Kyle Busch Crowned Champion in Candyland Chase, What’s Next?

Kyle Busch finally reaches the top by winning his first Sprint Cup Championship.

Kyle Busch finally reaches the top by winning his first Sprint Cup Championship.

With a season that began in a hospital room and a fear that he might never race again, Kyle Busch stood tall as King Kandy at Homestead-Miami, with the final lap call that “The checkered flag goes to Kyle Busch, and the Sprint Cup Championship goes to Kyle Busch!”

Sidelined for the initial 11 races of the season because of a broken right leg and left foot sustained in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Daytona race crash in February, Kyle Busch finished off one of the most remarkable comebacks in NASCAR history by winning Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and, with it, his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship after eleven seasons in the sport.

Busch, piloting the M&M’s Racing Crispy Camry, delivered a plethora of “firsts” by winning the season finale. In additional to his inaugural Championship, Busch brought home his first win ever in a Chase playoff race, the first Sprint Cup championship for Toyota Racing, the first title for his long-time sponsor Mars/M&M’s after 25 years in the sport, and the first title for his rookie crew chief Adam Stevens.

Shrewdly, Kyle Busch matured this season and realized that he could not get it done on his own, proclaiming “I’m not sure we could have accomplished what we did if it wasn’t for this injury.” During Busch’s comeback, he showered accolades on his crew chief Stevens. “He’s obviously a great leader of this team,” Busch said. “I love him to death. He’s done a really good job, and obviously we’re having fun doing what we’re doing.” That’s stellar praise from a turbulent driver who hasn’t always a solid rapport with his previous crew chiefs.

Jeff Gordon, right, congratulates Kyle Busch after Busch won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race and the season title, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/David  Graham)

Jeff Gordon, right, congratulates Kyle Busch after Busch won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race and the season title, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/David Graham)

Many were surprised by Busch’s resurgence and patience to overcome the turmoil and physical challenges of his comeback. Given his prior success in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series and his self-proclaimed boast that he was “King of the Minors”, the only question mark that remains is how many future titles Busch will capture now that he has finally delivered on the promise of his wheelman talents and demonstrated an appreciation for the collective contribution of his team and partners to his success.

Remarkably, NASCAR closed out a drama-laden second year of its contemporary elimination-style Chase playoff, with the four surviving Championship contenders once again battling up-front in the final laps and facing the necessity to finish first to both close out the season-ending race and capture the Sprint Cup crown. As reigning 2014 champion, Kevin Harvick finished second 13 times this year, including the final race at Homestead, and that still was not enough to secure the title.

The NASCAR Chase Championship playoff seems to have elevated the engagement of fans, with the both of its last two races of the season at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami being sold-out; as well, the Homestead TV ratings delivered the highest overnights since 2005. So will the storybook finish leave NASCAR fans wanting even more in 2016? As the sport heads to the offseason, NASCAR must continue its metamorphous into a more exhilarating product, inculcate its emerging young stars, and showcase innovative technologies to help revitalize its aging fan base, by attracting new (read younger) fans with shorter attention spans. Amid a plethora of entertainment options, NASCAR remains at a critical inflection point to stay relevant as it looks towards the 2016 season by resolving several thorny matters:

  • Acquiring a New Title Sponsor for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Sprint, and its merged predecessor Nextel, have been the entitlement sponsor of NASCAR’s top series since 2004, so this selection entails a monumental investment and long-term commitment, and is critical to the sport’s continued vitality in staying relevant to its mainstream audience.

Whoever the NASCAR Series title sponsor will be, substantial time will be required to develop customer activation programs, establish corporate on-track hospitality, and build a collective marketing/branding campaign, so NASCAR must move quickly to vet and secure a new partner. At the same time, the dollar investment by a Corporate partner is nothing to sneeze at; only a finite number of companies have the financial resources to be willing to spend anywhere from $75 million to $100 million per season. Ideally, a forward-looking technology company (Apple, Google, Amazon – are you listening?) flush with cash would be a great partner, particularly to showcase the integration of technology into the sport.

  • Success in Implementing the Low Downforce Aero Package. For 2016, NASCAR has adopted a new low downforce aero spec with the expectation that the racing will be tilted back in the hands of drivers. Now, as race teams prepare for 2016 and build a strong baseline of data, the fan anticipation is that the racing will be even better (meaning closer with more passing).

