Kyle Busch

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Kyle Busch gives sports cars a spin: ‘You can drive the snot out of them’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Busch climbed from his new ride Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway with a wide smile and a few shrugs at his AIM Vasser Sullivan Racing teammates.

How was the prep work going for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut?

“I was able to run some pretty decent times,” Busch said at a news conference between practice sessions during the opening day of the Roar Before the Rolex test. “That’s what the guys said anyway. I don’t know.”

Rarely does Busch, quite possibly the most demanding and exacting driver in NASCAR’s premier series, find himself at a loss for explaining all of the nuances that make a race car handle at optimum speed.

Which made Friday’s indoctrination at Daytona a sometimes disorienting mix of confusion alleviated by maximum camaraderie for the two-time Cup champion, who constantly was surrounded by helpful faces.

“Everyone has done a great job of welcoming me in and making me feel part of the team, getting me up to speed, getting me accustomed and used to what this form of racing is and what it entails,” said Busch, who is only six weeks removed from his second title. “But certainly a lot to improve on still. I’ve got my NASCAR driving techniques just embedded in my brain. I’ve got to get rid of those a little bit more.

“Getting more accustomed to what this car can take and what the driving techniques are that are different between the two vehicles take is certainly a lot.”

The team’s two cars had 90 minutes over two practices to break in the most famous of its eight drivers for the 24-hour endurance classic, which will take place Jan 25-26.

Busch did two stints Friday over the course of about 35 minutes in the No. 14 Lexus during the opening session. After Jack Hawksworth shook down the car for about 20 minutes, Busch climbed in at 11:25 a.m. and was within 3 seconds of his teammate during a 10-lap stint.

After an 8-minute pit stop for adjustments, Busch shaved off another second over a 14-minute run in the car in which he posted lap times the team felt was respectable.

“He’s right where he should be,” said Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson, one of several executives in the AIM Vasser Sullivan pit to observe Busch at the test. “So much of endurance racing is about confidence and being comfortable.”

Traffic and technology also will be the two major hurdles for Busch getting acclimated to sports cars. AIM Vasser Sullivan races in the GTD division, which is about 10 seconds slower around the 3.56-mile road course than the premier DPi prototype class.

That means Busch (who had one other IMSA start at Daytona nearly 12 years ago in a prototype) will be getting lapped much more often than which he is accustomed in Cup. In a role reversal of sorts, NASCAR veteran Cody Ware will be competing against Busch in the faster LMP2 division for the Rolex 24.

Especially when racing at night, Busch will rely on spotter Tony Hirschman to keep him abreast of the divergent speeds (which he also can distinguish through the varying colors of the cars’ lights).

He will be navigating the field while also adapting to cars that stop on a dime because of sophisticated antilock braking systems that are much different than his No. 18 Toyota in Cup.

“The braking is certainly the biggest adjustment,” Busch said. “I’m used to our big heavy stock cars, where you have to start the slowdown process way early, and the braking zone is forever. By the time you turn in, you have to be off the brakes because otherwise the inside wheels lock up, and you’ll skid the tires. So you also have to take care of our brakes on the Cup cars because they’re so heavy and steel and you can really overheat them.

“Completely different techniques that you have to work with on these cars. You can drive the snot out of them. You can throw it off into the corner as far as you feel you can get in there. And stomp the pedal as hard as your leg will allow you to do it.”

Busch spent some of Friday finding those limits, once driving 50 feet deeper into a chicane than teammate Jack Hawksworth. “That was too far,” Busch chuckled. “Noted.”

He had many places to look for advice. Townsend Bell, the NBC Sports analyst who also drives for the team, offered encouragement and pointers for several minutes Friday as the first to greet Busch after his first stint.

Hawksworth, a veteran of sports cars and IndyCar who scored two class wins for AIM Vasser Sullivan last year, flew to North Carolina recently to tutor Busch through a five-hour session in the driving simulator at TRD’s Salisbury facility.

“That was very useful and a great learning tool,” he said. “Definitely learned a lot. Came out of that with a good baseline for being able to come here and have a better understanding of what to expect.

