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Kurt Busch to make 700th career Cup start

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Former champion Kurt Busch will make his 700th career Cup start today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports App).

Busch becomes only the 16th driver to amass at least 700 career Cup starts. Richard Petty owns the series record with 1,185 starts.

Busch, who starts second today at Indy, has the most career starts among active drivers. He has two more starts than Kevin Harvick, who is scheduled to make his 700th career Cup start July 19 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch made his first career Cup start Sept. 24, 2000 at Dover, finishing 18th.

He has 31 career victories, including the 2017 Daytona 500. Busch won the 2004 Cup title. He has 307 career top-10 finishes.

The 41-year-old marvels at making his 700th career Cup start today.

“It’s amazing,” Busch said. “To have this opportunity and to have been blessed to have raced with so many great race teams over the years, just making it past the local track was something that I thought was an achievement because my dad was a local racer. He won a lot. But it was like money, sponsors, and the whole challenge of even getting to like the Southwest Tour and Late Model division, that was even tough for us way back in the past.

“So, it’s amazing. Twenty years of racing at the top series level and now having 700 starts, I never would have guessed.”

Busch is 10th in points entering today’s race. He has yet to win his year but has three top-five finishes and nine top-10 results in 15 starts for Chip Ganassi Racing.

MOST CAREER CUP STARTS

1,185 – Richard Petty

906 – Ricky Rudd

890 – Terry Labonte

883 – Dave Marcis

882 – Mark Martin

829 – Kyle Petty

828 – Bill Elliott

809 – Darrell Waltrip

805 – Jeff Gordon

784 – Michael Waltrip

763 – Ken Schrader

748 – Sterling Marlin

729 – Bobby Labonte

706 – Rusty Wallace

700 – Kurt Busch

With career shift to baseball, Elliott Sadler managing in more ways than one

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Elliott Sadler no longer has a fire suit hanging in his closet these days. Instead, it’s a baseball uniform. He’s also moved on from “Drivers, Start Your Engines” to “Play Ball.”

And with the coronavirus pandemic keeping he and his family in their Emporia, Virginia farmhouse, Sadler can’t help but keep hearing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in his mind.

After 23 years of racing in NASCAR, Sadler is on to the next chapter of his life, coaching baseball and softball.

Elliott Sadler at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2018. Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images.

“I love it, absolutely love it,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “I’m being able to give back and help some kids and show them some ins and outs and prepare them.

“And if they do a good job and make it to college or have a chance to go to college, then we feel like we’ve given them a platform, opened a door for them. Then that’s great, we’ve done what we’re supposed to do.”

Until the coronavirus hit, Sadler was managing or coaching seven different baseball teams, including a traveling squad that plays throughout Virginia, North and South Carolina and was scheduled to play this summer in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“I’m probably busier now than I was when I was racing,” said Sadler, who in addition to the traveling team also coaches a high school junior varsity team, a recreation league team and four youth teams that are part of the TopHand Sports Academy in Emporia.

“I have a new life now with baseball and softball and the new organization I’m part of,” Sadler said of TopHand. “That’s an every day of the week job. We have 360 kids involved in our program and that’s what I put all my attention into now. I’m not worried about getting back in a race car.”

Being unable to hold batting practice or attend games, Sadler is still in close contact with his players – albeit not in-person.

“Yeah, it’s sad,” Sadler said. “We’d been working together since November non-stop to get ready for the season to start. And then the first week of the tournament gets cancelled because of the coronavirus, which it should.

“It’s just so hard to see them work so hard, get ready and then nothing. They don’t understand it as much as we do as grownups about what’s actually going on and what we have to do to keep each other safe. So I’m really heartbroken for them.”

But Sadler is still able to stay in touch with his players.

“I’m doing a lot of video conferences and lessons, then I’ll send it to (his players) so that when they’re at home, they can learn stuff and do things as well,” Sadler said. “We’re trying to stay as connected to them as we can but it’s tough.”

As much as Sadler loves his new calling, he’s also spending plenty of time these days working on his iRacing skills.

“It definitely gets your competitive juices flowing,” Sadler said. “I think anybody who’s a competitor, no matter what you do, you want to compete and do good and do the best you can.

“My son (Wyatt) and daughter (Austyn) both love it, as well. It’s been neat that we’re all kind of enjoying this experience together for the first time.”

