for the first time since Denny Hamlin’s contact knocked Chase Elliott out of the lead late in the fall race and fans saw a level of emotion they hadn’t seen from Elliott. If you don’t recall, Busch went on to win that race.

Last spring had its excitement with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumping Busch out of the way to stay on the lead lap, opening the door for Elliott to win a stage. Later in that race, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch engaged in a spellbinding duel before Keselowski pulled away and went on to win. Busch finished second.

Right now, Busch is one of the main drivers who stirs the drink in a sport that has seen fan favorites Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, among others, retire.

Even Earnhardt said as much on his podcast this week.

“The one thing that I’ve learned over the last several years … was the sport needs people like Kyle,’’ Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download. “Even if you don’t like the guy, the sport needs all kinds of personalities, and we can’t have 40 heroes out there racing.

“We can’t have 40 Captain Americas out there competing against each other. You gotta have a Batman, you gotta have a Robin, you gotta have a Superman, you gotta have a Joker. You gotta have all of that to create storylines and create rivalries.”

The sport’s best rivalry is Keselowski and Busch. It’s one that simmers and then explodes, whether it is in their duel at Martinsville last year, their contact at Watkins Glen, Busch’s Twitter response to Keselowski after Keselowski’s comments about Toyota’s dominance entering the playoffs or Busch simply saying at the news conference before last year’s Miami championship race of Busch: “Sometimes you just don’t like a guy.’’

This weekend could be a chance for such feelings to bubble or maybe from somebody else. With an off weekend afterward, it would give fans something to talk about.

2. An impassioned defense

BK Racing car owner Ron Devine was combative at times, calling the procedure “nonsense” while on the stand for about 2 1/2 hours Thursday in federal bankruptcy court.

Devine, who turned to address the judge at times when answering questions from attorneys, was on the stand defending his right to run BK Racing despite millions of dollars in losses in recent years and unpaid bills.

Union Bank & Trust, which claims it is owed more than $8 million in loans from Devine, seeks to have a trustee put in charge of the team. Union Bank & Trust stated in documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy court that BK Racing had lost about $30 million from 2014-16.

MORE: Court filing lists expenses, revenue for each race 

MORE: Rare peek into race purses, payouts

Devine said on the stand that the team had signed a sponsor agreement Wednesday with EarthWater for $3.6 million for the rest of the season. The amount is to be paid in cash, shares of stock and product. Devine said that if the judge ruled to have a bank-appointed trustee run the team, the sponsor would not remain, noting a line that in the agreement that the deal was null and void if Devine was not running the team.

Devine, who said his organization had “low teens” in terms of full-time employees, stated that those employees would quit if a trustee took over. Devine said the only reason the bank wanted a trustee was to sell the team’s charter. He accused the bank of soliciting bids for the charter.

Turning to the judge, Devine said of having a trustee run the team instead of him: “There’s no way he can operate the team. He has no knowledge and ability to operate my team.’’

Devine estimated he had spent half a million dollars of his own money since December to offset deficits at BK Racing. During the testimony, Devine confirmed that he sold one of the team’s charters before the 2017 season to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million.

“I can run this race team,’’ Devine said in court.

The matter has been continued until Wednesday.

3. West Coast review

While Kevin Harvick dominated the West Coast swing, winning two of the three races, Kyle Busch had the best average finish for the events at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana.

Of course, Harvick’s 35th-place finish Sunday after contact with Kyle Larson ruined his average finish.

Here’s who had the best average finish for the three races:

2.3 — Kyle Busch

3.3 — Martin Truex Jr.

7.7 — Kyle Larson

8.0 — Erik Jones

8.3 — Brad Keselowski

Here’s who scored the most points in the three races:

147 — Martin Truex Jr.

146 — Kyle Busch

125 — Brad Keselowski

120 — Kyle Larson

115 — Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. combined to lead 75.2 percent of the laps run on the West Coast swing. Harvick led 252 laps, Busch led 200 laps and Truex led 134 laps.

