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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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NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”