Kyle Petty: NASCAR should ‘step into’ Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. feud

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NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty believes NASCAR should “step into” the Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. feud before it erupts into a repeat of the Matt Kenseth-Joey Logano feud from 2015.

Petty made his comments Saturday on NASCAR America prior to the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“Where is NASCAR?” Petty said. “They didn’t step in when Logano and Kenseth got in their scrap and we saw how that ended up at Martinsville. We heard Ricky say, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ That seems to be a little bit over the line. NASCAR needs to step into this before it ends up on the race track and these other 36, 37 guys are involved in something that’s not of their making. … I don’t care who it is. NASCAR needs to step into this.”

After Kenseth was spun by Logano in the closing laps of a playoff race at Kansas Speedway, the feud simmered for weeks until Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano in the playoff race at Martinsville Speedway while Logano was leading. Kenseth was punished with a two-race suspension.

Stenhouse and Busch have been at odds since last weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch and Stenhouse were running 2-3 in Stage 2 when Stenhouse attempted to side-draft off Busch’s car. The two made contact, sending Busch into the wall. The resulting incident collected six cars.

That was 10 laps after a 26-car incident that began when Brad Keselowski, who was in second and being pushed by Stenhouse, checked up due to a block from William Byron and spun off Stenhouse’s bumper.

On Friday, Busch said he was “disappointed” Stenhouse hadn’t reached out to apologize.

“He wiped out half the field,” Busch said. “Pretty sure there would be a pretty busy Monday for him but there wasn’t. So, apparently he just doesn’t care.”

Asked if he would race Stenhouse differently, Busch said: “I can’t worry about people that far back in the field.”

During qualifying later in the day, Stenhouse approached and spoke to Busch as he sat in his car.

“I told him that, I was like, ‘Hey, you’re right, you do run a lot further up front, but pick and choose your battles wisely because you will have to deal with me sometime whether you are lapping me or we get our cars better and we are up there racing with you,’” Stenhouse told NBC Sports. “So I told him if you want to keep running his mouth, he can come over and do it around me and I’ll stop it for him myself.”

Busch starts fifth in tonight’s race. Stenhouse starts 14th.

Before the race NBC Sports’ Marty Snider asked Stenhouse if he’ll race Busch differently.

“No, I won’t, unless he gives me another reason to,” Stenhouse said. “I don’t ever plan on getting into anybody on purpose or holding up a leader if they’re lapping me.”

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Kentucky in last three seasons

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Fantasy owners will want to take a deep breath this week and shrug off the beating they took at Daytona International Speedway in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Before the race began, Denny Hamlin predicted a crash fest. Last week’s fantasy preview suggested avoiding the Big 3 because of the prevalence of accidents. Players who mostly avoided the marquee drivers are the one who moved up in their league.

Now, it’s time to go back to the drivers who have dominated all season to set this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are all in this week’s top five along with Hamlin and a surprising Jamie McMurray. There are other solid dark horse contenders in the bottom of the top 10.

As it has been all season, the secret to success is going to be selecting the right two drivers to pair with the Big 3 – and of course playing close attention during the race. Follow along with Rotoworld’s twitter account (@Rotoworld_Auto) [https://twitter.com/Rotoworld_Auto] for updates during the race to help decide who to move into or out of the garage.

1. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 6.00)
Busch’s numbers at Kentucky are even better than they would appear at first glance. With a career average of 5.1 in seven races, this is the best track on which he’s competed.

2. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 7.33)
Hamlin has been able to overcome pit road mistakes and he will challenge for wins as soon as those are eliminated. Two of his last three Kentucky attempts ended in top fives. He has also been consistently strong on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this season with three top fives and a seventh in six races.

3. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 8.67)
While Harvick’s average is great at Kentucky, he has not yet scored a top five on this track. His best effort was a seventh in 2014, but that won’t matter Saturday night – he will still challenge for the win.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 9.33)
Eventually the remainder of the field is going to catch up to the Big 3, but this is not the week to bet against them. Truex’s victory in last year’s Quaker State 400 suggests he could become the first driver other than Busch or Harvick to win on a 1.5-mile track this season.

4. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 9.33)
His track records have not been predictive very many times this season, but that might change for McMurray at Kentucky. He came close to breaking into the top 10 on the most recent 1.5-mile track with a 12th at Chicagoland two weeks ago and enters the weekend with back-to-back seventh-place finishes in the 2016 and 2017 Quaker State 400s.

6. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 10.00)
Given how much the No. 6 has struggled this year, Kenseth cannot be considered a good value in fantasy racing – unless he posts speeds in the top 10 in practice. If that happens, he could be one of the best dark horses available and could help make the difference on the NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.

7. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 14.67)
Busch lost an engine with 10 laps remaining in this race last year. That snapped a four-race streak of results 12th or better. Given his consistently strong efforts for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, it is likely that he will get back into the top 10 this week.

8. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 15.00)
For Newman, Kentucky has been an all-or-nothing track. In the last four years, he has either finished third or in the 20s in alternating races. If the pattern holds, he should score a top five this week, but that is not something he has done on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track in the past two seasons.

9. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 15.33)
Keselowski has won at Kentucky in every even-numbered year since the Cup series began coming to this track. It’s a quirky little stat that doesn’t necessarily predict another win, but top-10s in five of seven races suggest he will at least run well.

10. Aric Almirola (three-year average: 16.00 in two starts)
Almirola missed last year due to injury. That means his latest attempt on this track ended in a 20th in 2016. In five starts at Kentucky, he has scored only two top 15s and no top 10s, so fantasy players are going to want to wait until he gets through practice before deciding whether to roll the dice on the No. 10.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: The similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks have been egalitarian in regard to who has won poles, but the Busch brothers have managed to grab two apiece. Kurt took the top spot at Michigan and Texas; Kyle led the field to green at Charlotte and Atlanta, so they deserve special attention in the first practice session this week to gauge how fast they are in Q trim. Paul Menard (Chicagoland), Harvick (Kansas), Truex (Auto Club), and Ryan Blaney (Las Vegas) also bear watching.

Segment Winners: The two drivers who have combined to win every 1.5-mile race this year also have the most segment wins. Harvick has five to Busch’s four – and while it is hard to bet against them, four other drivers have been able to challenge them at the end of the stages. Kyle Larson, Keselowski, Blaney, and Almirola each have one segment win. With 65, Kurt Busch has the most segment points on 1.5-mile tracks without winning a stage.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Who’s hot, who’s not in Cup Series heading to Kentucky

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A look at some of the drivers who are streaking or reeling heading into Saturday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

HOT

  • In 18 races in 2018, 14 finishes of 7th or better (including 5 wins) & 4 finishes of 19th or worse
  • Finished in the Top 5 in 18 of the last 25 races, dating back to last season
  • 5 straight Top 10s at Kentucky
  • Never finished worse than 16th in 7 Kentucky starts
  • Won 4 of last 8 races on 1.5-mile tracks

Kyle Busch

  • Won 5 of the last 12 races
  • Finished in the Top 10 in 6 of the last 7 races
  • Finished in the Top 5 in 12 of 18 races this season
  • Finished in Top 10 in 6 of 7 starts at Kentucky, including 2 wins
  • Never finished worse than 12th in 7 Kentucky starts
  • Won 3 of last 4 races on 1.5-mile tracks

Erik Jones

  • Won at Daytona
  • Finished 7th or better in 3 straight races
  • First first-time winner since Ryan Blaney at Pocono in June 2017
  • Led only 2 laps and scored 1 stage point in last 3 races, despite 3 straight Top 10s
  • Top 10 in 4 of last 5 races on 1.5-mile tracks

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Finished 2nd at Daytona
  • Finished 4th or better in 3 straight races
  • Finished in the Top 5 in 7 of the last 8 races
  • Won 2 of the last 5 races
  • 4 Top 10s in 7 starts at Kentucky, including win in 2017
  • Won 7 of last 16 races on 1.5-mile tracks (none in 2018)
  • Finished 8th or better in 16 of last 17 races on 1.5-mile tracks

