Friday 5: Kyle Busch backs words with action

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Those weren’t idle words Kyle Busch spoke heatedly after his crash at Darlington in the opening race of the Cup playoffs.

Frustrated with his car’s performance that night, Busch told NBC Sports: “I don’t know what our problem is, but every time I go to the (simulator) … and think we had a good sim session, we go to the racetrack and we suck. So, I’m done with that.”

Busch stayed true to his word this week.

“We had originally planned a Vegas (simulator) session, but I threw that out the window after Darlington,” he said of preparations for Sunday’s playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “We’re just going to go off our notes from earlier this year, how we ran out there.

“We actually did simulate for Vegas (for the March race), and when we showed up, we were way off. We had to work on the car all race long. Finally, the third stage, we were pretty decent. We were able to drive our way back up to the front and finish third.”

Those notes will help but a key difference is that the temperature was in the mid-70s for the March race. The temperature for this weekend’s race is expected to be in the lower 90s. Such a change between those races can impact a car’s handling.

With practice not held at nine of the 10 playoff races – the Phoenix championship weekend is the exception – teams rely on simulators and other computer programs to set the car for each event. Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota each has a simulator for their teams in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area.

Canceling a simulator session isn’t necessarily a disadvantage for Busch, the two-time series champion. He has been frustrated for more than a year with how information from the simulator does not always correlate to on-track success.

“I don’t think it works worse for me,” Busch said of the simulator. “It’s different for everybody. Even our (Kyle Busch Motorsports) Truck guys have found frustrations in the sim and it all relates to where the rubber meets the road. It’s all about the tire model and whatever tire model you put into the sim is kind of the characteristics of what your vehicle will drive like.

“Every driver has their own interpretation as to what they feel like they’re feeling and the exact feel that they get from their butt to the chassis. It’s hard to do.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Henry 180
Kyle Busch finished 35th at Darlington, ninth at Richmond and 21st at Bristol in the opening round of the Cup playoffs. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Sunday’s race at Las Vegas (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) is viewed by many in the garage as critical in the Round of 12. The race is viewed as more predictable than the other two events in the round: Talladega and the Charlotte Roval. A good race at Las Vegas can help overcome a poor result due to a crash at Talladega or the Roval.

“You can be riding along and all of a sudden, a 12-car pileup happens right on top of yourself at Talladega,” Busch said. “You can be running fourth or fifth and get run into at the Roval and get spun off and sent off course and now you’re outside the top 20.”

Busch enters this round fifth in the standings, nine points above the cutline. That doesn’t give him much margin for error.

What’s clear is Busch isn’t as fast as the top cars. He’s led 3.1% of the 1,817 laps run in the last seven races. Busch has led 286 laps this season. His record low for a season is 362 laps led in his rookie campaign in 2005.

“Unfortunately, we just started too far off at Darlington,” Busch said of the playoffs. “We didn’t have a chance to get to where we wanted to get. We were probably going to run eighth or ninth that race.

“Richmond, we came out fine. We got the lead, but we were probably only going to run second or third there (before a pit road speeding penalty). Bristol, I think we were going to run fourth or fifth (before a cut tire). We’re not where we need to be. I keep saying that.

“We’re not the Kyle Busch of old where we’re leading tons of laps like (Kyle) Larson and running up front and battling for leads and stage wins and all that stuff. Trying to get that message across in a nice manner that we still have some work to do in order to better ourselves to get further up.”

As Busch and his team try to resolve those issues, they have to be careful about overcompensating in other areas.

“You can’t overpush things on restarts and get yourself in a bad spot,” he said. “I feel like sometimes, tires are an important gain. If you take care of the tires, they’ll reward you on the (end of a run).

“JGR, our cars have always, more times than not, been historically better on long runs. That’s kind of where you just have to be patient and bide your time and wait for that long run to come in.

“The Penske cars, you would argue, are more short-run speed, so those guys will fire off hard and do everything they can on restarts, but they might fade. So you have that time in which the field will cross over. Sometimes, those cautions come out in tough spots for us and it doesn’t quite work out that way. That’s part of the game.”