NASCAR CEO, Brian France.

NASCAR CEO, Brian France.

Moreover, with the upfront lead time, the new low downforce rules should allow Goodyear to dial-in tire combinations for each track that complement the new package and produces more fall-off, which hopefully leads to more passing. A softer tire, like the one built for Darlington, required drivers to manage their tire while slipping and sliding all over the track. If the new Aero package does not deliver better on-track competition, the Chase drama itself will not sustain the growth of the NASCAR franchise.

  • Elevating Brand Identity for XFINITY and Camping World Truck series. Both series are struggling with attendance and sagging ratings, particularly at stand-alone events not partnered with a Cup race. This weekend, with Roush Fenway Ford driver Chris Buescher only needed to finish 14th to clinch the second-tier XFINITY Series Championship, we got a mostly ho-hum race as Sprint Cup drivers dropped down to whip up on the rest of the field.

Both of these Series have already slashed allowable entries in each race (from 43 to 40 in XFINITY and 36 to 32 in Trucks) to weed out uncompetitive, poorly funded teams and ideally improve the on-track racing and available purse money.

In both the XFINITY and Truck Series, a champion is still determined via a season-long points system. Might it be a time for a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship type of system to decide the Champion in these series? Apparently, NASCAR thinks so, with its Official Fan Council of 16,000 members receiving an opinion survey in the past two weeks to float this idea, including a suggestion of restricting regular Sprint Cup Drivers from participating during the playoffs in these two series.

  • Promoting Future Stars and Technologies to Capture the Youth Demographic. NASCAR has a bright crop of talent coming up through the ranks, but now more than ever Sprint-cup rides are limited by sponsorship dollars. Nevertheless, several drivers are breaking through this coming year, including Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, both of whom come with renowned racing pedigrees and are proving to be the total package.

Elliott, 19, is stepping into the iconic #24 Hendrick Motorsports ride vacated by Jeff Gordon, while Blaney, 20, will run for the Wood Brothers (with support by Ford Performance and a technical alliance with Team Penske). These two young guns have both won races in NASCAR’s lower divisions and present a perfect opportunity for NASCAR to showcase a meaningful battle for the 2016 Rookie of the Year, as well as a potential breakthrough berth in the Chase.

As well, to broaden its appeal to technology savvy fans, NASCAR is exploring ways to digitally deliver its product, taking fans more into the cockpit and chatter, with the 2016 introduction of the “digital dash”. This customizable dashboard of 16 preset screens is a great way to immerse fans in the driver experience, and the sooner the better. In a sport where it is hard to connect to what the driver is experiencing in the cockpit, fans will benefit from deeper access to more comprehensive real-time data, along with expanded digital platforms to access in-car race broadcasts. The NBCSN HotPass simulcast this weekend was a great starting point, offering a four way split screen of each Championship contender, along with live race communication between drivers and crew.

On our holiday wish list, we hope that NASCAR leads the way in reinvigorating its product with an improved level of on-track competition, promoting new stars with an uncompromising and fresh mindset, and capitalizing on emerging technologies to inclusively bring fans into the cockpit. Otherwise, the waning interest in America’s showcase racing series does not bode well for the fortunes of any of America’s besieged racing series, including the Verizon IndyCar and TUDOR United Sports Car series.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

NASCAR: In The End, It’s All About The Wheelman

The momentum may seem to be in Harvicks favor, but he has Kyle Busch to get through.

The momentum may seem to be in Harvicks favor, but he has Kyle Busch to get through.

In the end, all things being as equal as they can, it’s really about the driver. The wheelman. The competitor.

If you try and break down what is happening in NASCAR at the moment you can only come to a few conclusions: (1) Toyota has found a way to pull more horsepower and save fuel, which puts them in the hunt. Particularly with Kyle Busch, a true wheelman. (2) Stewart-Haas Racing has found something in it’s handling, but it’s two real advantages are Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. (3) Ford, meaning Penske, has faltered slightly but they have Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

We can try all we want to make it something else, but they’ve finally gotten it down to where the last races remaining will be against these drivers. Note I didn’t say teams, they’ve managed to draw them very close to one another in performance.

Yes, the very tiny things from an engineering point of view matter when you have drivers of this caliber on each other with the voracity we’re seeing, but it has narrowed down to sheer willpower and who can make the best decisions regarding the utilization of their talent.

