Ryan: Chicagoland let us appreciate greatness beyond Kyle and Kyle

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JOLIET, Ill. – It truly was a sight to behold at Chicagoland Speedway.

An indomitable exhibition of grit and human spirit. A triumph over long odds and impossible circumstances. A sublime example of a superstar skillset.

Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer put on a superb display of the finest driving NASCAR has to offer.

Wait, you thought we were talking about Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson?

Yes, the two principals in one of the most thrilling last-lap battles in recent memory were quite the show Sunday, particularly at a 1.5-mile speedway – the maligned track length most common in Cup and also constantly derided for delivering an aero-dependent sameness in NASCAR’s premier series.

The past 12 wins on 1.5-mile tracks – every race since Austin Dillon’s fuel-mileage miracle in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 – belong to either Truex, Busch or Harvick. That’s been criticized in some corners as indicative of a dearth in the parity necessary to make NASCAR enticing.

The trio’s supremacy even has earned a ubiquitous nickname (the last time we heard so much of “The Big Three,” Chrysler was still selling K-Cars) that often is muttered with a resigned undercurrent of resentment.

But dominance still can be highly watchable, particularly when the performances are as brilliant and gutty as Sunday. The top five finishers at Chicagoland also have been the best five teams in 2018 – and each showed why in overcoming significant adversity.

All of the focus was on the two Kyles after the race, but you could make a case that Harvick, Truex and Bowyer actually drove better overall races (particularly given that the winner, Kyle Busch, earned no stage points and was a nonfactor for the first half).

  • In a No. 4 Ford that he said “was just off all weekend,” Harvick still managed to win a playoff point with the race’s most eye-popping pass that didn’t involve contact (though he nearly kissed the wall with his breathtaking move to the outside of teammate Kurt Busch to win Stage 2). Highly overlooked but nearly as impressive was how Harvick snatched the lead during a green-flag cycle on Lap 123 – picking up nearly 2 seconds on teammate Aric Almirola mostly through his smooth and swift entry and exit from the pits.
  • Truex finished fourth after starting 36th with an unfortunate pit stall that left him wedged between Larson and Ryan Blaney for 400 miles. The defending series champion still needed only 22 laps to crack the top 10, and his team kept him there despite a 14-hour Saturday in the garage (when the No. 78 Toyota was the last to clear technical inspection).
  • Though it was of his own making because of multiple pit penalties, Bowyer stayed focused to rally from briefly being two laps down to finish fifth.

“Add a fast car and a bit of a pissed-off attitude, and it is amazing what you can do,” Bowyer said.

Of course, it helps to have a good driver, too. The Cup Series has many of them.

Chicagoland provided many reasons for celebrating their greatness — a nice change of pace from the usual darts that regularly get thrown at NASCAR’s best teams simply for being … too good.


The slam-bang battle between Busch and Larson evoked memories of the best last-lap duels in which drivers still finished 1-2 despite turning their cars into smoking hulks of twisted sheet metal.

When solicited for comparisons, many Twitter users singled out the closest finish in NASCAR history – the fender-banging classic of Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven at Darlington Raceway on March 16, 2003 – as the best example of this genre.

But Busch vs. Larson felt more of a kindred spirit to the 1976 Daytona 500 when David Pearson and Richard Petty wrecked off the final turn (Pearson won because his battered Mercury was able to limp across the finish line).

The parallel was magnified by Busch’s postrace reaction to watching the final lap on NBCSN’s postrace show (1:50 of the video below). “What’s most impressive about this whole thing,” Busch said with a rising voice and widening smile. “is Larson saves it! Did he finish second? That’s awesome!”

Hey, even “The King” didn’t officially cross the finish line in ’76 (Petty finished second because there were no other cars on the lead lap).


Sunday was undoubtedly the best Cup race in Chicagoland Speedway’s 17-year history.

Was it the best race of the 2018 season?

There haven’t been many moments from the first 16 races that were as good as Chicagoland, but the Daytona 500 also had a last-lap crash for the lead and an outcome that seemed even more in doubt.

It partly resulted from several contenders crashing earlier, but there were five cars that had good chances to win in the final 10 laps at Daytona four months ago.

That should whet everyone’s appetite for Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.


The hours might have been insanely long, but kudos to NASCAR: The debut of sandwiching inspection between qualifying and the race (with no practices in between) was a success, at least in terms of avoiding the distraction of negative storylines.

Because they needed to pass only basic checks on engine, fuel cell, safety and splitters, every car made a lap in qualifying unlike many sessions at 1.5-mile tracks in recent seasons.

By the time inspection was completed at 9:51 p.m. CT (more than 14 hours after the garage opened), the disallowed times of Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Chris Buescher were barely a blip in newsworthiness (aside from the handful of reporters still waiting at the inspection bay) – and certainly less of a storyline than if they hadn’t made a lap.

Fans saw every car take a qualifying lap, even if it turned out that four didn’t count.

