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‘Black and white’ – Chip Ganassi Racing begins new era with Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch

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CONCORD, N.C — Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch began establishing their bonds as teammates months before Chip Ganassi Racing made it official.

As early as the late September race weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, the two drivers were trying to one-up each other.

“We were trash talking each other on the phone through practice sessions,” Busch recalled. “I thought that was fun. We didn’t even race with each other yet, but I think we knew what the future was and that’s something that was special.”

Larson did know then that the 2004 Cup champion would take the place of Jamie McMurray, his teammate through his first five full-time years in Cup. That knowledge played a part in how he raced Busch in the opening laps of the race itself.

“I had a lot of fun pressuring him early in the race there to get the lead and kind of making an aggressive pass on him,” Larson said. “That was fun, but at the same time you’re also not wanting to get into him to like start the relationship off bad.”

While Busch was announced as moving from Stewart-Haas Racing to Ganassi in early December, a media event Tuesday at the team’s shop was the first time they’d seen each other this offseason. It was hard given Larson jetting around the world to race in New Zealand and then spending a week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the Chili Bowl.

Even then, Busch and Larson kept in touch via phone. The communication from opposite sides of the world left an impression on Busch.

“There’s this aura about him,” Busch said. “It’s 24/7 race cars. It’s having fun while doing it, but then when he switches on the last little bit he’s full on serious about everything when it comes to the car. He’s surprised me in so many different ways already. There’s still that natural talent. That’s something that can’t come from anywhere. He’s got to apply it. I guess the thing I’ve learned from him is his will to continue to push as hard as he’s pushing. If we get that on the Cup side of it, then the sky’s the limit.”

Busch, 40, is well aware of the stark differences between him and his 26-year-old teammate.

“I think there’s the old school and the new school, I think there’s the late-model guy vs. the dirt guy,” Busch said.

One person at CGR qualified to observe the “black and white” differences in the drivers and help integrate Busch is Larson’s crew chief, Chad Johnston. Johnston was Tony Stewart’s crew chief at SHR from 2014-15, overlapping with Busch’s time driving the No. 41.

“Kyle’s more laid back and easy-going and Kurt’s more of a he’s going to tell you what he thinks no matter if you want to hear it or not,” Johnston said. “(Busch) came into the sport as a pretty young man himself and was able to be successful. So I think there’s a lot things he’s encountered along the way that he maybe can help Kyle with or guide him through or give him a heads up, like ‘Hey, this is what happened to me.’

“More like fatherly advice I guess you could say.”

So where does Larson think the 30-time Cup winner will benefit him this season?

“I think he’ll be able to help me a lot on the short track stuff,” Larson said. “I think he’ll be able to help our cars a lot, too, on the short track stuff. That’s an area where I struggle really, really bad. … I know I’ve ran well at Richmond here lately and all that but it’s still a track that I struggle at. But then I think the tracks I run well at, your mile-and-a-halves, Chicago, Homestead, places like that where you have to move around and find grip, I think that’s where I can maybe help him.”

Busch said he is “eager” to quiz Larson on what “he does up in the high lane” to keep his momentum going.

“Right now my gut instinct is I’m a guy that drives off the right front tire from all the late-model experience I have,” Busch said. “He’s a guy that drives off the right rear tire with all the dirt track experience he has. It shows that there’s two ways to skin the same cat. But that gets me excited to learn things and I think he’s feeling that same thing as far as having my experience come to him.”

Larson and Busch will be aiming to give Ganassi a much-needed boost after the team went winless in 2018.

Busch is the first Cup champion to compete for Chip Ganassi Racing since it entered NASCAR in 2001. And unlike Larson, he’s won at least one Cup race in each of the last five seasons.

Busch said he feels a “small responsibility” to help Larson develop into championship caliber driver.

“Just due to my age and where I sit personally,” Busch said. “He’s at the top of his game here in the top sport of racing here in the U.S. Larson can be bigger. He can be better. And I see something in him and that’s part of the draw of why I came here. There’s plenty of reasons, but that’s one of those things on the side. It’s not a trophy, it’s not a win. But I would feel a sense of accomplishment by helping him out.”

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Ryan Blaney fastest in final Cup practice at New Hampshire

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Ryan Blaney was fastest in the Cup Series’ final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Blaney posted a top speed of 133.572 mph.

