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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 mourns Kobe Bryant

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Joining their brethren in other sports, the NASCAR world took to social media upon learning the tragic news of the death of Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, killed Sunday morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Bryant had met a number of NASCAR drivers in his career, including Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. They were among a number of NASCAR notables who took to social media to mourn Bryant:

 

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Chad Knaus and wife expecting second child

Photo courtesy Brooke Knaus official Instagram account
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Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion crew chief Chad Knaus and wife Brooke are expecting their second child.

Brooke made the announcement Saturday on her Instagram account.

The couple, already parents to one-year-old son Kip, will soon be adding a daughter to their growing family.

Brooke Knaus’s Instagram post said the baby is due in July.

Kip figured prominently in the baby revelation, coming at the end of mom and dad’s ski run while vacationing in Telluride, Colorado:

 

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Kyle Larson flips, misses finals of Australia’s biggest sprint car race

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Kyle Larson’s hope of following up last week’s Chili Bowl win with a triumph in Australia’s prestigious Grand Annual Sprint Car Classic fell far short Sunday.

Larson’s bid to race his way into the 24-car finals of the three-day race at Premier Speedway in Warrnambool, Australia, ended when he flipped (uninjured) on the opening lap of a last-chance qualifying heat race earlier in the evening.

Instead of being one of the featured drivers in the Classic’s 40-lap finale – the largest and most popular sprint car race of the year in the land down under – Larson was left to watch the event from the pits and cheer on Dyson Motorsport teammate and fellow American Carson Macedo.

Even that didn’t go very well, as Macedo flipped his own sprint car on the first lap of the Classic, resulting in a last-place finish. The highest finishing American was Cory Eliason, who ended up fourth.

Meanwhile, it was an all-Australian podium, with James McFadden winning the Classic for the second time in his career, followed by James Veal and Kerry Madsen.

In eight days, Larson went from capturing what he called the biggest win ever of his racing career on all levels – the Chili Bowl in his 13th try last Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma – to nothing but bad luck and utter frustration throughout his Australian journey.

Larson’s first race on Wednesday in the King’s Challenge at Borderline Speedway was rained out.

Then, in the first night of the Classic on Friday, Larson wrecked heavily in his first heat race, including flipping (he was uninjured). After his team repaired his car, Larson went back on the track, only to suffer a blown engine that knocked him out of contention to race in that evening’s feature event.

After not being on the schedule to race in Night 2 of the Classic on Saturday, Larson had one last chance to make Sunday’s featured championship event.

A total of 80 drivers battled it out in the B, C and D Mains for the eight remaining spots in the A Main, but Larson would end up not being one of those — as can be seen in the second line of the following tweet by his team:

Larson now returns to the United States to prepare for the Daytona 500 on February 16.

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Kyle Busch feeling like ‘the new guy’ during his Rolex 24 debut at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Busch was looking forward to his first stint at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The two-time Cup champion was less enthused about his second turn behind the wheel in the IMSA season opener. Busch will climb back into the No. 14 Lexus RCF GT3 at 2 a.m. Sunday, just past the midpoint of the endurance race classic at Daytona International Speedway.

“That’s going to suck, yeah,” Busch deadpanned. “That’s exactly when I told them I did not want to run, and I got it.  Thank you very much.

“(I’m) the new guy.  I pulled the short straw.”

Click here to read more about how Busch felt about his AIM Vasser Sullivan car.