2. More with less

While much has been made about Joe Gibbs Racing winning two playoff races and Kyle Larson winning at Bristol, Brad Keselowski says not to overlook his team – even though he enters the Round of 12 below the cutline.

“We knocked a few guys out of the first round that, quite frankly, were considerably faster than us, so that bodes well for us,” he said Thursday. “If we can put the speed with all the other pieces we have, we’re a very dangerous team.”

A quick look at Keselowski’s first round shows that he led 10 laps in three races and scored points in three of six stages. Not awe-inspiring. But he and his team avoided mistakes and misfortune. 

“I’m incredibly proud of the round that we had,” he said. “We didn’t win a race. We didn’t contend to win a race in that first round, but we went to Darlington with a 15th-place car and put together a solid top-10 finish (seventh). 

“We went to Richmond with a 15th-to-20th-place car unfortunately, and put together a solid finish, got some stage points out of it and ended up 13th. 

“And we went to Bristol with probably the best car we’ve had, probably a top-five car, and scored the third-most points and finished sixth. 

“In a lot of ways, the media and the fans look at the race winner as the guy that ran the best race. To me, I always look at the field and say, ‘Who did the best with the car they had?’ 

“And I feel like we’re out-finishing our speed right now by a good bit. That’s a combination of certainly the moves I’m making on the racetrack and the moves that we make on pit road and with respect to pit strategy and the pit crew themselves, so I’m really proud of that.”

Brad Keselowski
Former Cup champion Brad Keselowski enters the second round of the Cup playoffs six points below the cutline. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The challenge grows for Keselowski and his team this weekend at Las Vegas. He is six points below the cutline. Keselowski said before the playoffs that “we just haven’t shown the speed” at 550-horsepower package tracks similar to Las Vegas.

While he finished second at Las Vegas in March, he’s had inconsistent results in other races with the package. He has two top-five finishes, a 10th-place finish and two finishes outside the top 10 at 1.5-mile tracks this year. He’s also failed to score stage points in two of those races.

“I really don’t know what I’m gonna have this weekend,” Keselowski said. “If we went there and we ran top five all (race) and snuck out a race win, I wouldn’t be shocked. If we went to Vegas and ran 10th to 15th all (race) and finished in that range, I wouldn’t be shocked.”

3. Looking for a spark

Bubba Wallace’s 16th-place finish last week at Bristol in his first race with crew chief Bootie Barker was an improvement over the previous two races.

That is something 23XI Racing is looking for in these final weeks of the season. Wallace is 22nd in points with seven races left in the season.

Co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team moved the crew chief role from Mike Wheeler, who also is the team’s director of competition, so Wheeler could focus on preparing the organization to run two teams next year. Kurt Busch will be Wallace’s teammate in 2022.

“I just think that we were kind of overwhelming (Wheeler) with everything he kind of needed to do,” Hamlin said. “There were some projects, there’s a long list of projects to get our shop ready …  but I (also) need performance on the 23. How can I ask him to spend more time working on that but yet, ‘Hey, by the way I need you finish this list of stuff as well.’”

With Wheeler focused on next year, Bootie Barker was tapped to be Wallace’s crew chief. Barker was a Cup crew chief from 2003-17. He worked in the shop in various roles before the switch.

“I do think he’s a very calming voice that can work with Bubba,” Hamlin said of Barker. “It seems like (Wallace) has resonated with those old-school type guys in the past.”

As for next year, Hamlin said the team is “looking at all options” for Wallace’s crew chief.

4. Uncertain future

As he enters his first Xfinity Series playoffs Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Jeb Burton knows he’s racing for more than a title.

“I’m auditioning for my career,” he said.

The 29-year-old has an uncertain future because sponsor Nutrien Ag Solutions will not return after this season.

This season is Burton’s first full-time effort since he was with an underfunded Cup team in 2015. Since then, he’s run as few as six races in a season in NASCAR’s top three series (2018) and no more than 16 races (2016) in a season.