He was followed by Denny Hamlin (133.226 mph), Kyle Busch (132.739), Kevin Harvick (132.688) and Martin Truex Jr. (132.646).

Brad Keselowski (sixth) and Kurt Busch (14th) each recorded the most laps in the session with 61.

Blaney also had the best 10-lap average.

Click here for the speed chart.

Alex Bowman wrecked in Turns 1 and 2 in the middle of the session.

Bowman, who was already in a backup car after he had a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday, will now go to a second backup car. The No. 88 team will use Jimmie Johnson‘s backup car.

Matt DiBenedetto‘s left-rear tire shredded twice during the session.

“Not a lot of warning, I’ll tell you that,” DiBenedetto told NBCSN after the first tire problem. “I went down into (Turn) 1 and I was passing (Landon Cassill), as soon as we got down into the corner I don’t know if we ran over something or what but the left rear went down in a hurry.”

DiBenedetto, who qualified seventh for Sunday’s race, was able return to the track to make a lap right before the session ended.

 

Practice mayhem at New Hampshire as Alex Bowman crashes backup

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LOUDON, N.H. — Alex Bowman will be moving to his third Cup car of the weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and this Camaro isn’t even his.

After suffering a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday that ruined his primary car, Bowman crashed his backup No. 88 Chevrolet in final practice Saturday on the 1.058-mile oval.

Hendrick team members immediately began scrambling to prepare the backup No. 48 Chevrolet of teammate Jimmie Johnson for Bowman (Hendrick’s fourth driver, William Byron, already was in a backup after crashing Saturday morning).

Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Jeff Andrews told NBCSN’s Dave Burns that the team elected to use Johnson’s car instead of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 because Johnson’s car had a traditional paint scheme that made the switchover more favorable to wrapping the car in the No. 88’s sponsor colors and logos.

“To rewrap the 48 vs. the 9, that’s a better option for us in terms of body tolerances and things like that,” Andrews said. “There’ll be only decals to rip off (Johnson’s car) due to the fact that the base coat is a paint and then we’ll apply the 88 wrap to that 48 chassis and body.

“Obviously we’ve got a great group of guys. Unfortunately, we’ve been put through a lot the last couple of days, but we’ll get through it, and we’ll line up and go racing tomorrow. It’s been a tough day, but we’ll get through it.”

Crew chief Greg Ives gathered all of Bowman’s team in the No. 88 hauler after the wreck.

“I think for Alex and the team, you just have to keep track of the big picture here, and we have to stay focused and not panic and go out tomorrow and do the best we can in the race,” Andrews said. “Certainly yesterday was not Alex’s fault. We had a mechanical failure there, and today we’re not really sure what happened there, but obviously at this point in time, we just need to get the best car underneath Alex and the race team.”

There are five drivers who will start from the rear in backup cars for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Bowman, Kyle Larson, Byron, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.

Newman and Hamlin crashed in practice Friday, and Byron and Larson had trouble in the first session Saturday morning.

Matt DiBenedetto also suffered two tire problems on his No. 95 Toyota (without sustaining major damage) during the final practice, which was paced by Ryan Blaney.

Tyler Reddick, girlfriend Alexa De Leon expecting first child

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Defending Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick has a new title: Father-to-be.

Reddick, 23, announced on Instagram Saturday that he and girlfriend Alexa De Leon are expecting their first child.

The Richard Childress Racing driver made the announcement while the Xfinity Series is competing in New Hampshire.

The birth of the child will make Reddick one of only two drivers in the top 10 in Xfinity points who have children. Justin Allgaier, who is 33, is the other.

 

Today’s Xfinity race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick have combined to win 10 of the last 11 Xfinity Series races heading into today’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell won this race a year ago. Will the dominance of the Xfinity Series’ Big 3 continue or will a new winner emerge?

Here is all the info you need for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START:  The command to start engines will be given at 4:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:16 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Qualifying is at 11:05 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. by Pastor Mark Warren. Ellen Kane will perform the National Anthem at 4:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (211.6 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. The Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 3:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly sunny skies and a temperature of 94 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Christopher Bell beat Brad Keselowski and Ryan Preece to win his second of three consecutive Xfinity races. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.