But forget about Sadler – who retired after two starts last season in the Xfinity Series – potentially considering a comeback in real-life racing.

“Never, never, I did it for 23 years, that was long enough,” he said. “I had some great experiences and some tough ones as well, but I did plenty of time in that. I have no interest at all of getting back in a real car or truck or anything like that. This iRacing is fine for me.”

And there’s an extra benefit. With iRacing, Sadler doesn’t have to worry about the impacts as when he did in a car. “Now, if I hit something, I’m not going to be in too bad of shape. I can hit reset and start all over again,” he said with a laugh.

With this being Racing Week in America on NBCSN, Sadler reflected on two specific races that will be replayed: the 2001 July summer race at Daytona (8-10 p.m. ET today on NBCSN) and the 2004 Brickyard 400 (Midnight to 2 a.m. ET early Friday morning).

The 2001 July race at Daytona marked the first time Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the rest of the NASCAR community returned to the track after Dale Earnhardt Sr. perished. Dale Earnhardt Jr. would go on to win the race (followed by Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip and Sadler in third).

Here’s how Sadler remembered that race:

“Dale Jr., a couple of his best friends, and myself and two of my best friends, rented a house in Daytona the week of that race. We hung out together for a week before that race. I think Junior wanted to go back there in his own terms and go on the track on his own terms.

“We hung out together, kind of eased ourselves back into the Daytona limelight, partied, took care of each other, had a lot of laughs and good times for the week before the race even started. They also had a big concert there and we got to hang out with Hootie and the Blowfish and Kenny Chesney.

“It was a special weekend. It was neat for us finishing third. We had a pretty decent car all night. That was back in the day when all the DEI cars were faster than everybody else on restrictor-plate races. What I remember most about that race was the last pit stop. We came out and Michael Waltrip was right behind me when we left pit road. The race was still under caution and I think we were running something like 14th or 15th.

“I decided to pull over and let him pass me under caution, which NASCAR won’t let you do that now but they weren’t paying attention back then (he laughed). I pulled over to let him pass me because I knew he was going to be so fast anyway, that way I could just follow him through the field to the front. Where if he was behind me, all I was thinking was he was going to leave me out to dry and everybody’s going to go with him. I let him by me and followed him up through the pack and all the way to finish third.

“I had no chance (of catching Junior) and I knew that. My car wouldn’t leave real fast but it would push pretty good. I knew if I could get behind Michael and follow him and make moves and stay close to him I’d be in pretty decent shape, and that’s the way it turned out.”

Elliott Sadler talks with NASCAR on NBC analyst, NASCAR Hall of Famer and former teammate Dale Jarrett  in 2018. Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images.

Then there was the 2004 Brickyard 400. Jeff Gordon won in overtime, followed by Yates Racing teammates Dale Jarrett and Sadler.

“I had a really good car the whole race,” said Sadler, who started and finished third. “Coming down towards the end of the race, I felt like I had a little bit faster car than my teammate, Dale (Jarrett), but I couldn’t figure out a real good way to get by him.

“He was so good and didn’t slip any. I felt like if I could get by him and I could get to Gordon and make something happen if I got to him as compared to trying to make something happen with my teammate.

“But to finish third to Jeff Gordon and my teammate was really neat at a place like Indy, but I really felt like I let one get away there.”

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April 7 in NASCAR: Joey Logano earns overtime win vs Jeff Gordon

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Joey Logano had a rough go of it in the first five full-time years of his NASCAR Cup Series career.

From 2009-13, the Connecticut native earned only three wins, with two years separating his first and second wins with Joe Gibbs Racing.

His third win came in 2013 in his first season with Team Penske.

Logano finally started hitting his stride on April 7, 2014 at Texas Motor Speedway.

After having led 107 laps, the race came down to an overtime finish with Logano restarting third behind Jeff Gordon. Logano was on four new tires while Gordon was on two new tires.

Gordon led the first lap of overtime, but Logano was side-by-side with him as they took the white flag.

By the time they reached Turn 1, the lead was Logano’s.

One lap later, Logano had his fourth career win. He was the seventh different winner through seven races.

Two races later Logano would claim career win No. 5 at Richmond Raceway. He’d end the year with five wins and would be part of the first Championship 4 in Miami.

