Inside story of the season’s most ‘awesome finish’

5 Comments

JOLIET, Ill. — Kyle Larson didn’t make the last-lap move on Kyle Busch as he hoped Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Oh, yes, Larson planned to hit Busch.

Larson just didn’t want to get in front of Busch so quickly.

“I wanted to slide in front of him,” Larson said. “But I knew I would be too tight and have to slow down too much to where he would just probably cross over and drive away from me.

“I did plan to go into there and get into the side of him and slow him down, which I did, but I really didn’t want to clear him before (Turn) 3 because I knew that would give him the opportunity to do that into 3.”

The result was NASCAR’s most exciting finish of the season. Busch repaid Larson for the Turn 2 contact on the final lap by shoving Larson in the rear bumper in Turn 3. That sent Larson into a sprint car slide and Busch into the wall.

Kyle Busch celebrates his win. (Getty Images)

Busch recovered, straightened his car and drove to the finish line to earn his fifth win of the year. Larson skidded to the grass, regained control of his car and finished second for the fourth time this season.

“I thought he was going to pull a slide job,’’ Busch said of Larson’s move in Turn 2. “When he didn’t try to do a slider, then I wasn’t sure what his next move was going to be.

“I was like, ‘Surely he’s not going to drive into the side of me.’ Then he did. After that point … all bets are off.”

Busch bounced off the wall in Turn 2, lost the lead down the backstretch and chased Larson. Busch’s plan was to cut under Larson when Larson slid up in Turn 3. Larson stayed on the bottom.

Busch went to his next option.

“I drove off in there as far as I could and I got into the back of him,” Busch said. “Once I did that, he was kind of sliding loose. I was just trying to get back to the start/finish line after that. It’s kind of a product of once it’s done to you, it’s fair game.”

Larson knew what he was doing when he hit Busch in Turn 2.

“I moved him first,” Larson said. “I can’t be too upset about the move into 3. I opened the door for that. I waved the green flag to run into each other. That was just a fun finish.”

Busch and Larson have had their duels — Busch and Larson have finished 1-2 eight times in Cup and Xfinity with Busch winning each time. The most recent time came in April at Bristol when Busch used a bump-and-run move to get by Larson with six laps to go and win.

“Maybe that’s what he kind of thought he had on me in Turn 2,” Busch said for Larson’s physical move. “If he would have been able to be alongside of me and raced me clean, we would have just raced through 3 and 4 and seen who could have got back to the start/finish line first.

“Once contact is made in a race, it’s kind of like OK, it’s every man for himself. Even me, when we had that race at Bristol and I got into him with (six) to go, I was like, ‘Man I thought I did that too early because he could get back to me.’ He never could get back to me.”

Larson reached Busch on Sunday at Chicagoland with help.

Both he and Busch admit that if it hadn’t been for lapped cars slowing Busch, Larson likely would not have gotten close enough to challenge for the win.

“I don’t know what position they were racing for, but they were racing very hard for it,” Busch said of the lapped cars in the final laps. “They were just side‑by‑side. When that happens, there’s just nowhere for me to go. There’s no clean air. 

“One was on the bottom. I think there was a middle lane kind of open, two on the top. I got by (Ryan) Newman, I got plugged up off of (Turn) 2, lost my momentum. Newman came to the bottom.  We were three‑wide with lapped cars in the backstretch. 

“I couldn’t turn off 3 to the bottom like I would have if he wasn’t there. I don’t think (Ricky) Stenhouse knew that. Stenhouse kind of right reared me, got me steering up the racetrack towards the wall. That killed my rear tires for the next two laps. I was just sliding for dear life. I don’t know if anybody really did anything wrong, let’s say. But there was an awful lot of lap cars that were way more gracious, let’s go with that.”

Larson put himself in position to take advantage of the lapped traffic by running the high line, as he so often does, but with a precision not always seen. While he did clip the wall once late, he constantly ran inches — “a half inch probably at times,” he quipped — without leaving a trace.

“It’s super impressive how close he can enter on the wall and how quickly he can get back to the throttle and have complete control of his car so close to the wall lap after lap,” said Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, about Larson.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anybody that I can recall that’s been able to do that.  I’m sure it’s the dirt track skills and the way he grew up, what he raced growing up. It just speaks to his talent.”