Harvick at Dover beat everyone like a Minnesota mule, but that was Dover, that doesn’t mean he’ll be dominant at Charlotte, it could be any one of the aforementioned drivers whose team have taken their equipment and passed the engineering minutiae wand over it.

No one is taking this next round lightly and everything they can do to win or stay in the hunt until there are four will be done, no matter how aggressive they get. Conspiracy theories will be rife among the regular racing media and particularly among the fan base.

This hasn't been the final year Gordon was looking for. He seems to be resigned to retirement.

This hasn’t been the final year Gordon was looking for. He seems to be resigned to retirement.

A fistfight isn’t out of the question and if it happens don’t expect points penalties to handed out, NASCAR needs the excitement. The ratings are not improving, nothing beats a good brawl to attract more viewers.

How many Toyotas does it take to win a championship? Conventional wisdom would say all four of them, but that isn’t the case. It’s really Kyle Busch who has the confidence and skill to make that trophy his. All of Gibbs‘s gang are talented drivers, but Busch has the bit in his mouth and the willpower to take on General Motors and Penske/Ford.

With Ford, it’s the ‘Little Train that Could’ with Keselowski and Logano. Both of these drivers are strong and fearless, but with a two car team how much interference will they run into when the field narrows? A hell of a lot.

Hendrick? Their star, Johnson, is out and that doesn’t bode well for the manufacturer’s anchor team. GM knows it so look for heavy attention to be thrown on Harvick and Busch. The irony is that none of these drivers really care very much for each other, Busch brothers included. Only Gordon and Earnhardt have any hope at all in the Hendrick camp. Hope floats and so does that thing in the YMCA pool.

Once the next two races are in the books look for NASCAR to frisk them before they get into their cars for weapons. This is a serious fight that this crop of drivers are willing to wad up their cars over.

What about Earnhardt? It remains to be seen if he can mount the mental challenge and drag talent up from the depths to take this UFC fight on wheels to the finish. When it comes down to it, however, the rest of the Hendrick crew will run for Dale Jr, should he make it to the final race. It just seems that Gordon has resigned himself to retirement.

This is going to be a dogfight and the losers are not going to be as gracious as Jimmie Johnson was at Dover.

This time around, enemies are going to be made and they won’t forget it.


NASCAR: Expect Jimmie Johnson To Come Alive In The Chase

Lowes extends Johnson's contract through 2017.

Lowes extends Johnson’s contract through 2017.

It’s a difficult thing to watch what was once a powerhouse NASCAR team slowly and painfully slip into obscurity. That team is Roush Racing. Many have started to forecast, with great vitriol at times, the same fate for Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson. Don’t make that mistake.

Jimmie Johnson doesn’t have 6 Championships because NASCAR engineered it. They didn’t throw false cautions to benefit Johnson or anyone else, Johnson and Chad Knaus took the same equipment and tools as his teammates and earned 6 Championships.

Sitting at the top of the charts for the 16 drivers who made it into the Chase is Johnson. Has he been the meteor of late like Kyle Busch? No. But the Hendrick organization knows where they stand, knows who is going to create the right strategy for the Chase and let them run with it.

After missing four months due to injury, Kyle Busch may now be in the right position to win his first title.

After missing four months due to injury, Kyle Busch may now be in the right position to win his first title.

It may not be such a coincidence that Johnson re-signed an extension on his contract through 2017 and just announced it, right after the Chase was set. Knaus’ extension runs through 2018. Check off the box that has ‘pressure on contract’.

Tom Lamb, the Chief Marketing Officer for Lowes said:

“Lowe’s has a longstanding history with NASCAR and knows its fans are some of the most loyal in all of sports,” said Tom Lamb, chief marketing officer of Lowe’s. “Our partnership with Jimmie and Hendrick Motorsports has been an amazing ride as we chase history, and more than 265,000 Lowe’s employees are proud to be part of such a legacy.”

That sounds like corporate word-speak, but having met, at length, with the CEO of Lowes prior to their NASCAR involvement, it’s genuine. This company want’s to win. They have and will again.

On the other side of the street, Jeff Gordon’s woes are regrettable, but time marches on and he may very well leave the sport with perhaps one win in 2015. His overall team just hasn’t been able to convert qualifying speeds into a start to finish racing strategy that has worked for him. He’s a deserving Champion but his run in the sport may be over.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus are fully aware of what they face, having run a season under these rules. They won’t make the same mistakes they did last year. That’s not good news for Kevin Harvick, but no news to Kyle Busch. He could care less. Joe Gibbs and company will keep him in mission and on course to defeat all comers.