Also on this date:

1957: Fireball Roberts led a 1-2-3-4 sweep by Peter DePaolo’s team in a 100-mile race at North Wilkesboro. Roberts won over Paul Goldsmith, Ralph Moody and Marvin Panch. It was the first of three wins in a row for Roberts.

1966: Ford began a boycott of the Cup Series by its factory teams over regulations on its OHC engine. The boycott lasted until August after a race at Atlanta.

1974: David Pearson won the Rebel 450 at Darlington over Bobby Allison. Similar to many races that year, the race distance was cut by 50 miles due to the national energy crisis. Ironically, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era,” Pearson led the final 11 laps and had to coast across the finish line after running out of fuel.

1991: Michael Waltrip led 208 of 367 laps at Darlington before a 37.4-second pit stop due to a jammed air hose relegated him to an eventual third-place finish, according to “NASCAR: A Complete History.” Ricky Rudd wound up with the win over Davey Allison.

Rodney Childers agrees to multi-year extension with Stewart-Haas Racing

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Rodney Childers has agreed to a multi-year extension to remain as crew chief for Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal first reported the news Monday.

Childers then took to Twitter to confirm the report.

 

Childers, 43, has 28 career wins as a Cup crew chief, 25 of those coming with Harvick. Harvick and Childers both joined SHR in 2014 and went on to win the Cup championship that first season together. They also finished runner-up in 2015 and third in both 2017 and 2018.

In addition to Harvick, Childers has also worked with several other drivers in his Cup career, including Scott Riggs, Patrick Carpentier, Elliott Sadler, David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.

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Long: Heated radio chatter raises questions about who is driving

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RICHMOND, Va. — For at least the second time this season, a crew chief told his driver to retaliate after contact from another car, raising questions about such emotional outbursts and the actions that follow.

Car owner Richard Childress and crew chief Danny Stockman each told Austin Dillon on the team’s radio to pay Alex Bowman back for an incident on the Lap 109 restart Saturday at Richmond. Bowman’s contact sent Dillon’s car into William Byron’s, causing more damage to Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

Childress told his grandson to “get (Bowman’s) ass back if you get to him.”

Stockman told Dillon:

“Get him back.

“Get him back.

“Get him back.

Get … him … back … now.”

Dillon did as told and spun Bowman but the contact also damaged Dillon’s car.

Later, as Dillon tried to dissect his car’s handling at the end of stage 2 on Lap 200, he mentioned the incident earlier in the race: “I don’t have a good idea for you. We ruined our car in a wreck for no reason. I didn’t think we needed to do that.”

Ultimately, the driver is responsible for what they do with the car. But when a driver is agitated after being hit by a competitor and told to “get him back” as Dillon was, it puts the driver in a difficult situation. Ignore the crew chief — and the car owner in this case — and it can lead to questions about team leadership among crew members and who can hear the conversations on their headsets. Do as told and it can make a bad situation worse.

It did for William Byron at Watkins Glen.

Kyle Busch spun while underneath Byron’s car in Turn 1. Busch caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, forcing it through the grass in the inner loop.

Crew chief Chad Knaus told Byron on the radio: “If I see that 18 (Busch) come back around without you knocking the (expletive) out of him, we’re going to have a problem.”

Byron, following the orders of a seven-time champion crew chief, did as he was told and had a bigger problem.

Seeing Byron behind him under caution, Busch hit his brakes and Byron slammed into the back of Busch’s car. The contact smashed the nose of Byron’s car. Byron, who started second, finished 21st and was never a factor after the incident.

Byron called the Watkins Glen episode a “turning point. I realized I’m the guy driving the car and ultimately the decisions that I make … trickles down to my team and all the work they’re putting in.”

Another key is what is said on the radio and how it is said between Knaus and Byron.

“I think the only thing is just staying positive and staying motivated in the race,” Byron said. “I don’t seem to do well with like negative energy.”

How did he get his point across?

“I think situations have played out on the track to where it’s kind of been understood that we’ve got to do things a different way,” Byron said. “We both have our way of doing things. I’ve really accepted the way he does things, and he’s accepted the way I do things. Any good working relationship is kind of that compromise.”

It’s understandable that crew chiefs and teams will be upset when somebody damages their car. To have all the work that goes into each race impacted by some driver’s mistake or recklessness is frustrating and infuriating.

But for those who talk to a driver on the radio during a race comes great responsibility. One can calm a driver and focus on the task at hand or inflame the situation.

