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Kurt Busch on contract status beyond 2018: ‘we’ll see how it all comes together’

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LOUDON, N.H. — Former champion Kurt Busch said Friday that he’s focused on his performance on the track even though his contract ends after this season.

“For me, I’ve just been racing, driving and performing, doing all the things I can do to exceed in all categories, whether it’s teammate things, things on the track … communication with (crew chief) Billy Scott,” Busch said after winning the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“I don’t know many drivers that have a primary sponsor with them. Monster Energy has been very loyal to me. It’s just a matter of when the time is to start talking about a contract. Last year, it went long just because I felt I deserved more. The landscape is changing in NASCAR on primary sponsorship values, teams with the purse and the guarantee that they get off the historical performance. There are a lot of things that move, so we’ll see how it all comes together.”

MORE: Stewart-Haas Racing makes pit crew changes

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. laments sponsor leaving after this year

Last year, Stewart-Haas Racing declined the option on Busch’s contact when there were questions about if Monster Energy would return as a primary sponsor. After that was settled, Busch signed a one-year contract with the team. The deal was announced Dec. 12.

This is Busch’s fifth season with Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s won five races, including the 2017 Daytona 500 with the team. He has made the playoffs each year with SHR.

Busch’s pole Friday was his third of the year. He has yet to win a race this season but has 10 top-10 finishes.

“When you go to a track that you have good vibes about and with the team doing well, it gives you that feeling like you’re a step ahead and you just have to execute with confidence and not get too far off expecting good things to happen,” Busch said. “Just go out there and do your job and that’s what we’re doing right now and it’s great to have the pole with the 41 car.”

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Stewart-Haas Racing makes pit crew changes to all four Cup teams

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Stewart-Haas Racing has made changes to all four of its pit crews heading into Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NBC Sports has confirmed.

The changes come with two of the organization’s four teams qualified for the playoffs through wins — Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer — and Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola in position to make the playoffs via points.

The changes:

— Shayne Pipala becomes the front tire changer for Harvick’s team. He replaces Eric Maycroft, who moves to Michael McDowell’s team (Stewart-Haas Racing provides the pit crew for that Front Row Motorsports team).

— Ira Jo Hussey becomes the front tire changer for Bowyer’s team. He replaces Daniel Coffey.

— Matt Holzbaur becomes the tire carrier for Bowyer’s team. He replaces Josh Sobecki. Holzbaur had been with Michael McDowell’s team.

— Daniel Coffey moves to Almirola’s team as front tire changer. Coffey replaces Ryan Mulder.

— Ryan Mulder moves to Busch’s team as front tire changer. He replaces Shayne Pipala.

The changes come after Bowyer expressed his displeasure with his pit crew’s performance last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, saying:

“Can’t … maintain the position one … damn time on pit road. It’s about … ridiculous. I’m tired of it.

“I’ve had enough. Three spots every … damn time I come down pit road.”

At Chicagoland, Harvick led going into the final pit stop but got beat by Kyle Busch, who went on to win the race. Harvick finished third.

Bowyer addressed his pit crew change on Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR’s Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.”

“If you look at Stewart-Haas’ performance at any given race track, if we ever did have a weak link, it’s been documented it’s in that area,” Bowyer said. “We have time to fix that. We have time to correct it, whether it’s coaching or a different process. This is still a relatively new process for everybody in the garage area that we’re doing one less guy and everything else. The guys are still learning. No different than anything else in life, you’re only as good as the people around you and sometime you just don’t get lined up with the right team or whatever the case may be.

Due to a busy schedule with testing this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway and media obligations, Bowyer said he hasn’t been to the shop and doesn’t know “what all’s been changed.”

“I’m excited to see how the changes change my program, not only mine, but the 41 and the 4,” Bowyer said. “We’ve all had some changes, some minor changes, nothing’s major. I don’t think we have a major problem. We just got to get it nipped in the bud here with seven races to go before the pay window opens in the playoffs.”

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Clint Bowyer to honor Ned Jarrett with Darlington throwback scheme

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Clint Bowyer will honor Hall of Fame driver Ned Jarrett with his paint scheme for the Sept. 2 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Fifty-three years ago Jarrett won the 1965 Southern 500 by 14 laps – and it is fitting that victory will be honored by the No. 14 car.

“Stewart-Haas Racing and the Carolina Ford Dealers got together and decided to honor someone who’s had such a huge influence in the sport, and we immediately thought of Ned Jarrett,” Bowyer said in a press release.

Bowyer will not have the same dominant performance as Jarrett did when he won his 49th and next-to-last Cup race. But just like in 1965, Bowyer knows that winning the Southern 500 is about conserving equipment.

“We ran well during the race and led some laps and then things began to turn our way in the last 100 miles or so,” Jarrett recalled of that hot summer day.

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Battling an overheating problem, the crew tried to call Jarrett into the pits.

“I knew we didn’t need to pit, but they knew the car was overheating, so I kept going because something told me stronger than the officials of Ford and my own pit crew that I needed to stay out there and keep going.”

Jarrett was correct and he went into the record books that afternoon with the biggest margin of victory in the history of NASCAR.

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With 10-year-old car set to be retired, Kaz Grala earns first top five for Fury Race Cars

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Before going to Daytona International Speedway last week, Kaz Grala and Fury Race Cars made Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste a promise.

They promised to return a decade-old car with minimal racing history to the team unscratched.

They did this not knowing Friday’s Xfinity race at the restrictor-plate track would include multi-car incidents involving 17 and nine vehicles respectively.

Fury Race Cars, a team only five races old and racing week-to-week, had secured sponsorship for Daytona. But among the fleet of cars given to it by Grala’s former team JGL Racing, there wasn’t a superspeedway car.