“The storyline was about the race, which is what it should be,” NASCAR Chief Racing Development Officer and senior vice president Steve O’Donnell told SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel, indicating the policy could be tweaked but likely would be used more often in 2019. “We’re always looking at how you can continue to focus the story just on the race. Anything to take us out of the inspection story, that’s a win.”

The schedule (which had been intended to be used in March at Martinsville Speedway before weather intervened) will be used five more times this season: Pocono, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis, Talladega and Martinsville.

The only drawback seemingly would be the extraordinarily long day for teams and officials, but that might be something the garage has to live with because of mitigating factors. Teams need three hours to prepare for qualifying, and NASCAR needs roughly at least two hours to complete inspection after qualifying ends.

Throw in the hour for qualifying, and that’s a six-hour window that gets trickier because NASCAR can’t inspect Cup cars while also managing an Xfinity race (which took place before qualifying last Saturday).


That schedule also could be credited with helping improve the action because teams had only two hours to get acclimated to a race held in summer heat for the first time in eight years. As often is the case during race weekends affected by inclement weather, the lack of practice seemed to have little adverse effects (Chase Elliott said he’d be fine with no practice on a weekly basis).

Other reasons the race was so good?

Some speculation centered on whether moving from the playoffs helped, but that seemed mostly circumstantial (though the cars raced Sunday assuredly won’t be as developed as in the Sept. 16 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout).

A more likely factor was the mid-90s temperatures that were tough on drivers but afforded the slick conditions amenable to producing the difficult handling that rewards first-class talent.

And then there’s the magically abrasive asphalt at Chicagoland, which has plenty of tire wear but somehow still has avoided a repave despite the beating from nearly two decades of Midwestern winters.

Consider that Kansas Speedway, which opened the same year as Chicagoland in 2001, already underwent a repave six years ago.


Why does Kyle Larson’s No. 42 seem so much better than every other Chevrolet in Cup?

“I don’t know,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said after his second at Chicagoland – his sixth top five this season — was eight spots better than the next bow-tie driver. “I don’t know if we did extra planning or what.  Last year we outran the other Chevys a lot, too, even with the old style body.  I think our team is just ahead of the other Chevy teams.

“I feel like typically at Chicago I’m an eighth-place car, and today I felt like I had winning speed.”

Unfortunately for Chevy, none of the other Camaros did, and Daytona now looms as a critical stop for drivers such as Chase Elliott (who plummeted from eighth to 19th during the 55-lap green-flag run that ended the race).

As good as Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy was in Speedweeks, Daytona might be his best shot at a playoff-clinching win over the final nine races of the regular season.


Noah Gragson is the NASCAR driver who tweets that he likes to tell it like it is.

So does his team owner Kyle Busch, who didn’t mince words when asked about the recent performance of his truck teams. Kyle Busch Motorsports hasn’t won in five races and placed fourth (Gragson), fifth (Brandon Jones) and 16th (Todd Gilliland) at Chicagoland.

“Truck stuff, man, it’s been frustrating lately,” Busch said after his win Sunday. “I don’t know why. It’s like they’re allergic to victory lane right now.  Every week they seem to figure out a way to throw it away.  Certainly got to get a lot better at being able to close out some of these races.

“Noah was good first stage, second stage. Third stage he wasn’t there. Todd passed him. Todd was horrible for the first and second stage, then had a flat there at the end.

“We got to get some wins.  That’s what it’s all about.  Those guys got to show what they’re made of.”

Busch’s blunt comments were a reminder that for all the hype surrounding the next generation of stars, there also is an accompanying demand to produce results.

Gragson, Brett Moffitt, John Hunter Nemechek and Justin Haley have given the Camping World Truck Series four winners under the age of 26 this season.

But are they on the same trajectory that sent recent heralded truck graduates Erik Jones and William Byron to Cup?

The most likely would seem to be Gragson, but there doesn’t seem to be buzz yet around a driver whose omission from a top-20 prospect list caused a minor stir earlier this year. There still are 12 races remaining this season for him to change that narrative, though.

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great originations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”

NASCAR Awards: Scene on the red carpet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community gathered at the Music City Center to commemorate the 2022 season and celebrate Joey Logano‘s second Cup title.

The event can be seen at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Here is a look at the scene on the red carpet before Thursday night’s NASCAR Awards:

Joey Logano and Brittany Logano (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Ryan Blaney and Gianna Tulio (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kyle and Samantha Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Chase Elliott (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Alex Bowman and Crystal Marsh (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Tyler Reddick and Alexa De Leon (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Denny Hamlin and Jordan Fish (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Daniel Suarez and Julia Piquet (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Chase Briscoe and Marissa Briscoe (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Christopher Bell and Morgan Bell (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Austin Dillon and Whitney Dillon (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kyle Larson (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

William Byron and Erin Blaney (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kevin Harvick (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Ross Chastain and Erika Turner (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Austin Cindric (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Kurt Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

Harrison Burton and Jenna Petty(Photo: Dustin Long)
Mario Andretti (Photo: Dustin Long)