Harvick will be a contender from the first race in Chicagoland.

Harvick will be a contender from the first race in Chicagoland.

The real fight, in my opinion will be between Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. It’s possible that Joey Logano may mix it up as well as Keselowski, but I don’t see the strength at Penske that I do with Hendrick and JGR.

Joe Gibbs Racing miraculously came to life, seemingly when Kyle Busch returned to his seat after missing four months of racing. Let that soak in: Four months. He now sits second and has four wins.

These teams have different strategies that they employ during the Chase format and each of the drivers I believe will be fighting for that Championship all have top teams backing them on creating that strategy, which is always unfolding and evolving as the Chase narrows down it’s competitors.

The one thing that the fans can be sure of is that Hendrick want’s the mojo that JGR has found and Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing will have an appropriate strategy for each and every one of the remaining races complete with every scenario and response they can think of, it’s a ‘War Room’ mentality.

Will Johnson take another title? Who knows, this is auto racing where anything can and usually does happen.

One can only hope that the 16 drivers that are going for that Cup give us, the fans, the show we want to see and that NASCAR needs us to see.

It’s a dog eat dog world and these are the big dogs, no one is going to run away with this one.






Kyle Busch Will Clinch Chase Berth At The Glen

JD Gibbs of JGR

JD Gibbs of JGR

Barring any crashes, or mechanical failures, Kyle Busch will earn a chase berth this weekend at the Watkins Glen Cheez-It 355.

Yes it’s a road race, which have become tantamount to a short track Saturday night brawl. Anything could happen, but Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing are ready to clinch their spot with the Toyota M&M’s team.

What that means is staying as far out of trouble as possible, running as clean a race as possible and delivering a car that Kyle Busch can feel comfortable in driving. That, in and of itself is no stretch, this isn’t their first road racing rodeo.

Kyle Busch is a no-nonsense hard charging wheelman that is no stranger to victory lane in road races having won at Sonoma and repeatedly challenging at Watkins Glen.

He’s being referred to as a ‘Wild Card’ by mainstream media sports writers to whom NASCAR is usually an afterthought. This just isn’t the case.

Technically, a wildcard is defined by the Urban Dictionary as: “A person who is generally unpredictable and has no defined role in a group of friends, and their often reckless and wacky behavior can either benefit or hurt the group depending on the situation.”

What has Toyota found in their engines giving them an advantage?

What has Toyota found in their engines giving them an advantage?

Kyle Busch, unpredictable? He has been at times. Whacky, at times and it can’t defended. But reckless, not really, he’s fast he has unmatched car control and he can road race. Hence the definition of ‘WildCard’ may fit to those who don’t like him, but the term doesn’t fit Busch’s determination or skill level. Kyle Busch will lock himself into the Chase this weekend.

The biggest caveat is he gets taken out early by someone else or somehow loses sight of the fact that he needs to lock in this weekend, not win the race.

It can be argued, and should be, that driving to win is the surest way to make the playoff, however the unpredictability of a road race, not Busch, is the real ‘Wildcard’ is it’s a road race.

Now comes the subject of Toyota’s new found engine energy. I say energy as it seems that since Indianapolis and Kentucky the Toyota’s have found more than just horsepower. They have found power in the entire power-band, not just top speed.

That alone is an advantage at any road race. Having torque upon corner exit is a beautiful thing for a road racing driver. Being able to utilize the power of an engine throughout it’s power range is what is necessary to go from high speed down to slow corners and then utilizing that horsepower coming out onto a straight.

sThis is where passes are made and smoothness counts.

The Toyota’s have found something and it’s working. This plays to Kyle Busch’s strengths. He’s now able to utilize everything the Toyota has to offer and Watkins Glen is exactly one of those tracks where this should be a winning combination.

A ridiculously fast driver, a well grounded and strategic team and useable horsepower throughout the power-band.

What could possibly go wrong, it’s only a road race.



Kyle Busch: More Than Mature Enough to be Champion

With five races to go, Busch will crack the top 30 and then some.

With five races to go, Busch will crack the top 30 and then some.

It never ceases to amaze me that NASCAR racing fans want more action, more risk takers and more competition but scream to high heaven when someone like Kyle Busch actually lives by those tenets.

The Pocono race was, at it’s finish, dramatic to be sure. Crew chiefs were tapping wildly on their computers to measure just how much room they had in fuel mileage to make the end of the race, everyone was on the edge of their seats as Logano ran out of fuel. Busch swung for the fences and came up short of a win, but not without gaining points.

Kyle Busch fans watched in horror as one half a lap before the checkered flag, while leading, he ran out of gas. Why? I say why not?

Busch might have backed down and finished 13th or above and locked into the Chase, but he didn’t. Were his crew chief and spotters not hard enough on him to save fuel? Perhaps not, but the sky is not falling for Kyle Busch to grab a berth in the playoffs.

Some writers believe he’s not mature enough to take a Championship. That’s nonsense. He’s 13 points from the Chase berth with five races to go and the only driver ahead of him for that coveted 30th place are Cole Whitt, David Gilliland and Justin Allgaier.

New wife, new baby, new attitude. Kyle Busch will be a contender for the title.

New wife, new baby, new attitude. Kyle Busch will be a contender for the title.

The 18 team wont repeat that mistake and that’s bad news for everyone else in the field.

Is their anyone out there that thinks Kyle Busch can’t overcome these drivers in points, a miniscule 13 points, before Richmond? If so, you need to put the crack pipe down and slowly step away.

When asked if he was disappointed, he calmly stated: : “Yeah, that was it. I didn’t know we were that close. Normally when we’re close or that close I get harped on pretty hard to save fuel. They were just telling me to save just to not put too much pressure on the car and everything else. Man, that’s a bummer. I wish I would’ve saved a little more there that last run. I wish I would’ve known that the 22 (Joey Logano) was that far away from making it. He was way far away from making it. Man, that was just a shame that we weren’t able to get it done there.”

Doesn’t sound like a rookie or desperate man to me, he sounds like a confident driver who takes chances. Isn’t that what all of you have been screaming to see? Imagine that, a professional racing driver taking chances.

He added: “We got greedy, I don’t know how greedy but that’s the position we’re in. If it came down to other things that we haven’t had the success that we’ve had here lately we would’ve had to have pitted and just made the opportunity of it and made the best finish that we could. But, we went for broke today and come up a little bit short so can’t fault the team.”

Is Kyle Busch worried? Hell no. He knows what he’s capable of achieving. A close friend, Bill Marlowe, NASCAR expert and former engineer for some of NASCAR’s greats put it bluntly: “ There are only a few “A” rated drivers out there, but to me, only three real wheelman. They’re Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.”

You fans ask for excitement, tough drivers and hard racing.

You have it in Kyle Busch, who may very well be the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.





Kyle Busch Should Not Race Yet

Busch should wait until his injuries and mindset are at full throttle.

Busch should wait until his injuries and mindset are at full throttle.

Kyle Busch is rushing his return to the #18 Joe Gibbs Toyota. Maybe that’s a strong opinion since the accident didn’t happen to me, but actually his injuries are very close to those I sustained in 1998.

Mine wasn’t quite as glamorous as a racing accident, but just as traumatic. Being hit by a car and thrown 50 feet didn’t do my bones any favors. Busch suffered a compound break of his right leg and a fracture of his left foot in in a wreck in the closing laps of the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Mine was a broken left leg, slight fracture of the right forearm and a very rare type of broken ankle. I know exactly what Kyle Busch has gone through. It took two years before I could walk without a cane.

Busch is beyond the shadow of a doubt one of the very best drivers in modern Sprint Cup. No one can deny that. But is he the smartest? One good hit in any of these next few races could undo all of the healing his bones have gone through.

Perhaps Stewart returned too quickly.

Perhaps Stewart returned too quickly.

Rushing back into one of these cars at an ultra competitive event such as the Sprint All-Star is courting disaster.

Busch is still young, JGR is not going to toss him aside for Erik Jones, talented though he may be. Jones is a super future talent, but Busch is a proven entity that should be secure enough in his abilities to not jeopardize his future.

It’s obvious to anyone who has some knowledge of these types of injuries that it’s a hard climb back to the front of a Cup race. Just ask Tony Stewart who hasn’t performed the way we’re all used to seeing. Is it trepidation on Stewart’s part or is it just a new type of car? My bet is that he has to overcome what all drivers do when they have catastrophic injuries.