As Larson closed on Busch, car owner Joe Gibbs watched helplessly.

“This is a problem,” Gibbs said watching from pit road.

Kyle Busch (left) and Kyle Larson recount their last-lap duel (Getty Images)

But in this matchup of among the sport’s most talented drivers, Busch prevailed.

After Larson finished describing the “awesome finish,” he walked to the garage stall where the makeshift Victory Lane moved to because of impending rain.

He and Busch talked.

Busch told Larson: “I thought you were going to slide me. I was all ready for that.”

“No, I didn’t have enough room. By the time you got back to my outside, I had no other choice, stall you out, I hit you.”

“You knew it was fair game after that?”

“Yeah, I knew.”

 and on Facebook

Comparing Cole Pearn, Martin Truex Jr.’s record together to NASCAR greats

Getty Images
1 Comment

Martin Truex Jr and Cole Pearn have a good thing going.

Truex’s win Sunday at Sonoma Raceway came in his 123rd start with Pearn serving as his crew chief.

The two have had an eventful tenure in their four years together at Furniture Row Racing.

Since teaming up in the No. 78 Toyota in 2015, Truex’s second year with the team, the duo has scored 16 wins, 45 top fives, 75 top 10s and an all important championship last season.

How does their record so far compare to the first 123 races of other notable driver-crew chief pairings in NASCAR history?

Racing Insights compiled the info of nine pairings, including Truex/Pearn and Kyle Busch/Adam Stevens, who have 119 starts together. They would have 130 starts together if not for Busch missing 11 races in 2015 due to injury.

Truex and Pearn would have 124 starts together if not for a one-race suspension for Pearn in 2015.

The data includes five active pairings: Pearn/Truex, Stevens/Busch, Chad Knaus/Jimmie Johnson, Rodney Childers/Kevin Harvick and Paul Wolfe/Brad Keselowski.

Among the nine pairings, the best is Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond, who had two championships, 28 wins, 75 top fives and 91 top 10s in their first 123 races together.

The most comparable pairing to Truex/Pearn is Knaus/Johnson.

After 123 starts, they’re tied for 16 wins and 75 top 10s. While the Hendrick Motorsports pairing had two more top fives, Truex and Pearn earned their first championship faster.

Johnson and Knaus earned their first title in their fifth year together when they reached 176 starts together.

Check out the info below.

Pairing       Starts     Wins Top 5s   Top 10s Titles
Jeff Hammond/Darrell Waltrip 123 28 75 91 2
Cole Pearn/Martin Truex Jr. 123 16 45 75 1
*Adam Stevens/Kyle Busch 119 18 54 74 1
Rodney Childers/Kevin Harvick 123 13 59 84 1
Chad Knaus/Jimmie Johnson 123 16 47 75 0
Ray Evernham/Jeff Gordon 123 19 51 71 1
Kirk Shelmerdine/Dale Earnhardt 123 22 59 89 1 – Secured 2nd title in 125th start
Greg Zipadelli/Tony Stewart 123 14 47 76 0
Paul Wolfe/Brad Keselowski 123 11 39 61 1
 

*Only 119 starts together

Erik Jones looking to put together complete races for Joe Gibbs Racing

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After 15 races in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Cup Series, Erik Jones barely gives his No. 20 team a passing grade.

“I’d say our team as a whole is probably a C,” Jones told media Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway while promoting the July 7 Cup race at the track.

“I think we’ve had good race cars and had fast race cars, we just haven’t been able to finish really where we’ve ran,” Jones said. “We haven’t done a good job of that. Making sure we’re closing these races out is going to be the big thing for us. We’re bringing top 10 cars to the track every week in speed and just not taking and getting the finishes out of that.”

Following Sunday’s race at Michigan, where Jones placed 15th, the No. 20 team has one top five and five top 10s. He has one top 10 in the last eight races (Kansas, seventh)

In the last three races, Jones has failed to finish better than 15th.

Jones has started in the top 10 in four of the last seven races. In each race, he finished 13th or worse.

“Making sure we’re taking full advantage and executing on pit road and on the race track, not losing track position is going to be the big thing for us coming up,” Jones said. “Staying on that track is what we need to do.”