Alex Bowman

  • Finished 10th at Daytona
  • Finished in the Top 10 in 3 straight races and 4 of the last 6
  • Top-10 finishes in the last two races on 1.5 mile tracks

 

NOT

Jamie McMurray

  • Finished 30th at Daytona
  • Finished 15th or worse in 14 of 18 races this season
  • 2 straight finishes of 7th at Kentucky
  • 3 Top 10s in 7 starts at Kentucky, including the last two races
  • Top 10 two of the last four races on 1.5 mile tracks

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

  • Finished 17th at Daytona
  • Finished outside the top-10 in 7 of the last 8 races
  • Finished 14th or worse in 14 of 18 races in 2018
Ryan Blaney
  • Finished 40th at Daytona
  • Finished 18th or worse in last 3 races, including 2 of 34th or worse
  • Finished 35th (2016) and 10th (2017) in 2 career Kentucky starts

Chase Elliott

  • Finished 34th at Daytona
  • Finished 19th or worse in last 2 races
  • Finished outside the top-10 in 5 of last 8 races
  • Finished 11th or worse in 5 straight races on 1.5-mile tracks

Matt Kenseth

  • Finished 8th or better in 6 of 7 starts at Kentucky, including win in 2013
  • Finished 13th or worse in 4 starts in 2018 (last start – 33rd at Michigan)
  • Never finished worse than 17th in 7 starts at Kentucky
  • Average finish of 26.5 in 2 starts on 1.5-mile tracks for Roush in 2018

 

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. always in motion whether at home or at track

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For a kid who liked to play in the dirt and later raced on it, the name of his property pays homage to dirt track racing and a move that has gained notoriety in NASCAR in the last week.

Slide Job Ranch.

This is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s home. His sister lives on the property. He has a spot for his parents to live when his mother retires.

Tucked near the woods in one section of the property near Mooresville, North Carolina, is a patch of land where grass grows in sections not run over by dirt bikes. There are mounds for jumping, banked corners and a path through the woods.

For the defending winner of tonight’s Daytona Cup race (7 p.m. ET on NBC), this is his place to relax, shed the pressures of trying to make the playoffs and get dirty.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after winning last July’s Daytona race. (Photo by Getty Images)

Stenhouse’s victory in this race is the last time he’s visited Victory Lane in Cup. He won two races last year, earned a spot in the playoffs and finished 13th in the points.

This season has been more challenging at Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse has three top-10 finishes in the first 17 races. He enters tonight’s event 23 points out of a playoff spot. Teammate Trevor Bayne also has struggled. Roush Fenway Racing brought in Matt Kenseth to drive Bayne’s car in select races and help diagnose the team’s woes.

Kenseth has found that organization has much work to do, echoing comments Stenhouse has made throughout the season.

Stenhouse’s frustration grew during last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. He told his team on the radio: “It’s almost like we’re designing these cars to see how slow we can run.”

Stenhouse recovered to finish 16th. It was his best finish in the last three races.

“We’ve had some tough conversations these last few weeks,” Stenhouse said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. “I think I’ve been pretty vocal in the shop and sometimes whether it be in an interview or on the radio probably when I shouldn’t, and I definitely need to respect all of our guys at the shop that are working hard and trying to provide new stuff for us. 

“We just haven’t got that new stuff as quick as what we wanted.  I think last week I got a little frustrated hearing other teams bringing new cars to the track and kind of seeing their performance have an uptick and then some of those cars we’re racing to get it the playoffs, so that’s kind of where the frustration comes in. 

“We got a better finish out of it than I thought, but we’re working hard. We’ve got some things in the works, it’s just not here right now. That’s a bummer. We’re hoping that we can get some new stuff soon.”