That’s what made this year so meaningful. After all those part-time efforts, he secured a full-time ride with Kaulig Racing. He won at Talladega for his first Xfinity victory. Burton enters the Xfinity playoffs seeded seventh among 12 drivers, four points above the cutline.

With all that he’s accomplished this season, the recent news that his sponsor was leaving hit hard.

“Man, it’s difficult,” Burton said. “It’s hard on my family. That’s for certain. My mom and dad, it has been an emotional roller coaster the last couple of weeks. I’m trying not to let my emotions get to me now.”

5. A special helmet

It’s become tradition for Justin Allgaier’s daughter Harper to design his helmet for the playoffs.

This year’s design features glitter and flames, including purple, on a black helmet. The 8-year-old also has a special message on the back of the helmet that reads: “I love you daddy! Use every chance you get!”

Justin Allgaier’s helmet, which was designed by his daughter Harper. It includes a special message for him. (Photo: JR Motorsports)

Allgaier said the helmet has additional meaning to him that he doesn’t think his daughter truly knows.

“She knows that I like flames, but I don’t think she really necessarily understands kind of the background of the flames for me,” he told NBC Sports.

“My very first race car, when I was 5 years old, had flames on it. My very first helmet had flames on it. My second firesuit actually had flames on it as well.”

Just as meaningful is her message to him.

“Lately, for whatever reason she’s changed what she tells me pre-race,” said Allgaier, who is seeded third in the Xfinity playoffs. “She tells me to take every chance I can get.

“Its really kind of stuck in my head. To her, it’s just something, it’s a ritual she tells me each and every week before I get into the racecar, but it’s something that has really stuck with me and made me think a lot more about what I’m doing on the racetrack vs. what I’m not doing.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series results: Justin Allgaier wins at Charlotte


CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Allgaier finally broke through for his first win of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season Monday night.

Allgaier stretched his last fuel load over the final laps to finish in front of John Hunter Nemechek. Cole Custer was third, Austin Hill fourth and Ty Gibbs fifth. Gibbs ran both races Monday, completing 900 miles.

The win also was the first of the season for JR Motorsports.

Charlotte Xfinity results

Justin Allgaier wins NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway


CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Allgaier won a fuel-mileage gamble to win Monday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Allgaier stretched his fuel to outlast second-place John Hunter Nemechek. Following in the top five were Cole Custer, Austin Hill and Ty Gibbs.

The victory was Allgaier’s first of the year and the first of the season for JR Motorsports. He has 20 career wins.

MORE: Charlotte Xfinity results

After a long day at CMS, the race ended at 11:25 p.m. The race started Monday morning but was stopped twice because of weather before it was halted with 48 of 200 laps completed so that the Coca-Cola 600 Cup Series race could be run.

When the race was stopped, Gibbs, Nemechek and Allgaier were in the top three positions.

Gibbs won the first two stages.

Stage 1 winner: Ty Gibbs

Stage 2 winner: Ty Gibbs

Who had a good race: Justin Allgaier has had good cars in previous races but finally cashed in with a win Monday. He led 83 laps. … John Hunter Nemechek, in second, scored his fifth top-two run of the season. … Cole Custer scored his sixth straight top-10 finish. … Ty Gibbs lasted 900 miles for the day and led 52 laps in the Xfinity race.

Who had a bad race: Sam Mayer was running 10th when he spun off Turn 2. He finished 35th. … Sheldon Creed finished three laps down in 28th.

Next: The series moves on to Portland International Raceway in Oregon for a 4:30 p.m. ET race June 3.

What drivers said at Charlotte Motor Speedway


CONCORD, N.C. — What drivers had to say during and after Monday’s 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

Ryan Blaney (Winner) — “I might shed a tear. This has been a cool weekend. Obviously, Memorial Day weekend means a lot, growing up here watching Dad run this race for a long time. It’s so cool just to be a part of it, let alone win it. I just was able to get the lead, and that car was so good that I could kind of bide my time a little bit and then we were able to drive off. I was hoping no caution just because you never know. I know we had the car to do it, but restarts can be crazy. … You start to get to feel like you can’t win anymore when you don’t win in a while. It kind of gets hard. So just super thankful to the 12 guys for believing in me. It’s just so cool. What a weekend with (Josef) Newgarden and Roger (Penske) winning at Indy and us winning the 600. I mean that’s just so cool. That kind of snaps our winless streak right there and that’s even better. We just kept working on it all night, and I think the track took a change. I didn’t feel great at the end of Stage 3. I was kind of getting pressured by a couple guys and we had to work on our car, and it was getting cooler outside.”