The next three races take Jones and the series to Sonoma Raceway, Chicagoland Speedway and Daytona. Jones made his first Sonoma start last year and placed 25th after starting 30th. His first Chicago start saw him finish 33rd after a late spin.

In three Daytona starts, he’s managed not to crash out in one, when he placed ninth in last July’s race.

Being one of the four drivers competing for JGR, Jones was asked what’s made the difference in Kyle Busch‘s dominating ways and his struggles in getting to Victory Lane for the first time.

“Obviously, we do have the same resources and equipment at our disposal, it’s just a matter of the way every team is using them,” Jones said. “You look at Kyle, he’s a very talented driver, No. 1. He’s very good at what he does. He and (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) have a good thing going on and they’re able to use the resources very well and take full advantage of them. Me and (crew chief) Chris (Gayle) are still trying to get in our groove of figuring out exactly what we need to get our cars to do to be successful week in and week out.”

Gayle and Jones were paired together during Jones’ rookie season with Furniture Row Racing.

“We’ve done a good job of putting together cars with good speed,” Jones said. “We just need to put together the rest of the package. That’s what Kyle’s done a very good job of this year. He’s qualified really well, he’s stayed up front, he’s had good pit stops and not ever put himself back in the pack and put himself in opportunities to have to gain a lot of track position. I think that’s really important this year … more than the last few years at least. They’ve done a really good job of just staying ahead of the game on that.”

NASCAR penalizes Joe Gibbs Racing teams for Michigan infraction

Getty Images
5 Comments

NASCAR fined the crew chiefs for the Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones $25,000 each and suspended their car chiefs each one race.

Joe Gibbs Racing will not appeal the penalties.

NASCAR penalized the teams for inspection issues with the splitter before last weekend’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. NASCAR stated the splitters did not meet rule specifications.

The $25,000 fines go to crew chiefs Mike Wheeler (Hamlin), Adam Stevens (Busch) and Chris Gayle (Jones). Car chiefs suspended for a race are Brandon Griffeth (Hamlin), Nate Bellows (Busch) and Jason Overstreet (Jones).

All three teams were forced to start at the rear for Sunday’s race because of the infraction.

 and on Facebook

 

 

Kyle Busch’s wins wish list isn’t complete yet

Getty Images
1 Comment

According to Kyle Busch, “Everybody wants to make my life more difficult.”

Busch, who won last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 and starts today’s race in fifth, is the first driver in Cup history to win on every active track he’s raced.

That accomplishment will be in the record books for about four months. Then the Cup Series will compete on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval for the first time on Sept. 30, presenting yet another box for Busch to check off his wish list.

“I’m sure that I won’t be credited for all the racetracks once the Roval gets here, so that would certainly be the next one that comes up,” Busch said Friday at Pocono Raceway. “Richard Petty has won 13 races at Richmond, right, but nobody characterizes the dirt track versus the pavement track being different. So whatever. It’s my life, so we’ll just keep going, keep trying to win in it, and the Roval is next.”

MORE: Kyle Busch doesn’t need to win on Roval to win at every track

No matter how long it takes him to win on the Roval, Busch says his current accomplishment is still special.

“It’s hard to find things that have never been done in this sport,” Busch said. “It’s been around for a long, long time. So it’s very meaningful and special and something that I’ve kind of strived for. Whenever you’re able to achieve your goals, reach your goals, then it makes you feel better about what’s going on, and it’s a special thing for my team. There’s a lot that (crew chief) Adam Stevens puts into helping me continue to reach my goals, and he takes a lot of pride in that, as well as the rest of our team guys, as well. We’ve just got to keep doing our deal and executing and we’ll see where the wins come next.”

After the Roval, there’s one big race Busch has yet to claim victory in.

Despite 47 Cup wins, he’s never won the Daytona 500. His best result in the “Great American Race” is third in 2016.

He’s expected to make his 14th start in the race next season.

“It took another guy that’s very, very popular 20 years to get it done,” Busch said, referring to Dale Earnhardt’s win in 1998. “So I’d like to think it won’t take me that long, although I’m creeping up on that number, so we’ll see how soon we can get that one accomplished.”