4. In case you missed it …

Only three drivers scored a top-10 finish in each of the three West Coast swing races: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones.

5. Back in time

Jimmie Johnson has nine career Martinsville victories (in 32 starts for a winning percentage of 28.1 percent) but has two top-10 finishes — including a win in October 2016 — in the last seven starts there. He’s led only in two of those seven races. He once had a streak of 17 consecutive top-10 finishes there, including six wins.

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Race results, Truck Series point standings after Eldora

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In a deal that came together at the last minute, Chase Briscoe battled ThorSport teammate Grant Enfinger during a two-lap shootout at Eldora Speedway and won the Edlora Dirt Derby for his second career win.

Along with Kyle Busch (Las Vegas Motor Speedway) and John Hunter Nemechek (Martinsville Speedway), he becomes the third driver this season to win who is not competing for Truck points.

Enfinger finished second as the two banged together crossing under the checkers.

Last year’s second-place finisher in this race, Stewart Friesen finished third while last year’s winner Matt Crafton came home fourth.

Brett Moffitt rounded out the top five.

Click here for complete results.

Despite finishing 16th, Johnny Sauter maintained the points lead by 32 over Noah Gragson.

Gragson finished sixth at Eldora.

Moffitt, Enfinger and Friesen round out the top five.

Click here for the complete points report.

Chase Briscoe wins Truck Series race at Eldora

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Chase Briscoe and ThorSport teammate Grant Enfinger banged doors as they crossed the finish line of the Eldora Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway with Briscoe winning by a bumper. It was Briscoe’s second career Truck win. His first victory came in the season finale last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He has not raced in the Camping World Truck Series since, so this gives him consecutive victories.

Briscoe lobbied Ford for the ride, but the deal came together at the last minute, Briscoe said from victory lane.

The race had an extended green flag segment during the final stage, during which USAC National Midget racer Logan Seavey pulled away from the field. Two multi-car accidents in the closing laps involving Todd Gilliland, Myatt Snider, Dalton Sargeant and several others allowed Briscoe to climb through the field and set up the green-white-checkered finish.

Stewart Friesen finished third with Matt Crafton and Brett Moffitt rounding out the top five.

Briscoe is the sixth different winner in six editions of this race. Last year’s winner Crafton was the only previous winner in the field.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Ben Rhodes

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

HEAT RACE 1 WINNER: Ben Rhodes  (Complete Results)

HEAT RACE 2 WINNER: Todd Gilliland (Complete Results)

HEAT RACE 3 WINNER: Chase Briscoe (Complete Results)

HEAT RACE 4 WINNER: Matt Crafton (Complete Results)

HEAT RACE 5 WINNER: Stewart Friesen (Complete Results)

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIER WINNER: John Hunter Nemechek (Complete Results)

HOW CHASE BRISCOE WON: Briscoe took the lead from Seavey on the next-to-last restart before holding off Enfinger in a two-lap shootout.

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Simply making the A Main was an accomplishment for Norm Benning, who finished fourth in his heat race. He was involved in a late-race accident and finished last (32nd) … Stewart Friesen won his heat race and finished third after coming home one position short to Crafton last year. … Noah Gragson was forced to race his way into the Eldora Dirt Derby through the Last Chace Qualifier and climbed to sixth. … In his fourth career Truck race, Nick Hoffman scored his first top 10 with a 10th.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Attempting to make his first Truck race, RJ Otto walled his truck in the Last Chance Qualifier and spun with two laps remaining. …  Rhodes slapped the wall early in stage two and was forced to pit, losing two laps in the process. Rhodes spun again with 53 laps remaining. … Points leader Johnny Sauter qualified 34th, failed to race his way directly into the A Main via his heat race and spun early. He finished 16th. … Ryan Newman was collected in an accident involving Matt Crafton and Tyler Dippel. He lost four laps making repairs and finished 30th.

