NASCAR’s best? ‘You’re looking at him’: Kyle Busch swaggers into Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The champ is here.

Swagger always has been a centerpiece of the Kyle Busch Experience, and you could look no further than Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day for the latest evidence that the reigning NASCAR Cup champion still brims with confidence and peak sass that hardly has subsided since his second title in November.

Who’s the best driver in NASCAR?

“You’re looking at him,” Busch said without skipping a beat.

What do you think about the president possibly attending Sunday’s race?

“Rumors are rumors. I have a rumor that I’m not starting the Daytona 500, so how about that?”

How do you think the new short-track package for 2020 will affect performance at Phoenix Raceway (site of the relocated championship race this year)?

“New rules, old rules. Joe Gibbs Racing, baby! That’s where it’s at.”

A 20-minute interview session with Busch (who also delivered some sharp insight) felt very much akin to the engaged yet looser guy who rolled through Daytona last month with an appealing brashness in his Rolex 24 debut, playfully asserting his massive sway and his eventual quest for world racing domination.

There is one niggling fact, though, that always threatens to knock Busch down a peg at the World Center of Racing.

The self-proclaimed best active driver in Cup has yet to win NASCAR’s biggest race in 14 attempts.

Busch has only one points victory (July 2008) in 29 starts at Daytona International Speedway and a best finish of second in the Daytona 500 (to winner and teammate Denny Hamlin last year).

Such an omission might seem irksome for the superstar who hates to lose so much, his runner-up interviews sometimes can turn as churlish.

But for Busch, an apt pupil so aware of his place in NASCAR history that he often can recite arcane records and statistics from memory, getting asked about the Daytona 500 void on his lofty resume is “fine” because he appreciates the allure of the storyline.

“It’s attention to the sport, which is good for all of us,” he said. “Me not being able to win the Daytona 500 isn’t something that’s going to kill me, but it’s certainly going to weigh on me in the late goings of a race to try to get out there and win this thing.

“We were so close last year. There was just a couple circumstances, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion this year. But you know, it is what it is. We’ll go out there this year and see if we can’t give it the same shot we gave it last year.”

It would be easy for him still to be hung up on last year. Busch was leading under yellow with two laps remaining in the scheduled 500-mile distance when he chose the inside for a restart. Hamlin lined up on the outside, took the lead shortly after the green for good in the overtime finish.

It’s left the No. 18 Toyota driver still in a Daytona 500 winless column that also includes some Hall of Famers. That provides some solace for Busch, who can rattle off the winless streaks for Dale Earnhardt (20 races) and Darrell Waltrip (17) before their first triumphs in the Great American Race.

Tony Stewart never won, Mark Martin never won, Rusty (Wallace),” he said. “There are a lot of greats that haven’t. I would definitely not want to be on that list if I had my way, but you don’t always have your way, especially in restrictor plate racing with just how random it is. Years ago, probably ’85, ’87 maybe or earlier, it was way more skill, car, equipment, driver. But the restrictor plate stuff, it’s been way more random and unexpected.”

The plate era began in 1988, leading to the era of drafting producing some arbitrary results. Though the plates were exchanged for similarly shaped tapered spacers last year, the dynamics remained constant.

And with a larger spoiler causing massive closing rates and erasing the effectiveness of blocking, drivers were predicting Wednesday that the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 could produce as many wrecks than last Sunday’s Busch Clash (in which all 18 cars were involved in an incident).

That probably leaves Busch no more or less likely to win than in his previous 15 years of trying to win a career-defining race – not that his record needs burnishing.

With 208 national series wins, Busch surpassed a goal of reaching 200 last year that he openly had talked about reaching since a May 2009 win at Richmond. On the weekend he won his second championship, Busch, 34, fretted about being “behind” on trying to reach eight Cup championships (suggesting five remained in range).

He demurs on his place in history (It’s not for me to decide.”), but he is mindful of having the chance to be remembered as one of the greatest ever (“It’s not life or death, but it would certainly be nice.”)

As well as the goal-setting swagger required to get there.

“There’s opportunities out there that, all things considered and all the stars align, yeah, you can make it there,” he said. “You’d better set your goals high, as I’ve always kind of looked at it, and try and go out there and achieve them and not be totally disappointed or let down if you’re not able to achieve those goals. But if you set it at one championship or two championships, well, hell, I’ve already done it, so why am I still here?

“We keep changing that and moving those targets a little bit.”

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.