MORE: Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott crash and disagree

MORE: Charlotte Cup results, driver points

William Byron (Finished 2nd) — “We just needed a little bit. Really happy for Ryan. He really deserves it. He’s a good dude. Cool to see him get a win. We just needed a little bit. I felt like there were enough restarts for him to get back to the front. He had that one pit road where he lost a few spots, and it was kind of between us and the 5 (Kyle Larson). I knew the 12 (Ryan Blaney) and 45 (Tyler Reddick) were a little bit stronger than we were. Thanks to this Liberty University Chevrolet team. The car was great tonight. Just not quite good enough. Really proud of the effort. Pit crew was phenomenal on pit road. Those guys are just high energy, and that pit stall helps.”

Martin Truex Jr. (Finished 3rd) — “It was a handful. We just battled really hard and never gave up on the car. We had some stumbles on pit road – had some issues there. We had some issues getting a flat tire with some contact leaving pit road, which wasn’t our fault, either. Just battled a lot of adversity today, but our Bass Pro Shops Tracker Boats Camry was really fast. At the end of Stage 3, I thought that we had a shot to win this thing and then we got some damage out of nowhere on the splitter, and then I got too tight. We made some adjustments to try to get us balanced back out, but it just wasn’t as fast then, and we still ran third. Just proud of everybody for the effort. We definitely had a shot at this one tonight, just didn’t get enough things to go our way and we didn’t do a good enough job on pit road. It was a fun day overall. We had just too many hiccups, too many issues on pit road with a couple of bad stops and the damage that sent us to the rear and had to come back. I thought through Stage 3 we were going to have a shot at this thing, and out of the blue at the start of the final stage, we got some damage on the splitter from debris and the car was never quite as good. … It means a lot to have all of the soldiers on our cars this weekend. I got to meet an amazing family this weekend. Really wish I could have taken them to victory lane, so it’s a little bittersweet, but overall, it’s a solid day for us.”

Bubba Wallace (Finished 4th) — “It started on Friday. We didn’t get through tech. We are trying to push all we can get, and didn’t happen, so bad pit selection really set us back all day. I knew it would be a grind. I need my pit crew to know that as well – they made a couple mistakes – but they rebounded. We were playing the cards that we were dealt. I’m super proud of this Dr. Pepper Toyota team. Just continuing to make strides and continuing to show up and be a part of the factor. Just makes you think – if you were that close on the final restart, or closer, what could have happened. It looked like the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was lights out all day. About time he got him one. I thought he was done washed up (laughter).” (On confrontation with Aric Almirola) Yeah, we were just frustrated on how we raced each other. We were in Stage 2 of the Coke 600. I finished fourth and that’s a good day for our team.”

Tyler Reddick (Finished 5th) — “We had a great car. We were really, really strong there. Just made a lot of mistakes – we kind of went to the bad side of it on that one strategy in the second stage. We had a million cautions because we just kept crashing. We got behind there and we had to fight to get our track position back after that and we did. We got to the 12 (Ryan Blaney), and just being too aggressive, got sideways and hit the wall, and front there, hit the wall about 10 more times and pretty much took all of the life out of the race car. We had a fantastic car. We just couldn’t get around the 12 (Ryan Blaney). We were way faster than he was for most of the day. I tried to take our time, because it’s obviously a 400-lap race, but yeah, made a few mistakes along the way and then I knocked the fence down and then every time we did, we lost a little speed in our Jordan Brand 23XI Toyota. So yeah, fifth.”