NOTABLE: Seavey dominated the final stage of the Eldora Dirt Derby, but a poor lane selection on the next-to-last restart cost him the lead. Restarting fourth on the final run, he was shuffled further back through the field to finish eighth, but came within four laps of winning in his Truck debut. Seavey was coming off a win at Sweet Springs (Missouri) Motor Complex, which gave him the overall victory in the USAC Mid-Atlantic Midget Week points standings.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “I wasn’t going to wear him out; I wasn’t just gonna wreck him for the win. We rubbed. I definitely let it float all the way to the wall and I’m sorry about that; it’s not how I race. But this means so much to win at Eldora. … This is our Daytona for dirt guys.” Chase Briscoe on FoxSports1.

WHAT’S NEXT: Gander Outdoors 150 at Pocono Raceway at 1 p.m. ET on July 28 on FS1.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch would like to see more Xfinity, Truck short track races

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With the Camping World Truck Series racing their high-profile dirt race at Eldora Speedway, it opened up the question about whether the Cup or Xfinity series should also make a return to dirt.

That was a question for this week’s Bump & Run feature, and Kyle Busch also had an opportunity to weigh in Wednesday night on NASCAR America.

“I’m cool with it. I think it would be fun to see, one,” Busch said. “Two, I think it’s great that the trucks have that; let’s leave it special for the trucks.

“(The trucks) haul around dirt all the time. My Toyota Camry … ain’t gonna go around out there and haul around dirt.”

So, if Eldora doesn’t make Busch’s cut for a new venue on the Cup schedule, what would?

“I don’t know how you bring back the other venues and make it successful,” Busch said, mostly because of the limited infrastructure and seating capacity.

And while Busch is not supportive of tracks that previously held Cup races getting another date, he does believe there are options for NASCAR to explore.

“I think Trucks and Xfinity should be doing more of that than the mile-and-a-half stuff,” Busch continued. “Trucks and Xfinity should go to the Pensacolas, go to the Nashvilles, go to South Boston, go to Hickory … and make those races that anybody can sign up to run.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.

Alex Bowman primed for playoff battle

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Any victory would be special for Alex Bowman. Not only would it be his first in Cup but also secure a playoff spot this season. But should that win come in two weeks at Watkins Glen, there would be extra reason to make that victory meaningful.

Wednesday on NASCAR America, Bowman unveiled the Nationwide Children’s Hospital car that he’ll drive next month at Watkins Glen. The car features 28 butterflies. A butterfly in flight represents optimism at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which has a staff of more than 13,000 providing state-of-the-art pediatric care during more than 1.4 million patient visits annually.

“Going to the Children’s Hospital, it’s amazing to see what they do for the kids and how little things that they do just keep the kids that much happier,” Bowman told NBC Sports. “It’s just amazing to see what they do and see how much the sports programs have raised for the Children’s Hospital through Nationwide. It’s really special just to be a small part of that, to have any role in putting smiles on kids faces.

“I would say if we were able to win with the Children’s Hospital car, it would be really special. It’s more having a patient champion’s name on the door, what it could mean to them.”

Before Bowman races at Watkins Glen, he has this weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and then Pocono the following week.

After his last-place finish at Kentucky last weekend, he leads Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by nine points and Paul Menard by 23 for that final playoff spot.

“I’m doing all that I can, and I feel like I’m doing my part,” Bowman said. “Obviously we’ve been off this year and we need to get better. Pressure for me really comes from me. I want to run better.

“There’s not a lot of added pressure from the team, the crew or media, really. I just want to run well and give the fans something to cheer for. Pressure comes from myself. I want to make the playoffs really bad, but I don’t want to make the playoffs and get eliminated in the first round.

“I want to make the playoffs and make a statement there. I think we could do that. We’re on a path to getting better. Kentucky obviously was rough for us, as the 88 team and as a company.”

Bowman also is confident in how his team stacks up against Stenhouse’s team and Menard’s team.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of pressures on those guys to try to erase that gap,” Bowman said. “Hopefully we can make them make mistakes by keeping the pressure on them, too.”

“I feel like we’ve got better race cars than the 17 (Stenhouse) most weeks, and we’ve got to better execution than the 21 (Menard) for the most part, if we can continue that.”

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