“About two weeks ago we started making phone calls and putting feelers out saying, ‘Hey, this is the last race these steel-bodied cars could even be legal to run on a restrictor-plate track, does anyone have some extra ones, backup cars?” Grala told NBC Sports two days after he finished fifth at Daytona. “We weren’t thinking show cars at the time, but just any spare car they didn’t plan on running that weekend that would be obsolete after this weekend.”

Enter Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste.

They had a car. One that traced its origins back to Evernham Motorsports, a team that ceased to exist after 2008. From there it was owned by Richard Petty Motorsports. Then it went to Biagi-DenBeste Racing and finally Stewart-Haas Racing, who entered a partnership with Biagi-DenBeste in the Xfinity Series this season.

The car had never run a lap for SHR and with steel bodied cars in Xfinity going extinct after Saturday’s race, the team was prepping to turn it into a show car.

“I was excited about it because it was a car,” Grala said. “It might have been a show car, but Biagi and obviously Stewart-Haas always have good plate track cars so I knew it had potential. … As long we stayed out of the carnage … It’s just a lot easier to think about it beforehand than to actually get it done.”

After starting 38th due to qualifying being cancelled, Grala finished 13th in Stage 1. He then dodged his first bullet on Lap 82 when he managed to navigate his No. 61 Ford through a 17-car wreck that took “5 years off my life.”

After a Lap 88 restart, the caution returned a lap later for a three-car incident. Grala was ninth. But the 19-year-old driver felt something wrong with his car, which was loose under caution. Determining his right-rear tire was done and so was his race, he slowed to pit road speed as the rest of the field returned to racing speed.

Grala returned to the track in 24th with the field bearing down on him.

“That pack was getting a lot larger in my mirror and I was just praying that something was going to happen and there’d be a caution,” Grala said. “Sure enough my spotter said, ‘Oh, they’re wrecking behind you.’ I look in my mirror and I see smoke and sparks and a caution’s out.”

A nine-car wreck with three laps left in regulation led to Grala restarting 15th in overtime. On the last lap, he moved from the bottom to the high lane, which “panned out really good” for Grala, as momentum allowed him to push Christopher Bell and Justin Haley to the front and him to a fifth-place finish in a spotless car.

It was his second top five of the season and the first for Fury Race Cars.

“Looking at it from our organization and what we were able to do with that old show car, fifth is good no matter what,” Grala said. “We didn’t have a single scratch on our car. We didn’t even have so much as a donut. (The flat tire) must have been a stroke of bad luck, but you say that, but it’s hard to say whether it was a blessing in a disguise or not. Because obviously there was that big wreck. Whose to say whether we would have been ahead of it, behind it, in the middle of it had we been where we should have been. It’s easy to look back on it and say ‘I think we would have been better off.’ Who knows?

“All I know is that the way it did work out, it worked out for us.”

Grala announced on Twitter Tuesday his team was unable to secure sponsorship for this weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, but that Fury has sponsorship for the July 21 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Without attempting to qualifying for every race this season, Grala will be ineligible for the payoffs were he to be inside the cutoff line at the end of the regular season. He left Daytona 14th in the standings. Twelve drivers make the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick on stage race with Kurt Busch: ‘Every point matters’

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Kevin Harvick explained Tuesday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show why he raced Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch so hard at the end of stage 2 at Chicagoland Speedway and his reaction to Busch’s radio rant.

Harvick passed Busch on the outside coming to the line to win the stage Sunday and score 10 points — and most importantly — one playoff point.

Busch went on a profanity-laced tirade on his radio before saying: “That’s a teammate right there everybody. That’s what a teammate does. Never expected that from a teammate.”

On his show “Happy Hours,” Harvick said:

“For us and the No. 4 team, I mean, every point matters. Honestly, I didn’t hit him. I didn’t run into him. Didn’t move him out of the way. So, he kind of has those tirades on the radio quite a bit.

“I think for me, it’s really about the (playoff) point. When you look at the weekend, we felt like we were not where we wanted to be from a car standpoint and were able to get a good points weekend out of it and a stage win. I hate that it hurt his feelings, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Harvick agreed that a teammate is given more respect on the track but said it’s still racing.

“It’s a situation where (at Stewart-Haas Racing) you are expected to race hard,” Harvick said. “There are no team orders. Everybody wants you to go out and race as hard as you can, and they want you to race each other as hard as you can without tearing up your race cars.

“For me, I didn’t see anything that was out of bounds. When (NBC Sports’) Dave (Burns) asked me that question after the race (about Busch), I didn’t, obviously, hear the radio communication and the things out of Kurt’s mouth. But for me in the car, I thought it was a good race, gave him thumbs up down the backstraightaway and he gave me the thumbs up back.

“I thought all was good. Like I say, those meltdowns are not uncommon from that particular radio.”

By winning the stage, Harvick increased his total to 27 playoffs points. Kyle Busch has a series-high 30 playoff points. Kurt Busch has two playoff points.

“Right now you want to try to win every stage, you want to try to win every race and everything you can because you never know what’s going to happen,” Harvick said. “You look at Kyle Larson last year. Everybody thought Kyle Larson was a lock to the end of the year because of the bonus points he had. Well, guess what, he blew a motor and wrecked, all in one (round). … Anything can happen, no matter how many bonus points you have. But the more that you can gather, the more cushion that you give yourself against as many mistakes.”

This isn’t the first difference of opinion between the two former champions at SHR.

They had issues after the race at Talladega Superspeedway in the 2016 playoffs. Busch hit Harvick’s car on the cool-down lap. After they parked on pit road, Harvick went to Busch’s car, reached in with his right hand and leaned into the car.

Here is the video of what happened in that 2016 race and what both said afterward: