With a broken suspension hindering his car and nothing to gain, Kyle Busch parked his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota late in Sunday’s playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval.
While some observers criticized Busch, NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton understands why Busch did it, even if a part of him doesn’t totally agree with the move. Burton gave his take on Busch’s decision to exit early inthis week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast,
“Part of me is like never quit,” Burton told co-host Nate Ryan. “I grew up in an era where you took pride in doing whatever it took to be on that race track when that checkered flag flew. However, (Busch) was right. There really wasn’t anything to gain (to remaining in the race).
“If they come down pit road and if they can fix it, what is he going to gain that will help him win the championship? He’s not going to get a playoff point, so what is he going to gain? That’s probably one of the negatives in this rules package, is that Kyle and his team really could say there isn’t anything to gain.”
Busch, winless in his last 15 races after placing 37th at the Roval, tweeted after the race that the problem with his car was a broken sway bar. Given how few laps (nine) remained when he exited while the race was under a brief red flag, replacing the piece would have been futile.
Because of the damage from the incident n turn 1 n the flat tire, we had a broken sway bar. Our race was over b4 the red flag came out. We decided to not risk tearing up our car anymore. Others had more on the line. Better to call it a day n move on to Dover for the round of 12👊🏻
“(A broken sway bar doesn’t make it undriveable) but it makes it completely uncompetitive,” Burton said on the podcast. “The thing is horrible to drive and you might pass some guys that are horrible that might have had some issues but listen man, Paul Menard ran good all day and he finished 16th. Ryan Preece finished 21st. You weren’t going to pass him. So I hear what Kyle is saying with that.”
Now the focus for Busch is on Dover International Speedway. Last weekend at Charlotte, Busch was asked about his expectations for Sunday’s race at Dover (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
“Not very optimistic. Let’s just go with that,” he said.
Busch applauded teammate Martin Truex Jr., who won the spring race at Dover while Busch finished 10th, leading just one lap.
“Yeah, my teammate was really, really good there in the spring obviously,” Busch said. “He passed everybody and won the race. I sat there in 10th to 14th all day and just complained about it. I guess I need to get better at passing.”
In this week’s race preview media release, Busch further expressed his frustration.
“Obviously, the race in the spring there was really frustrating for us, so I’m hoping that we find more than we did there the last time with these cars the way they are now,” Busch said.
Even with last spring’s disappointment, Busch has a good record on Dover’s 1-mile concrete oval with three wins, 12 top five and 18 top 10 finishes in 29 Cup starts.
“It’s definitely a roller-coaster ride and you need to treat it like it’s fun and not to be scared of the place, I think, because you can get so much out of that place,” Busch said. “There are two ways about it – you can probably be really, really good there, or really, really bad there. Some days you’re going to be better than others, obviously, with how you can get your car set up compared to the competition.”
Despite some struggles in the opening round, Busch enters the second round as the points leader because of his season-high 46 playoff points, including 15 for winning the regular-season title.
“Kyle’s going to haul ass at Dover,” Burton said. However, the former Cup driver also understands if Busch isn’t exactly optimistic about returning there after his showing in May.
“It’s going to be hard to pass at Dover, period, end of story, and Kyle’s going to have to brace himself for that, brace himself for a very difficult race where aerodynamically if you’re in second, you’re going to be disadvantaged. It is what it is and he’s going to have to find a way to get above his dislike for the package. I believe that. I believe you can’t race with anger, you have to race with passion. But he’s an extraordinary race car driver that can get by with some things that I surely couldn’t get by with.”
Here is all the info for the Saturday Cup race at Bristol:
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines is at 7:38 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:45 p.m.
PRERACE: Cup haulers enter the garage (screening and equipment unload) at 10:30 a.m. Garage access health screening begins at 12:30 p.m. Garage opens at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:10 p.m. Driver introductions will be at 7:15 p.m. The invocation is at 7:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Joe Nichols, three-time Grammy nominee, at 7:31 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250
TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.
“We’ll see what happens from here,” Bayne said after Thursday’s race. “Obviously, I don’t want to be done. I don’t feel like I need to be done. I’m 29 years old and I have a lot of experience and the fire to still do this thing.”
Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, last competed in NASCAR in 2018 before his return.
He made 187 Cup starts from 2010-18. He won the Daytona 500 for Wood Brothers Racing in his second career series start. Bayne didn’t run a full schedule until 2015 when he moved to Roush Fenway Racing.
He ran 21 Cup races in 2018 season, sharing his ride with Matt Kenseth at Roush. Bayne was not retained after that season and had not competed until driving for Niece Motorsports at the Darlington Truck race on Sept. 6.
“I’m trying to make the most of every lap and enjoy every lap because you don’t know when it’s your last lap,” Bayne said. “For me I would love to rebuild. If I could run a truck full-time and battle for a championship, I think that would be awesome. I think that would be great. If down the road it led to a Cup deal, then I wouldn’t be mad about it, but that’s also not really the goal right now. The goal is to make the most of it at Niece Motorsports with how many races I get.”
“It was a roller coaster,” he said. “There were weeks when I was blowing everybody’s phone up that I knew in racing, like, ‘Hey man, what do you got? Is there anything we can put together?’ Probably getting on everybody’s nerves. Some weeks I was just over it.”
Bayne said he decided recently to compete in Super Late Model races and was preparing a car when he got the chance with Niece Motorsports to run at Darlington.
“It’s putting a smile on my face to be turning laps,” Bayne said.
Friday 5: Thin line between aggressive and dirty driving
“You’re not going to do anything stupid, he said, “but you can’t sit and wait behind them.”