Just ask Niki Lauda after his horrific crash at the Nurburgring in 1976. Lauda suffered extensive scarring from the burns to his head, losing most of his right ear as well as the hair on the right side of his head, his eyebrows and his eyelids. He chose to limit reconstructive surgery to replacing the eyelids and getting them to work properly.

It took everything Lauda had to mentally return to Formula One after this horrific accident. Lauda is buried in the flames.

It took everything Lauda had to mentally return to Formula One after this horrific accident. Lauda is buried in the flames.

Lauda returned 6 weeks later only to find he was terrified. He discovered that even though he couldn’t remember all that happened to him in the crash, he couldn’t navigate certain corners at full throttle, his mind wouldn’t allow it. He finally was able to mentally overcome it, but not without great difficulty.

I would have to say, from experience, that Busch, Stewart and Lauda both suffer what we now call PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Yes it applies to racing drivers, not just victims of horrible crimes or returning military personnel. It affects racing drivers who have had a catastrophic accident.

Racing drivers are a unique breed of cat. The first thing you want to do is get back in the car right away, get back on the horse, but it’s often rushed and can be a life-altering mistake.

Busch would lose nothing by more slowly working himself back into top shape. He’s that good.

I can attest that there is nothing more ever-present, more throbbing and more painful than broken bones, especially legs and feet. That pain isn’t gone for Busch. How much will it distract him in a full-blown Cup Car? Only he knows.

He should wait at least a few more races before climbing back into the number 18.

David Ragan: Corporate Crisis Management 101

David Ragan, JGR's interim replacement driver for Kyle Busch.

David Ragan, JGR’s interim replacement driver for Kyle Busch.

What do you do when your driver, Kyle Busch, who is arguably one of the top three drivers in Sprint Cup, is going to be sidelined for as long as 8 months? That’s a real problem. It isn’t a simple matter of calling up a reserve driver with the skillset to run with Kenseth and Edwards. They don’t exist.

The solution really isn’t a solution. It’s high dollar corporate crisis management. There are a number of drivers, who are journeyman drivers that for whatever reason will never be in the winners circle with any regularity. You have to choose one of them, but which one fits?

Fits what? First the driver has to fit the entity who pays the big dollars and that means M&M Mars. There are a number of drivers who could take that level of equipment and keep it at the lower end of the top twenty, but they need more than that.

M&M cannot afford to be embarrassed by a personality, off the cuff remarks, a possibility of trashing the car every time it goes out or not giving top notch representation to the company.

Hence the selection of David Ragan. Ragan fits all of the criteria that the sponsor needs. He won’t win, though he has every chance now. He can put it into the top twenty and may even do better. Most importantly, he’s calm, speaks very well and can mitigate the damage to the sponsor by doing a good solid journeyman job.

Young Erik Jones, JGR's future star.

Young Erik Jones, JGR’s future star.

If you look at his record with Roush he never came close to Edwards, Kenseth or Biffle, but he represented the sponsor well and didn’t destroy equipment like a Russian dashcam junkie.

M&M Mars has directed the next 6-8 months to be an interim crisis management period where the effort is somewhat like a physician’s first rule: Do No Harm.

Make no mistake, this was not Joe Gibbs decision. If it were, they would have given that ride to Erik Jones. The 18 year old kid is fast, he wins and is part of the future of JGR. It would have been the perfect time to give him the Cup experience needed to go into 2016 as the next Kyle Larson, if not better. But he’s unknown to M&M’s as a corporate representative.

Could he have handled the Sprint Cup pace under the new rules? Most likely yes, even though the cars should prove to be harder to drive. Often you find the new guy hasn’t embedded old habits into his driving style and could have adapted quickly. But this isn’t about an interim driver winning races, it’s about doing the sponsor’s bidding.

Once they ascertain whether or not the young baby faced Erik Jones can actually represent a company as large as M&M’s and Ragan doesn’t perform to an acceptable level, things could change.

For now it’s one of those unforeseen second chances that drivers at this level just don’t get. David Ragan has the opportunity to move from a forever mid-pack runner to a front runner.

He has to take every opportunity that he can to prove his worth as a driver or he will forever be regulated to contracts that are race to race with teams that are admirably capable, but not JGR or Penske level.

Mr. Ragan had better pull up every ounce of competitive ability and talent that he may never have accessed in order to become a driver that other top teams might look at as a high level performer.

