Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on his wild night: ‘It all came back to get me’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the focal point of two wrecks that collected 29 cars at Daytona International Speedway, but the breadth of his apology was limited Saturday night.

“Nah, I mean it’s aggressive speedway racing,” the Roush Fenway Racing driver said when asked if he would need to do some damage control after the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (in which his driving took such an aggressive toll, it required a precautionary police escort out of the garage). “I think we needed to win to get in the playoffs, and so it is what it is.”

Stenhouse went a long way toward winning his second consecutive July race at Daytona, leading a race-high 51 laps and winning the first two stages (and earning playoff points).

But eventually all of the mayhem he had a large part in triggering came back to haunt Stenhouse on Lap 124 when his No. 17 Ford was involved in its third crash. This one wasn’t directly Stenhouse’s fault, but he still had a role – Kyle Larson spun in Turn 4 because of a cut tire likely resulting from damage he had earned in a Lap 54 wreck (that started when Brad Keselowski collided with Stenhouse).

Stenhouse, who had just pitted a lap earlier under green, ran into Larson.

“It all came back to get me,” Stenhouse said.

His No. 17 Ford limped home to a 17th place finish, a lap down after a spin again on Lap 150 because of a blown tire.

The car’s left side was completely destroyed as Stenhouse parked it in the pit lane. After a pat on the shoulder from Roush president Steve Newmark, Stenhouse turned to a gaggle of reporters with a bemused smile and ran his fingers through his hair with resignation while watching first-time winner Erik Jones doing an interview on a giant videoboard.

“Well, I was really … really bummed,” he said. “The first (crash), (William Byron) blocked (Brad Keselowski) and from where I was sitting, I thought we were going to get to the inside of him, so I really wasn’t expecting him to check up that quick.

“The second (crash) with (Kyle Busch), too aggressive, trying to get to his left rear. Trying to get back to the lead, back out front where our Ford was really dominant.”

While many drivers seemed to struggle with handling, Stenhouse said his Fusion was “a lot of fun to drive,” and he seemed able to dictate the pace while at the front.

It was virtually a must-win situation for Stenhouse, who was vocal on the team radio during last week’s race at Chicagoland Speedway about his team’s lack of performance recently.

He lamented Thursday that there had been some “tough conversations” during the past week, and there didn’t seem to be short-term improvements in sight at the 1.5-mile tracks that dominate the schedule.

Saturday at Daytona, one of four restrictor-plate races on the schedule, represented his last, best shot at making the playoffs with a win (which he did last season by winning at Talladega Superspeedway, the first of his two career wins, both at plate tracks).

“We definitely brought I feel like the best car here in the field,” he said. “Winning two stages was nice, but obviously we wanted to win at the end, and it was a bummer we basically crashed all of our teammates out of it.

“It was kind of tough after that. Congrats to Erik on his first win, that’s pretty cool, but I felt like for most of the race, we had the best shot at it.”

After such an eventful race, Stenhouse’s night thankfully ended with an uneventful walk to the driver motorhome lot while being followed by two officers.

A track spokesman confirmed the escort was arranged through the cooperation of Daytona International Speedway, the team and NASCAR.

Kurt Busch on contract status beyond 2018: ‘we’ll see how it all comes together’

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LOUDON, N.H. — Former champion Kurt Busch said Friday that he’s focused on his performance on the track even though his contract ends after this season.

“For me, I’ve just been racing, driving and performing, doing all the things I can do to exceed in all categories, whether it’s teammate things, things on the track … communication with (crew chief) Billy Scott,” Busch said after winning the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“I don’t know many drivers that have a primary sponsor with them. Monster Energy has been very loyal to me. It’s just a matter of when the time is to start talking about a contract. Last year, it went long just because I felt I deserved more. The landscape is changing in NASCAR on primary sponsorship values, teams with the purse and the guarantee that they get off the historical performance. There are a lot of things that move, so we’ll see how it all comes together.”

MORE: Stewart-Haas Racing makes pit crew changes

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. laments sponsor leaving after this year

Last year, Stewart-Haas Racing declined the option on Busch’s contact when there were questions about if Monster Energy would return as a primary sponsor. After that was settled, Busch signed a one-year contract with the team. The deal was announced Dec. 12.

This is Busch’s fifth season with Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s won five races, including the 2017 Daytona 500 with the team. He has made the playoffs each year with SHR.

Busch’s pole Friday was his third of the year. He has yet to win a race this season but has 10 top-10 finishes.

“When you go to a track that you have good vibes about and with the team doing well, it gives you that feeling like you’re a step ahead and you just have to execute with confidence and not get too far off expecting good things to happen,” Busch said. “Just go out there and do your job and that’s what we’re doing right now and it’s great to have the pole with the 41 car.”

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Starting lineup for New Hampshire Cup race

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Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. will start from the front row in Sunday’s Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Busch starts from the pole position for the third time this season and the first time at New Hampshire.

The top five is completed by Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney.

Alex Bowman in eighth and Daniel Suarez in ninth earned their best starting position at New Hampshire.

Kevin Harvick missed the final round of qualification and starts 14th.

Click here for the complete starting lineup.

Kurt Busch wins pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

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Kurt Busch posted a lap of 133.591 mph in the final round of qualification for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and will lead the field to green on Sunday. Busch was the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver to advance to the final round.

This is Busch’s first pole at New Hampshire, but he has started on the front row twice before – most recently in July, 2013. He finished 31st in that race and was 21st after starting second in July, 2007.

He beat Martin Truex Jr. (133.502 mph) by .019 seconds.

Kyle Busch (133.431), Denny Hamlin (133.361) and Ryan Blaney (132.720) round out the top five.

Alex Bowman (132.618) had the fastest Chevrolet in eighth. This is his best New Hampshire start in his seventh race.

Kevin Harvick (132.554) failed to advance to the final round and posted the 14th fastest time.

Kyle Larson (132.039) failed to back up his practice speed. He had the third fastest car in that session, but failed to make the final round and qualified 20th.

Last year, Kyle Busch won from the pole for the first time since Ryan Newman did so in the July 2011.This is Busch’s first pole at New Hampshire, but he has started on the front row twice before – most recently in 2013. He finished 31st in that race and was 21st after starting second in 2007.

Daniel Suarez  (132.581) in ninth earned his best New Hampshire start in three tries.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Today’s action from New Hampshire

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and gets a jump on this weekend’s racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut.

On today’s show:

  • The New Hampshire race weekend is off and running. Carolyn and Parker have complete coverage following today’s practices and Monster Energy Series qualifying from Loudon.
  • They will get reaction from several drivers, including the one who will start from the pole in Sunday’s race.
  • Plus, New England native Parker Kligerman jumps in the NBC Sports iRacing simulator to show us the challenges of racing the Magic Mile.
  • Nate Ryan of NBCSports.com examines the dominance of NASCAR’s Big 3 of Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.