“Without that, I’d be completely lost. It was good to do that. Jack’s been my biggest help and supporter. Townsend as well, too. I’ve talked to him a few times on the phone. Having Jack hands on with us at the test and being my teammate here has been big.”

But yet Busch also sheepishly confessed to at least one instance in which “I’m already trying to set up the car.

“It’s got understeer here, oversteer there or whatever. I suggested us going softer (on the setup), and they’re like, ‘We’re as soft as we can get,’ and I said “Well, that ain’t soft enough!’

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that we’re as soft as we can go. You always think of different ways of being able to engineer something. Obviously, there’s a rulebook as well, too, and I have no familiarity with any of that. So I could be totally off base to what my team already knows and I don’t.”

The Rolex 24 has been unfamiliar territory for many NASCAR interlopers before Busch. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson and Busch’s older brother, Kurt, are among many who have crossed over with some success.

Buch hopes to match that as the latest interloper.

“It would mean a lot” to win, he said. “Of course I want to have fun, but more importantly, I want to go out there and win for Lexus and AIM Vasser Sullivan and be able to put on a good show for the fans that show up but also the NASCAR community as well.

“Definitely a lot of guys have shown their taste of the Rolex 24, and this is my chance to be able to do that, so just hope we can keep it all on the racetrack for the whole race and have a shot at the end.”

Kyle Busch calls out ‘guys who have never won Late Model races’ in Cup

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LAS VEGAS – A top-five comeback fit for a king Sunday night was ended by a driver Kyle Busch didn’t think was worthy of sharing the racetrack with him.

After scraping the wall and falling two laps down because of a green flag stop on Lap 11, the playoff points leader nearly battled all the way back to salvaging a strong finish in the Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But Busch finished a lap down in 19th after running into Garrett Smithley, whose No. 52 Ford finished 12 laps down in 35th.

“I was told he was going to go high,” Busch said in a postrace interview with Parker Kligerman on NBCSN (video above). “I thought he was going to go high. He went middle because I thought he was going to go high. Killed our day. I don’t know. Should have run fourth probably. Instead 19th.”

Smithley was making his 12th start in the Cup series. He has one top five in 133 starts across the Xfinity and truck series, and Busch questioned his credentials for running in NASCAR’s premier series.

“We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack,” Busch said. “It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Smithley told NASCAR.com’s Zack Albert after the race that Busch has “never been in the position we’ve been in, so he doesn’t know how that goes.” Albert also talked with Joey Gase, whose 38th-place car (which was 18 laps down) also seemed to impede Busch in the closing laps.

Before speaking with Kligerman, Busch made a brief visit to a postrace media bullpen provided by NASCAR. The 2015 series champion tersely answered eight questions, capping it with a “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” in a tribute to NFL star Marshawn Lynch (who happened to be the honorary pace car driver Sunday).

Busch, whose rebound came after taking a waveraound on a Lap 182 caution and then getting back on pit sequence because of a yellow on Lap 189, at least will carry a solid 36-point lead into Richmond Raceway, where he is the defending winner of the second race in the opening round of the playoffs.

By virtue of winning the regular-season title, Busch has a 45-point playoff margin (15 points more than teammate Denny Hamlin) that he will carry throughout the playoffs. It makes Busch a virtual cinch to advance, though he hardly found solace in that Sunday night.

“It’s pathetic to have to lean on insurance,” Busch said. “My premiums are going to go up.”

Xfinity Series practice report from Texas Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, posting a top speed of 187.813 mph.

He was followed by Brad Keselowski (186.884 mph).

The top five was completed by Tyler Reddick (186.884), Justin Allgaier (186.683) and Noah Gragson (186.239).

Kaz Grala, who is making his first start of the season this weekend, recorded the most laps with 51. He was eighth on the speed chart.

Reddick had the best 10-lap average at 185.244 mph.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Reddick was fastest in the first practice session.

Reddick posted a top speed of 187.357 mph to best Busch (187.045 mph).

In third was Reddick’s Richard Childress Racing teammate Grala (186.831).