And he has to do it with grace and aplomb. He wont get another chance.

NASCAR: Daytona 500 and Bandicoots On Acid

A jubilant Joey Logano celebrates his Daytona 500 win.

A jubilant Joey Logano celebrates his Daytona 500 win.

This past Sunday the 57th Daytona 500 was held and Joey Logano can finally be comfortable with the “Sliced Bread” moniker given him several years ago.

It was a strong indication that Penske Racing is going to be a factor in 2015 and is the default ‘Factory’ team for Ford.

The weeks leading up to the storied event, however, weren’t so kind to NASCAR.

A change in the qualifying was in order and NASCAR certainly changed it, to the chagrin and openly critical display of the drivers.

To NASCAR’s credit something had to be done. Three hours to qualify for a race is simply too long and takes up far too much valuable broadcast air time leaving a potentially new audience who might tune in to the marathon with a feeling of boredom.

“If qualifying is this boring how much more interesting could the race be” was the comment that I heard most. The problem was that NASCAR simply isn’t Formula One and can’t use a knockout style format with the same level of execution, there are simply too many cars and too many desperate drivers to not have carnage. Carnage they had.

Kyle Busch did not walk away from this crash.

Kyle Busch did not walk away from this crash.

As posted in a previous article our technical expert, Bill Marlowe, suggested the following format, which is worth repeating:

(1) Have all 48-50 cars line up diagonally on pit road.

(2) Each qualifying group would consist of no more than 8-10 cars

(3) In a blind draw, the first 10 cars are selected 5, maybe 8 minutes before they run. This ultimately gives a total of about 5-6 groups.

(4) In a second tandem blind draw, each car selected is given its starting position from pit road.

(5) The 1st ten cars have 5 minutes to line up on pit road.

(6) When the signal is given to go, group 1 has 5 minutes to accelerate, get up to speed and set a time.

(7) While the 1st group is out the blind draw process repeats itself.

(8) While the 1st group is on its cool down lap and coming to pit lane the 2nd group is already being released.

This format would take approximately one hour allowing for any engine failures, crashes or debris on track stoppages.

"The Lunatics Are in the Hall"- Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

“The Lunatics Are in the Hall”- Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

Let’s hope that something is changed for Talladega.

On Saturday Kyle Busch, during the Xfinity race, exited the racing surface and laterally contacted an inside retaining wall that did not have the advantage of a safer barrier. He broke his left leg and his ankle. He’s fortunate not to have lost his life.

You have to believe that the only reason there wasn’t a safer barrier in place is that NASCAR has become so large in its bureaucracy that by committee it couldn’t have foreseen such an accident. That’s what happens when delegating authority too quickly or by committee is employed. After all, the wall was certainly in place for the next day.

How hard was that? Not as hard as Busch’s crash.

Then comes the story that had everyone from TMZ to Al-Jazeera writing about it. Kurt Busch’s indefinite suspension from NASCAR due to a restraining order obtained from his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll.

It’s no secret that Kurt Busch has an anger problem. It’s no secret that NASCAR really has no warm and fuzzy feelings for the elder Busch. It’s no secret that by all outward appearances, both he and Driscoll are crazier than a pair of Bandicoot’s on acid.

However, it seems that NASCAR does, from time to time, exact revenge on it’s detractors or troublemakers. Travis Kvapil really screwed up. He plead guilty of domestic abuse and was given probation and no disciplinary punishment handed down by NASCAR.

Again, NASCAR may have had every reason, and they certainly have the right, to kick Busch to the curb.

It does seem, however, on the surface, to be a bit hypocritical. Maybe yes, maybe no. No one can argue that domestic abuse is both unacceptable and appalling, but how often is it used for revenge? Often enough.

How easy is it to manipulate the courts? Damned easy many times.

Having been a witness in a Florida Capital Case I can tell you that what you hear in a courtroom is not necessarily what happened. Truth becomes an abstract. I watched a very guilty person walk away.

But this is NASCAR and not a courtroom. They are a private, not a public company.

They have stabilized, to a large degree, their loss of viewership. Perhaps not the actual attendees to the race, they may never return, but NASCAR and it’s cadre’ of high paid lawyers weren’t going to take the chance that Kurt Busch could, and he certainly could have, won the Daytona 500 only to be charged with a crime later on.

Ms. Driscoll has exacted her pound of flesh, for now, NASCAR has saved face in the American public’s eyes and there is now a safer barrier where there should have been one all along.