Those two drivers face the biggest challenges to advance to the second round of the playoffs. DiBenedetto is 25 points behind Clint Bowyer, who holds the final transfer position entering Saturday’s race at Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Blaney trails Bowyer by 27 points.
“I would love to say it is another race weekend, but it is our season, pretty much,” Blaney said Saturday’s race.
It will take a mix of aggression and patience during the 500-lap playoff race by Blaney and DiBenedetto to advance.
The line between aggressive and dirty driving can be blurry. Not every driver will see it the same way. With the need to move through the field and score as many points as possible — or win stages and the race — Blaney and DiBenedetto will have less patience, but where is the line?
DiBenedetto goes back to the All-Star Open in July. He restarted deep in the field after pitting in the first stage when not all the cars did. He worked his way through the field to win the final stage to advance to the All-Star Race.
“Some of the moves that I made in the Open race were aggressive to get through the field,” DiBenedetto said. “Everything’s on the line and you’re trying to make the All-Star Race and it’s a very short race.
“Some of the moves that I made in the Open race, if it were a regular points race and we’re at the beginning of the race or something, some of those moves probably at that time were just considered aggressive because everyone knows what we’re doing and what’s at stake. In other situations, they could have been dirty because I moved some people out of the way. That’s a little bit of a moving target, so it’s hard to answer that question.
“I would say for this weekend that everyone usually knows what’s on the line for different people.”
2. Out of sight but not out of mind
Crew chief Johnny Klausmeier knew that he faced a one-race suspension late in the Southern 500 when it was evident that Clint Bowyer’s car had two lug nuts not tight.
“From my vantage point on the pit box, I kind of watched the tire changers, and I saw that it didn’t look like he was hitting all the lug nuts,” Klausmeier said. “He was swinging for them, but not making contact and then the car left. I kind of knew that we would have some kind of issue there, so we kind of went back and looked at the video and made sure that it wasn’t going to be a safety thing.”
The team didn’t see a safety issue so Bowyer stayed on track, finishing 10th. Had Klausmeier called his driver back to pit road to secure the lug nuts, Bowyer likely would have lost at least 10 points. Instead of holding on to the final transfer spot entering Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Bowyer would have been outside the cutline.
Saving those points, though, meant that Klausmeier would miss last weekend’s race at Richmond because of the suspension.
What was it like not to be at the track and still call the race?
“I didn’t feel like it was more efficient than actually being there,” Klausmeier said. “There is a delay in the audio. There is a delay in the broadcast. There is a delay in the information transfer.
“Then just being there and when the tires come off the race car on a pit stop, being able to walk down behind the pit box and visually look at the tires and see what the wear looks like. (Also) coming up and calculating changes and things that you’re going to do based on what you see and feel looking at the racetrack and getting that information real time.
“I do not think the role of a crew chief can be done virtually. I think you have to be there. You have to be immersed in it. You can’t just go down and get the pit crew guys rallied up. You can’t see what’s going on with the car, so you miss out on those things and there is a little bit of a delay in the communications, so it’s not ideal but we managed to do it.”
3. Pit road speeding
Pit road speeding penalties could play a key role in Saturday’s Cup race.
Twenty-one speeding penalties were called in the May Cup race there. Each of the last three Cup races at Bristol has had at least 11 speeding penalties.
Matt DiBenedetto was caught speeding on pit road after Stage 1. He finished the stage seventh and restarted 28th because of the penalty. DiBenedetto was 22nd when he was collected in a nine-car crash, ruining his race. He finished more than 40 laps behind the leaders.
Joey Logano and Kyle Busch also were penalized for speeding on pit road in the May race. Austin Dillon was penalized twice in May. Both times came after he was involved in a crash on Lap 330.
4. Almost there
Brandon Brown is set to clinch the final spot in the Xfinity Series playoffs Friday night at Bristol. He enters with a 49-point lead on Jeremy Clements for the final transfer spot. Brown will clinch a playoff spot provided there is not a new winner outside the top 12 in points.
Brown’s family-run team has eight employees. He spends part of his time at the shop helping with the vehicles. Brown also is focused on trying to find sponsorship for this season and next year.
He has been to a simulator only once this season, going before the Daytona road course race. When he wants to get some sim time, he starts his iRacing rig. And his physical training? It’s limited to running. The gym he uses in his apartment complex is closed because of COVID-19.
So with all that around him, he’s about to clinch a playoff spot.
Brown also knows some view him as being aggressive on the track. He doesn’t hide from such viewpoints.
“Getting down to the playoffs and having an opportunity like this, it’s not something that comes around for everyone,”Brown said. “So for me, it pushes me that much harder to want to make that happen.
“It’s hard to back yourself down to ‘I need to run smarter to make sure we’re bringing the car home all four corners on it.’ At the same time, I want to get everything out I can out of the car and push to get the best result possible because this is our run, our chance at the playoffs.
“Taking a little bit extra risk, to me, it’s worth it, to really put my name out and to really make something happen this year. The risk is worth the reward to me, but I’m sure that others would view it differently.”
5. Odds and ends
# Matt DiBenedetto said his contract with the Wood Brothers is through this year with options for 2021, ’22 and ’23. He said the deadline for the team to pick up the option for next season is the end of this month.
“I guess I should know pretty soon,” he said. “I wish I knew now because I don’t want to go anywhere and it would put me in a pretty bad situation if something were to change, but I don’t expect any changes.”
# The Joey Logano Foundation will donate $22,000 each week of the playoffs to organizations that support children and young adults in crisis. The organizations selected help those that are homeless, within the foster care system or aging out of the foster care system.