The top five was completed by Christopher Bell (186.361) and Michael Annett (186.220).

Jeffrey Earnhardt spun early in the session in Turns 1-2 and barely avoided contact with the outside wall. He was 16th on the speed chart.

Click here for the practice report.

Entry lists for NASCAR at Texas

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Here are the entry lists for this weekend’s races at Texas Motor Speedway:

Cup – O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox)

Forty cars are entered. The No. 97 Chevrolet of Obaika Racing has not named a driver yet.

Non-Cup regulars entered include B.J. McLeod (No. 52 Ford of Rick Ware Racing), Timmy Hill (No. 66 Toyota of Motorsports Business Management), Garrett Smithley (No. 77 Chevrolet of Spire Motorsports) and Parker Kligerman (No. 96 Toyota of Gaunt Brothers Racing).

Kyle Busch, who will once again go for the third weekend sweep of his career, entered in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series races. He’s the only driver in NASCAR history to have won races in three national series at the same track in the same weekend. Both of those previously came at Bristol Motor Speedway (2010, 2017).

Click here for the Cup Series entry list.

Xfinity – Bariatric Solutions 300 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports 1)

Forty cars are entered.

Cup drivers entered: Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) and Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Team Penske Ford). 

Click here for the Xfinity Series entry list.

Trucks – Vankor 350 (9 p.m. ET Friday on Fox Sports 1)

Thirty-two trucks are entered.

Cup drivers entered: Busch (No. 51 Toyota of Kyle Busch Motorsports), Bubba Wallace (No. 22 Chevrolet of AM Racing and Ross Chastain (No. 45 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports).

Click here for Truck entry list

 

Kyle Busch has an idea for NASCAR’s Xfinity and Truck limits

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Busch would entertain the opportunity to pursue the one NASCAR championship that has eluded him – in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series – when his Cup career is over.

But he’s got an idea that would allow him to run both series concurrently and address the limits on Cup drivers running in lower series.

“Why don’t you let us run as many races as we want to run and then once we miss one, we’re done?” Busch pondered after his victory Saturday in the TruNorth Global 250 truck race at Martinsville Speedway. “So if I go all the way to (the June 15 race at Iowa Speedway) in the trucks and run 10 races and can’t go to Iowa, I’m done.

“You can race for points or whatever and so if that ever came down to that, then maybe there’d be an opportunity years down the road that then you can run multiple series and try to go after a championship that way.”

What was NASCAR’s reaction to the plan?

“That’s probably the first time I’ve said that or thought about it,” Busch said with a laugh. “Now that it’s out there … there’s not a damn fan that’s ever going to let it happen.”

Indeed, Busch’s 201st career victory in a NASCAR national series drew the usual outrage on social media Saturday, both from his Rowdy Nation legion of fans and those who vehemently believe he should be limited beyond the NASCAR cap of five truck races and seven Xfinity races allowed for full-time Cup drivers.

Busch has won in seven of 11 starts in trucks, Xfinity and Cup this season.

“Could have been nine or 10 (victories) probably, that’s what the scary part is if it wasn’t for simple mistakes,” Busch said. “Overall, it’s been fun. It’s a damn shame I’m only allowed five and seven.”

Busch has two 2019 starts left in trucks: at Texas Motor Speedway next week and Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

He said the chances are solid for going 5 for 5.

“I’d like to think Texas is a good place,” he said. “I think our guys have a good baseline. Charlotte is always one of my best tracks, favorite tracks and enjoy running there with the trucks, especially. There’s a good opportunity.

“It’s kind of an expectation (to win every race). We just go out, work hard and smart, and today we let the race play itself out and come to us.”

Busch won the 2009 Xfinity championship in the last season in which he ran full time in NASCAR’s top two series. He has focused solely on Cup full time since then, and NASCAR has changed rules over the past eight years limiting the ability to run for more than one title.

Despite 148 starts (and 54 victories), he is yet to run a full truck season, but the 2015 Cup champion has said he’d like to become the first driver to win a championship in each of NASCAR’s top three series.