Kyle Busch (Finished 6th) — “Coca-Cola 600s are normally up-and-down, so we definitely had an up-and-down day. But the guys fought hard all race long and made some good repairs. We made a lot of good adjustments. There were a couple that we had to go back on, and then go back on again. But all-in-all, just proud of everyone on the No. 8 Alsco Chevy team. Our car wasn’t as fast as we wanted on the fire-offs there – we wanted the long run to finish. Even though we hadn’t been good on the long runs all night, we adjusted for that, but we just didn’t get it. We’ll take a good solid effort and top-10 finish.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Finished 7th) — “I feel great. I got up and did the ‘Murph’ workout this morning. My trainer wasn’t too thrilled about that, but went ahead and did that, and then came out here and ran 600 miles. Our No. 47 Kroger/Coca-Cola Chevy was so good all night. We just fought some track position every now and then, and then the No. 8 (Kyle Busch) fenced us there. I felt like we would have had a top-five if it wasn’t for that. But all-in-all, it was a great Coca-Cola 600 for us. It was what we needed after last week at the All-Star Race. We kind of got beat up there a little bit. But it’s cool to get another top 10. This team is doing a lot of good things.”

Chris Buescher (Finished 8th) — “It was a really strong day. Our Fastenal Mustang was really good. We got hit on pit road and definitely took a decent amount out of us, so I’m upset about that, but at the end of the day it was a good recovery. We kept digging back and it’s cool to have this camo paint scheme up front for a lot of the day, but I want to do more.”

Austin Dillon (Finished 9th) — “We never gave up all night, and it feels like we passed more cars than anyone else all race long in our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevrolet. It was a hard-earned top-10 finish. We started this year’s Coca-Cola 600 deep in the field – 33rd — after practice and qualifying were canceled due to weather, but I knew that we would have a chance to be in contention at the end because this is the longest race of the year and there are plenty of laps to work our way forward. It was challenging, though. Pit road was tight for us today, and it felt like every time we gained positions we would pit and get trapped in our box and lose everything we worked so hard for. We never gave up and to finish in the top-10 is a testament to the tenacity that this No. 3 team has. We were just too tight at the end to advance any further, but I think we showed how hard we are willing to work. Today is about our heroes who served and made the ultimate sacrifice. I’m thankful that I can do what I love, which is race, because of them. Thank you to the families of Navy Seal Mark Crampton and Army soldier Rusten Smith for allowing us to recognize them.”

Zane Smith (Finished 10th) – “I am so happy, as happy as could be, really. I was worried when we didn’t take tires there and were running really good and had a really good day. It just worked out, so just a great job by this whole 38 Boot Barn FRM team. We got our Mustang better and better every single stop and that’s so cool. We run on half the budget, if that, than a lot of these guys, so to finish top 10 in our sixth start at the Coke 600 is really cool. It’s been a rough three weeks for me. The Cup Series is a different level and obviously I’m trying to prove I belong here and it’s just an outstanding run. Ryan does an outstanding job and it’s so cool to finish this race, but better yet with a top 10.”

Alex Bowman (Finished 12th)“It doesn’t feel very good at the moment, but about what I was expecting. There was no pain in the car really, but now that I’m out, I feel it a little bit. Just proud of my No. 48 Ally Chevy team. We had a really fast long run car. Obviously the short runs were what we needed, but we were just too tight for that. We got stuck on pit road – every stop, we came in like 10th, but lost spots coming out. But that wasn’t on my guys, it was just pit stall selection. We’ll move onto Gateway. Hopefully we’ll get to qualify there, have a good pit box and just go have a normal day.”

Ryan Preece (Finished 13th) — “What a night. We battled all night long. Some of those cautions just did not work in our favor at all, but we had a good car and just needed track position and clean air. We made strong adjustments throughout the night, and my crew was on it. I think we had a top-10 car. We’ll take 13th after a day like that, and it’s definitely the momentum our team needed. Those top 10s and top fives are coming, and I’m looking forward to St. Louis.”

