DARLINGTON, S.C. — Kurt Busch said Friday he has received two contract offers for next season but has not made a decision on where he will race.
The 2004 Cup champion’s contract with Stewart-Haas Racing expires after this season.
Busch did not say what teams have offered him contracts.
“It’s kind of the same thing as last year where the team at Stewart-Haas put me into free agency, it gives me the opportunity to talk to others,” Busch said at Darlington Raceway. “I do have the loyalty and the respect from Monster Energy.
“As the sport evolves and the sport changes, it’s unique for me to understand more about the ownership side and how the different structures are set up. No updates. Just more information for me to digest. We’ll announce things when they get closer.”
Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after Busch won at Bristol two weeks ago that he was not sure where Busch would race in 2019.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin was asked Friday how it would impact JGR if it didn’t have ties to Furniture Row Racing after this season.
“I don’t know how it would directly impact us,” Hamlin said. “They definitely bring some information to the table, like I said, for us on any given weekend and we share that information back with them, but we’ve been a four-car operation for a long time now and we just started the fifth here just a few years ago. I don’t know that it would make a huge impact one way or another, but certainly they’ve been really good partners of ours for the last few years.”
Busch, who drove for Furniture Row Racing late in the 2012 season and all of 2013, was asked Friday what it would mean to the sport if there wasn’t a Furniture Row Racing next season.
“That’s a heavy question,” Busch said. “It’s a loaded question because they’re the current defending championship team. For anybody to come in and buy that program right now, you’re going to have instant success and the parts and pieces and the people that they have have made that place as successful as it is and that comes through Barney Visser and his commitment to motorsports.
“I think things will work out. It’s, again, a tough time in our sport with sponsorship and the way that corporate America and sponsorships are valuing our sport and so when that is cut back from a team owner, the team owner is like wait a minute I just put a decade into developing this team and I want it to run on its own and now it can’t? Barney’s heart will step back in. I don’t see them changing much for 2019, but I could be wrong.”
How to stop worrying about and start loving The Twitter?
Tyler Reddick said he found the secret a few years ago after much hand-wringing over how his thoughts and views would be perceived when they took shape in social media.
“Half the time I wouldn’t say them, and I just said, ‘I’m going to let it go and let it chill and filter it some,’” Reddick told NBC Sports during a recent media availability at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Because you don’t want to get out there and just blast someone and be swearing at them. There’s a fine line.
“I’m sure at some point in the future, my interaction will cross that line on accident, and there’ll be some serious backlash for it.”
In the meantime, the NASCAR world is getting the best version of the Richard Childress Racing driver – the raw, candid and often hilarious (check out the wig he wore at Bristol to commemorate his Dolly Parton-sponsored car) but sometimes controversial sides – as the 2018 Xfinity Series champion shares more of his stream of consciousness with the world.
Among the first times was when he called out truck series driver Ben Rhodes for describing the Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway as a “demolition derby” during a TV interview. “It’s truly an incredible event, and it’s cool we’re even at Eldora,” Reddick said. “For him to bash it, it hit a soft spot obviously because I’m a dirt racer.”
“Half the time I’d type something out, and me being reserved when I was younger, I just wouldn’t say it,” Reddick said. “And I figured I might as well be myself and say what I want to say when I’m feeling it, or type it, I guess I should say.
“I think it was there before the championship. I think it’s just kind of coincidence (since then). Obviously, there have been people who have poked about the championship, so I think maybe in that sense because of that, it’s gotten more attention since then. I think as I’ve gotten more comfortable with me being who I am and not afraid to show it, I’ve just opened up to it more.”
Uhm hey, it’s me again. What am I the redheaded stepchild you don’t want anyone to know about? https://t.co/m1xHagFZ7i
“It was a touchy deal, but I was very frustrated naturally in that situation,” said Reddick, who leads the Xfinity points with seven top 10s through eight starts of his first season with RCR’s No. 2 Chevrolet. “He was, too. But he just went on Twitter and said something I didn’t agree, and he kind of did it in a light that he was trying to throw it under the radar a little bit.
“He knew who he was talking about, and he didn’t want to say anything to me about it, he wanted to put it on Twitter, so I had no problem calling him out for it. It’s just the way it was. I’ve done it in the past.”
And will continue to do so in the future – at least until he crosses that line. Until then, Reddick recognizes that the byproduct of his honesty is some honest laughter from his followers.
“There are people getting chuckles that I know (are) getting a kick out of it,” Reddick said. “I don’t really do that to get those responses. I just do it because that’s how I feel about it.”
While Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have dominated the headlines by combining to win each of the first nine races, many questions remain as NASCAR takes its Easter break.
Here is a look at five key questions with a quarter of the Cup season complete:
1. What’s up with Stewart-Haas Racing?
An organization that saw all four of its drivers win last season has yet to visit victory lane in Cup this season.
The last Cup victory for the organization was at Texas in November by Kevin Harvick with a car that later failed inspection. Stewart-Haas Racing has won two of the last 21 Cup races. Team Penske has nine wins during that time and Joe Gibbs Racing has eight victories.
Stewart-Haas Racing has been the best of the rest. Five times in the season’s first nine races, a Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been the top finisher outside the Gibbs and Penske camp.
