Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick optimistic about prospects of Mustang in Cup

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The question came quickly after Ford revealed its Mustang model for Cup competition Thursday: How would Ford avoid the slow starts that resulted from NASCAR’s previous model changes for Toyota in 2017 and Chevrolet this year?

After Toyota went to the new Camry model last year, Joe Gibbs Racing failed to visit Victory Lane in the first 18 races. Meanwhile, eventual champion Martin Truex Jr. won three times in that span in his Toyota. JGR ultimately won eight races in 2017.

Last weekend’s win by Chase Elliott at Watkins Glen was just the second in 22 races for Chevrolet with its new Camaro model. The first was in the Daytona 500 with Austin Dillon.

“I don’t think with either of those two cases it’s been the car,” Brad Keselowski said after the Mustang announcement at Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. “I think there’s been other issues. That’s the thing about this sport. The car is super important but it’s not the only piece. You have the weekend execution, you have the driver piece, the pit crew piece. All those things have to come together and I don’t think in those two scenarios it was the car that held them back. I don’t think it will for us either.”

The Team Penske driver said Ford has learned “a lot” from what Toyota and Chevy went through.

“I think you learn as much from how others have done it as you learn from NASCAR and how they go about the process … and learn where the opportunities are,” Keselowski said.

Any misgivings Kevin Harvick has about the new model are tempered by what Stewart-Haas Racing experienced in 2017 when it switched to Ford from Chevy.

“I think the strongest part of our company is the aero side of things,” Harvick said. “In my opinion, switching from one manufacturer to another is way more challenging. Having all the teams and the people involved in the process of designing the car obviously gives you some characteristics of how the car works, what it likes, what it doesn’t like and things like that.

“As a team and as a group, Ford wouldn’t be making a change if we didn’t think there was more potential to be better.”

“I don’t have any reservations about it,” said SHR co-owner Tony Stewart about the move to the Mustang.

One question that hasn’t been answered is what rules package Cup teams will have next year.

“I think it would be foolish for me to stand here and say I’m 100 percent certain it’s going to go well, because you never know where things are going to be and apparently don’t know where there rules are going to be,” Harvick said.

NASCAR sent a proposed rules package to teams last week. Teams are reviewing it and then will get back with officials to discuss.

NASCAR has stated that it plans to use a package similar to the one used in the All-Star Race next year. The All-Star package included a restrictor plate, air ducts, a taller spoiler and the 2014 style splitter.

In the rules package sent to teams it included horsepower targets based on open throttle time and what plate sizes would be needed.

People who saw the rules proposal last week told NBC Sports it didn’t state how many races it would be used in.

“If we end up going with the All-Star package, it’s a real dart board,” Keselowski said. “Because none of the cars have been tested under that configuration. I have no idea how we’ll be competitively. But if we go or stick with a package similar to what we have right now, I expect this race car to be extremely competitive and a pretty big advancement from where we’re at right now with the Fusion.”

Of the wait for the package to be confirmed, Stewart said “It’s always been that way.

“You act like this is something new. This is their MO. This is not something we’re not used to.”

Dustin Long and Nate Ryan contributed to this report

Bristol Motor Speedway issues statement on fan confronting Kyle Busch (video)

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Bristol Motor Speedway issued a statement Monday in regards to a fan confronting Kyle Busch after Saturday night’s race.

The track stated:

“Our security team has investigated a post-race incident where a guest repeatedly confronted Kyle Busch verbally and physically while he was signing autographs for fans. As Busch then prepared to leave in his golf cart, the individual struck the driver across the chest, and at that time, Busch confronted the individual. The two were separated quickly and a uniformed officer pulled the individual to the side, allowing Busch to depart.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports that the sanctioning body was aware of the incident and discussed it with police.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Bristol recap, Robert Wickens injury update

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and reviews all the big stories from the weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut. They will be joined by Nate Ryan via phone.