After days like those, time on his dirt bike can help him push such performances in the past.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at his dirt track. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“Building this track and just drawing it on a piece of paper and then kind of trying to make it come to life out here was pretty fun,” Stenhouse told NBC Sports on a warm May day as he leaned against one of his bikes before joining Ryan Blaney on the course.

It takes him back to his youth. Stenhouse got his first dirt bike when he was 4 years old. His father had grown up riding dirt bikes.

“It was what we did when we weren’t racing,” Stenhouse said. “Sundays after church we would always go dirt bike riding with a group.”

Stenhouse’s path went in a different direction when he was 5 years old. His dad took him to a dirt go-kart track. Stenhouse spent half the day riding his dirt bike and the other half in a go-kart.

He was racing go-karts at age 6.

“I don’t know why I chose the go-kart,” Stenhouse said. “I guess for maybe one thing watching my dad race sprint cars. I knew that go-karts would probably lead more to that direction. To me sprint cars are probably the purest form of racing there is and something I’ll always love going to.”

Even so, dirt bikes have always remained something Stenhouse enjoyed.

“Growing up, I was a big fan of Jeremy McGrath,” Stenhouse said of the seven-time AMA Supercross champion. “Obviously, he was dominating every race at the time and then when I really got into the sport and met people, I became a huge fan of Ryan Dungey. He’s a big supporter of us and NASCAR and comes out to a lot of races. I just really admired how he went about racing and what he does on and off the track.”

While Stenhouse enjoys dirt bikes, he doesn’t regret his decision to focus on racing cars.

“I’m glad I choose the direction that I did because I want to be able to race for a long time and dirt bike careers are fairly short,” Stenhouse said.

Now, he can run his dirt bikes whenever he wants at the Slide Job Ranch.

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Friday 5: Here’s how to address NASCAR’s ‘issue with star power’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — International Speedway Corp. President John Saunders created a hubbub Thursday when he cited an “issue with star power” as among the reasons for a 10 percent decline in attendance at the company’s six NASCAR events from March to May.

So if the sport is looking for someone to build around, how about …

Kyle Busch.

No other active driver elicits as a visceral reaction as Busch. Many heartily booed him after he won last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, while his fans cheered, creating a confluence of noise.

Detractors seethed after Busch spun Kyle Larson to win, conveniently forgetting that only seconds earlier Larson’s contact sent Busch into the wall and out of the lead.

After retrieving the checkered flag, Busch walked to the camera and rubbed his eye to mock those crying about his victory.

The boos continued and Busch taunted those fans, telling them: “If you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.”

Busch, who is tied with Kevin Harvick with a series-high five wins this year, has long accepted there will be a vociferous segment of the fan base that detests him. He never had a chance. He notes that early in his Cup career he was booed as much for being Kurt Busch’s little brother as anything. Kyle Busch’s intensity and antics infuriated some fans and made his backers more determined in their support.

Busch knows he likely will never win most popular driver but isn’t the main goal to win championships?

“There you go,” he said.

As for wearing the symbolic black hat, Busch doesn’t worry about it.

“I’ve had the black hat for a long, long time, so it doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t bother my sponsors and they can accept that, as well, too, and … know who I am as a person outside the race car rather than the one minute tidbits of TV that you get from a guy on television,” he said.

This topic of star power is not new. International Speedway Corp. has cited declines in ticket sales in the past to the absence of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Thursday, Saunders cited weather as impacting attendance at some tracks, added: “We still have an issue with star power and hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands.”

Ryan Blaney scoffed at the notion that the weight should be just on the young drivers.

“How many winners this year? Six. Come on now,” the 24-year-old Blaney said. “You can’t just put that on the young guys for not winning. That’s a lot of other people that aren’t winning too.”

Ultimately, the best selling point for the sport is going to be the racing. Have more races and finishes like last weekend will help the sport but it will take more than that.

2. A tale of two trips

Daytona in February is about hope. Daytona in July is about reality.

When NASCAR arrived here in February to begin the season, Hendrick Motorsports was hopeful of getting past its “rough” 2017, Matt Kenseth was not at the track and numerous driver changes provided their teams with hope.