When a situation escalates, the results are never good.

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Although he tied his best finish of the season Saturday night at Richmond, placing fifth wasn’t the biggest achievement to Ryan Newman.

“What meant to me the most was just being better than we were the first race,” said Newman, who finished ninth at Richmond in the April. “We came back and showed that we were learning and we’ll keep learning.”

Such improvement has put the Roush Fenway Racing driver — who didn’t secure a playoff spot until the regular-season finale — in position to advance to the second round after Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Newman enters the weekend ninth in the standings, 14 points ahead of Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a playoff spot.

Ryan Newman’s finishing position has improved 3.8 positions in the six races Cup teams have visited a track for a second time this year. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Newman is one of four playoff drivers — Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are the others — who have finished better in their second appearance at a playoff track than the first time this year. Newman’s 10th-place finish in the Las Vegas playoff opener was 14 places better than he finished there in March. His Richmond race was four spots better than his spring result.

“We hoped every time we got back (to a track a second time) we would be better,” Scott Graves, Newman’s crew chief, told NBC Sports after the Richmond race. “This was a good race for us in the spring. We took all our notes there and we knew what we needed to do differently. When you get here and you unload and the car is good right from the bat and you can just make fine adjustments, it just makes the weekend go easier. We were able to do that this time.”

Richmond marked the sixth time that Cup has raced at a track for a second time this season. The others are Daytona, Las Vegas, Bristol, Pocono and Michigan.

Newman has improved 3.8 positions the second time at those tracks, ranking fourth among playoff drivers. Newman trails Larson (gain of 11.2 positions), Martin Truex Jr. (9.2) and William Byron (4.5).

“I feel like we really struggled to figure out where the balance of the car needed to be the first time around,” Graves said. “How much drag did we need? How much downforce did we need? Then mechanically, what did we need in the car. It’s kind of like those learn-by-trial kind of things. We went, ‘OK that didn’t work but we think we know what we need now.’ ”

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The six lead changes Saturday at Richmond were the fewest there since the 2014 fall race, which had four lead changes among two drivers.

Both Richmond races this season combined for 10 cautions (five in each race). Last year’s two Richmond races combined for nine cautions.

Clint Bowyer, who finished eighth, expressed his frustration with this past weekend’s race.

We have to figure something out with this track and our package,” Bowyer said. “I’m not sold that this is the best product we can do here. I love this place. I love the race track. I love this fan base, this area and everything. Ever since I started in this sport, this has always been an action track and it’s lacking a little bit of that. 

“I think we could do some things with maybe some PJ1 or sealer or tires – something. We need to try to make an adjustment, I really believe that.”

Kevin Harvick was asked the day before last weekend’s race if traction compound should be used at Richmond to help drivers with passing.

“I honestly thought we would have traction compound down for this particular race,” he said. “Using the tire dragon here does zero.”

So where would it be best to apply traction compound at Richmond?

“Chase Elliott had the best idea, just like we used to do with the sealer, just coat the whole corner,” Harvick said. “Let it ride for the weekend. Let the race track evolve. It’s become one of the most difficult places to pass. It’s become more difficult this year. I think the traction compound would definitely be a good option.”

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Clint Bowyer is a free agent after this season but signs point to him returning to Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

Bowyer noted that he did a Mobil 1 shoot last week with Kevin Harvick for next year.

Bowyer said a new contract is “not done” but “I’m comfortable where it’s at. We’re working on partnerships for next year and having success there.”

Bowyer is in his third season at Stewart-Haas Racing, taking over the No. 14 ride after Tony Stewart retired. Bower has won twice with the team, scoring victories at Martinsville and Michigan in 2018.

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There was a buzz in the garage over the weekend about possible changes for pit stops next year in the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

That buzz intensified after Michael Waltrip tweeted that stage breaks without live pit stops for the Xfinity and Truck Series would be “absolutely the right thing to do” to help teams save money while also providing more racing action.

NASCAR had no comment about the issue and Waltrip’s tweets.

It’s clear based on the chatter in the garage that NASCAR is taking a look at potential changes to pit stops. In making the switch to 18-inch wheels with the Gen 7 car, which is scheduled to debut in 2021, NASCAR also is considering the use of a single lug nut to secure wheels. Such a move would overhaul pit stops and likely de-emphasize the importance of tire changers. 

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