Justin Haley (Finished 15th) — “We fired off tight today, but the No. 31 team made some great adjustments and had good pit stops. We made it as high as eighth and thought we would get a top 10 there but just got shuffled at the end. A top 15 is not a bad day, but our car was by far the best car we’ve had all year. We made some major gains today as a team.”

Aric Almirola (Finished 25th) — (On confrontation with Bubba Wallace) “It was early in the race, and I felt like he ran me all over the racetrack and then when he got by me he shot me the bird, so I just went by and asked him why you shot me the bird. I felt like I gave him a lot of room and a lot of respect and he started mouthing off and saying a lot of bad things and cussing at me after he shot me the bird, so I just wasn’t gonna take that. I think it’s squashed. I got my point across. I let him know it’s not acceptable. He’s not gonna cuss at me and shoot me the bird. It was a good night, honestly, for our Smithfield Ford Mustang. It’s Memorial Day and such an honor and privilege to race on Memorial Day. We were running 10th there with 20-something to go and got caught up in that restart wreck in the middle of one and two and got a lot of heavy damage that really killed the race car after that. I hate we didn’t get out of here with a top 10. I felt we certainly had a top 10 race car, got loose on a restart early and hit the right-rear toe link, we fixed it, got two laps down, got all of our laps back and drove from the back to the top 10. I’m really proud of the effort and the fight, not the result, but we certainly fought hard. We’ll go get ready for Gateway. That was a really good racetrack for us last year.”

Austin Cindric (Finished 31st) – “You’re patient for 550 miles; why be patient for the last 40? I probably could have helped myself there by not drifting up the racetrack and knowing my own strength and weaknesses. It’s just unfortunate to get so close to the end of this race and not being able to finish it last year and the same with this year. I felt we had a lot of positives from today – some really good pit stops. We had good speed at times, but just having to put the whole race together as a team. I definitely made some mistakes today and unfortunate not to be able to finish it off.”

Erik Jones (Finished 32nd) — “We had a fast No. 43 U.S. Air Force Chevy, but nothing to really show for it. Appreciate the U.S. Air Force and their support. Just hate that we had the radiator issue, but hopefully we’ll go to Gateway with the same speed and have a good day.”

Chase Elliott (Finished 34th) — “The 11 (Denny Hamlin) ran us up into the fence there. Once you tear the right-side off these things, it’s kind of over. I hate it. I thought our No. 9 NAPA Chevy was getting better. It was nice to be making some gains there throughout the race. Our pit stops were really good. We had some pretty good fortune to get up towards the front there. I was just trying to get to mile 600 and have a shot, so unfortunately failed to do that again.”

Denny Hamlin (Finished 35th) — “I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightaway (referring to his collision with Chase Elliott). It’s a tantrum, and he shouldn’t be racing next week. Right rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. I don’t care. It is the same thing that Bubba Wallace did with Kyle Larson. Exact same. He shouldn’t be racing. It’s a tantrum.”

Noah Gragson (Finished 36th) — “Bummer day for the No. 42 Black Rifle Coffee Company Chevy team. We made it through the first stage clean. Something went through the radiator. We replaced the radiator and the motor blew up. Just frustrating. Thank you to Black Rifle Coffee Company and the Menusa family for coming out here. Wish we could have had a better run for them, but it was an honor to have Sgt. Menusa on the windshield. It makes this weekend all worth it. Wish we could have given him and his family a better run, but we’ll try again at Gateway.”

Jimmie Johnson (Finished 37th) — “I just didn’t know we were put in that three-wide situation. There were a bunch of us cars that were wrecked and just trying to limp it home. Unfortunately, I ended up in a situation I wasn’t aware of and got turned around. It’s a bummer for the No. 84 Club Wyndham Chevy team.”

NASCAR Cup Series results: Ryan Blaney wins at Charlotte


CONCORD, N.C. — Ryan Blaney outran William Byron over the final miles and through several restarts to win Monday’s 600-mile NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Blaney thus ended a 59-race winless streak and qualified for the Cup playoffs.

Following in the top five were Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick.

Charlotte Cup results

Charlotte Cup driver points