On today’s show:

  • This past weekend, all the buzz was around the Busch brothers – Kurt for snapping a 58-race winless streak, and Kyle for enduring a season’s worth of events in one crazy night. We’ll cover all the angles from the memorable Bristol night race. Plus: With Chase Elliott continuing his hot run with a third-place finish, has he become the top challenger to NASCAR’s “Big 3”?
  • The countdown to Throwback Weekend at Darlington continues! Check out Denny Hamlin’s vintage look for the upcoming Southern 500, which draws on his own history in the sport.
  • And we’ll have the latest updates on injured IndyCar driver Robert Wickens, who was hospitalized in a brutal crash that overshadowed Alexander Rossi’s victory Sunday at Pocono.

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.

Denny Hamlin throwing way back to his short track days for Southern 500

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Denny Hamlin will join the ranks of Cup drivers who will drive their own throwback paint schemes in this year’s Southern 500 (Sept. 2 on NBCSN).

But unlike Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Derrike Cope, Hamlin’s paint scheme has never been run in Cup.

Joe Gibbs Racing unveiled Hamlin’s scheme Monday, revealing that his No. 11 Toyota will look like the No. 11 mini-stock Hamlin drove in 1997 when he competed on short tracks in his home state of Virginia.

MORE: Southern 500 paint schemes

MORE: Denny Hamlin’s Xfinity scheme for Darlington

On the car will be the logo for Chesterfield Trailer & Hitch, the company his parents owned and that helped keep his racing dreams alive.

Hamlin is the defending winner of the Southern 500.

Watch the video below to learn more about the scheme and Hamlin’s early days of racing.

Kurt Busch: ‘I haven’t decided’ about NASCAR future

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Where will Kurt Busch race in 2019?

Busch’s current co-owner, Gene Haas, claims to be in the dark about the future of one of his four Cup drivers.

“I really think you need to talk to Kurt Busch and Chip Ganassi and Jamie McMurray. I think they know more than we do,” Haas told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Saturday night, not long after Busch’s first win of the season and a week after it was reported that the 40-year-old driver would leave Stewart-Haas Racing for Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 car next year.

After claiming his 30th Cup Series win, Kurt Busch said he hasn’t made any commitments to where he’ll be racing in 2019.

“I haven’t decided and there’s time, that’s in our favor,” Busch told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, has driven for SHR since 2014 and accumulated six wins, including the 2017 Daytona 500. Saturday night’s win snapped a 58-race winless streak for the No. 41 Ford and secured Busch a spot in the playoffs with teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.

“Drivers have a right to do what they want,” Haas said. “We have expectations, they have expectations and sometimes you can’t all make them meet up to have a favorable outcome. I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s not that it’s personal or anything, it’s just that this is racing. Kurt’s been with us for (five) years. It’s been an interesting time and we’ve had a lot of good time. We won Daytona last year. There’s a lot of good that came out of it. Just like you make changes to cars, sometimes you make changes to crews, sometimes drivers change. I don’t read a lot into it. I don’t have any animosity. Who knows? There’s the possibility he could be driving with us next year. At the moment, the rumor mill knows all.”

It’s the second year in a row Busch’s future in the No. 41 Ford has been in doubt.

Last year, Busch signed a one-year deal in December after SHR declined to pick up his option in August. Busch said then that he also was exploring rides with other teams and that he had offers.

Following the report about his potential departure for Ganassi, Busch said the week leading up to the Bristol race “was tough.”

“There’s not anything to announce or anything to do,” Busch said. “So we’re going to go enjoy this off week and that’s what I’ve asked everybody to do and we just have to have clarity as we move forward. They know I’m a winner. I know they’re a winner. We’ll see how it all plays out.”

Busch’s Bristol win was significant personally, not just because it ended a long winless streak and got him into the playoffs.

He reached a goal he set for himself 19 years ago at the start of his Cup career.

“I always wanted to get to 30 (wins),” Busch said. “This is a big win for me. I grew up at Roush Racing watching a guy named Mark Martin help me. He was a great mentor. I looked up to him as a racer. He had 33, 34 wins (at the time). I think he might have ended his career with 40. Early on, before I won my first ever race, (I thought) If I can get to 30, that’s a pretty special career. Made it tonight. I’m choked up about it. I really love this win tonight. To have six Bristol trophies is special.”

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