“We’ve just got to keep working,” Greg Zipadelli, SHR competition director, told NBC Sports after the last weekend’s Richmond race. “Everybody around you is. I feel like we’re getting better. I don’t feel like we’ve been terrible. We haven’t executed. We haven’t unloaded as good as we need to. We make our cars better over the weekend. That’s a plus.
“By no means are we where we want to be. We’re at a race track that is good for a bunch of our drivers the last couple of weeks and weren’t able to capitalize on it. I’m taking the approach that I’m looking at my glass as half full rather than half empty.”
Even though SHR won four times at this point last year (Harvick won three races and Bowyer had one victory), the organization has shown signs of greater depth.
Almirola, Bowyer, Harvick and Daniel Suarez have combined to score nine top-five finishes and 22 top 10s this season. Each driver has had at least one top-five finish. Each driver also has at least four top 10s.
Last year, Almirola, Bowyer, Harvick and Kurt Busch had eight top-five finishes and 19 top 10s. Busch and Almirola had yet to score a top-five finish. Only Bowyer and Harvick had at least four top 10s at this point a year ago.
“All four of our cars have been running good,” Zipadelli said of SHR’s performance this season. “All four of our cars have been running better. Everybody has been working good together. We’ll just keep plugging away.”
Then Zipadelli added: “Small victories. That’s how you eat the elephant one bite at a time.”
2. The next few weeks will be most critical to what team?
Obviously, the top organizations that have been shut out seek to win as soon as possible, but let’s look a little deeper.
This could be a key time for Roush Fenway Racing. The organization has Ryan Newman in a playoff spot but he’s 15th in the standings and only four points ahead of 17th (the first spot outside a playoff position). Teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 18th in the standings, eight points behind Newman.
One has to figure that even for Kyle Larson’s poor start — he’s 19th in the standings, 12 points behind Newman — that Larson will find his way into a playoff spot either via a win or points. With the way Joe Gibbs Racing has been so strong, Erik Jones, who is 17th, would be a good candidate to move into a playoff spot.
If those situations happen, then it will be more challenging for Roush Fenway Racing to put either of its two cars in the playoffs. The organization has failed to have a car in the playoffs three of the past four years.
This is a key time for Roush Fenway to collect points, including stage points to position itself better for a playoff spot. Stenhouse has 20 stage points and Newman 18.
Fifteen drivers have more stage points than Stenhouse and 16 have more stage points than Newman.
“We’ve got to keep working on some raw speed,” Newman said after placing ninth last week at Richmond. “We’re off just a little bit still.
“We’re doing better but we’ve got to keep working on it. Ninth isn’t good enough. Tenth isn’t good enough.”
3. What driver needs a win the most?
Long list here.
Kurt Busch, who has a one-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing, could use victories to enhance his chances of driving next year provided he wants to continue.
Jimmie Johnson has a 68-race winless streak. His last victory was at Dover in June 2017 — close to a two-year drought. He’s led laps in only three of the last 21 races.
Kyle Larson is winless in his last 55 races and has only five top-10 finishes in his last 16 starts (nearly half a season). Larson has led laps in three of those 16 races. His frustration was evident after he finished last at Richmond and said “it’s been a pretty crappy start to the year.”
Along with Johnson and Larson, one could put any Chevrolet driver on this list. Chevrolet has won four of the last 55 races, dating back to the start of the 2017 playoffs. Elliott has three of those victories and Austin Dillon the other.
4. What will the 2021 driver lineup look like?
There are some intriguing situations that will be worth watching as the season progresses.
Kurt Busch has a one-year contract with Chip Ganassi Racing. Will the 40-year-old (he turns 41 in August) be back after this season with the team or will Ganassi have a spot to fill in its lineup for 2021?
Unless NASCAR allows car owners to have more than four teams, Joe Gibbs would seem to have a wealth of riches and not a place for all of them. Kyle Busch signed a contract extension in February, Martin Truex Jr. is in his first season with the team, Denny Hamlin says his contract goes beyond this season and Erik Jones says he’s in talks with JGR on a contract extension.
So where does that leave Christopher Bell? With the investment Toyota has put into his career, there’s no chance he’ll drive for any other manufacturer next season. With 10 wins in 48 career Xfinity starts (a 20.8% winning percentage), there’s no way he should be in Xfinity after this year. Does that mean he goes to Leavine Family Racing, which is aligned with JGR, or does Toyota pull something else out to ensure Bell will be with the manufacturer in Cup next year?
Another interesting proposition is where will Cole Custer race next year? He’s won twice in the first eight races this season (he had two wins in his previous 70 Xfinity starts entering this year).
When Stewart-Haas Racing was looking to fill the No. 41 last season, car owner Gene Haas was asked if Custer could take that position. He said that Custer needed to win more. If Custer does that this season, can SHR find a way for him or will he need to go to another Ford team?
5. What will the qualifying format be?
Still to be determined. Or at least NASCAR hasn’t announced anything.
The series heads to Talladega Superspeedway next weekend and that will be single-car qualifying, same as it has been done in recent years there.
Then it’s off to Dover. Maybe the format used at Richmond (five minutes for each round) could work there. After that, NASCAR heads to Kansas Speedway and drafting will again be key. NASCAR will need to have its plans set before Kansas.
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