With Cup teams back on the beach, Hendrick Motorsports continues to search for its first win, Kenseth again is not around — but will be back at Kentucky for Roush Fenway Racing — and four of the drivers with new rides this season are in a playoff spot with nine races left in the regular season.

The gear celebrating Hendrick Motorsports’ next win — which will be its 250th in Cup — has been in storage since Kasey Kahne won at Indianapolis. That was 33 races ago.

Hendrick Motorsports entered the season with two new drivers. Alex Bowman took over the No. 88 after Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired, and William Byron climbed into the No. 24, taking Kahne’s spot with the organization. Hendrick also entered with questions about sponsor Lowe’s (it was announced a month after the Daytona 500 that Lowe’s would not return to Jimmie Johnson’s team for 2019).

With Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch dominating, there have been few chances for Hendrick Motorsports or other teams to excel. Also, Hendrick and many other Chevrolet teams have struggled with the new Camaro this season.

While Hendrick has seen progress — Alex Bowman has scored back-to-back top-10 finishes the past two weeks for the first time this season and Chase Elliott has three top 10s in the past four races — there have been challenges. Elliott has led only eight laps this season. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has led two laps this year. Hendrick’s four drivers have combine to lead 106 laps — 65 by Bowman.

At Roush Fenway Racing, the struggles continue. Matt Kenseth’s run in the No. 6 car for Trevor Bayne did not lead to significant improvement.

“We’ve had some tough conversations these last few weeks,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is battling for a playoff spot. “I think I’ve been pretty vocal in the shop and sometimes whether it be in an interview or on the radio probably when I shouldn’t, and I definitely need to respect all of our guys at the shop that are working hard and trying to provide new stuff for us. We just haven’t got that new stuff as quick as what we wanted.”

Drivers in new places who are in a playoff spot heading into Saturday night’s race are Blaney (Wood Brothers to Team Penske), Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing), Erik Jones (Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing) and Bowman (no full-time ride to Hendrick).

3. Slide job!

Christopher Bell is enjoying how prevalent the slide job is becoming in NASCAR. It’s a skill Bell and Kyle Larson learned while racing sprint cars on dirt. Other drivers have picked it up, especially at tracks where a high groove is the preferred line.

At those tracks, a driver charges into the corner, cuts to the bottom and lets the car drift up the banking to pass a car and stop that car’s momentum.

Larson attempted the move on Kyle Busch but it didn’t work and Busch went on to win. Noah Gragson tried it on Brett Moffitt on the last lap of the Camping World Truck race at Iowa Speedway but Moffitt got back by.

“It’s cool to me to see that coming to fruition,” Bell said of he move. “Like Iowa, man, the truck race, the Xfinity race, everyone was sliding each other, and I think it’s passing, right, so you get more passes. A guy passes someone going in, and then another guy passes someone coming out. I think it’s exciting to see more guys using it and it becoming more common in NASCAR.”

But that also means drivers are learning how to defend the move better. So what will Bell do?

Hopefully do it some more, right?” he said. “It’s going to be tough here at Daytona, and Kentucky (the groove) is on the bottom, so I won’t get to do it anymore there. But it’s just another trick in the bag, right? So if you get the opportunity to pull it, I’m going to do it.”

4.  Less practice

Rain canceled Thursday’s final Cup practice before any car could run a lap at speed. That left teams with only the 50-minute opening session to prepare for Friday’s qualifying and Saturday night’s race.

Should that be the norm for next season? In the Xfinity Series, only 10 cars went out in the final practice session. Are two sessions needed?

“I think if you had, say, one practice but it was an hour and 20 (minutes) long, I think you’d be fine with that,” Kyle Busch said. “I think that would be enough and that would be beneficial to being able to go straight into a qualifying and into the race. Fifty (minutes) may be a tick short for what some guys want to do.”

5. Will the streak continue?

There has been a different driver win each of the last eight July Daytona races. The streak started with Kevin Harvick in 2010 and he was followed by David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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