The Daytona 500 went off without a hitch and perhaps NASCAR has listened to the suggestions of others erudite in technical matters regarding qualifying on large tracks such as Daytona and Talladega.

Oh, and Joy Logano won his first Daytona 500 with authority.

Busch In The Hunt As Talladega Looms Next In Chase

Kyle Busch has had nothing but top-10 finishes so far in the Chase. As a result, he's moved up to second place in the point standings.

Kyle Busch has had nothing but top-10 finishes so far in the Chase. As a result, he’s moved up to second place in the point standings.

If Joey Logano, the points leader as the Chase for the Sprint Cup moves into the final race of the Contender Round at Talladega, happens to hear someone breathing down his neck, well, it’s Kyle Busch.

Logano, who drives for Team Penske, has been sensational in the Chase. He’s won twice and finished fourth three times in the five races held so far. His latest victory, at Kansas, moved him comfortably into the Eliminator Round.

But as good as Logano has been, Busch, who races for Joe Gibbs Racing, is nearly his equal.

Busch is second in points and he is only six behind Logano – a difference that can easily be made up in a single race.

In the Chase, Busch has not finished out of the top 10. His lowest finish has been 10th at Dover but in the last two weeks he’s taken third at Kansas and fifth at Charlotte.

Busch was ranked eighth in points with one victory when the Chase began. He’s gained six spots in five races.

Obviously, Busch likes the way things are going.

“It certainly feels good that we’re heading in the right direction at the right time of the year,” he said. “It’s all about peaking at the right time. Hopefully we haven’t peaked yet, and we still have a way to climb. I feel like we do, anyways.

“We haven’t won in the Chase. There’s opportunity there.

“Again, it’s just trying to get ourselves smarter each and every week about making the right decisions and unloading with the right setups in these cars.

Joey Logano, shown here leading Busch, is No. 1 in the standings but Busch is only six points behind after five Chase races.

Joey Logano, shown here leading Busch, is No. 1 in the standings but Busch is only six points behind after five Chase races.

Busch suggested that although he and his team are running well, they would have to be as good – or better – than several others if they hope to ultimately challenge for a championship.

“We certainly have been fighting really hard at Joe Gibbs Racing to get ourselves up to running with the level of competition that we’ve been seeing from our competitors,” Busch said. “Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have really been the cars to beat this year.

“Looking at those four, you automatically punch those four all the way through to the end and those are the guys who are going to be racing for the championship.”

Right now, one would think that Busch might just be racing for the championship also. He and his team have displayed the caliber of performance it takes.

Busch, however, thinks more can be done.

“All the pieces are coming together and they’re all coming together at the right time, as I said,” Busch said. “You can do great things.

“For us, hopefully, there’s still a continuation of that here in the next five weeks. We’ll have to have it.”

The next race of the Contender Round is at Talladega, unquestionably the most challenging track in NASCAR. High speeds in the draft and very close-quarters racing – lap after lap – create a situation where a single mistake can create a massive accident.

And who knows who will be involved?

“Being a winner at Talladega doesn’t matter at all,” Busch said. “It’s such a crapshoot that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from.

“The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble.

“If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race.

“Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy.”



Kyle Busch Hopes Slump Ends At His Favorite Track, Bristol

Kyle Busch has been on a string of bad luck lately and he hopes that will change at Bristol. Still, he remains safe as a Chase contender.

Kyle Busch has been on a string of bad luck lately and he hopes that will change at Bristol. Still, he remains safe as a Chase contender.

Lately, Kyle Busch seems to be in the midst of a free fall – or so it seems.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has had a string of uncommon poor finishes as of late and, as a result, he has slipped in the point standings.

It would not appear he’s in any danger of not making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Coming into this weekend’s race at Bristol, he was 15th in points – but seeded eighth in the grid because of a victory.

That aside, what’s happened lately is not Busch’s style, not by a long shot.

Let’s go back to Sonoma in June, eight races ago.

Since that time Busch has finished 25th or worse five times.

Remarkably, in the additional three races he has three runnerup finishes, at Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis.

But in the last three races, well, he’s hardly been noticed. He finished 42nd at Pocono, 40th at Watkins Glen and 39th at Michigan.

He once stood sixth in points after Indy. Now, as mentioned, he’s 15th.

You understand, of course, that little of what has happened is the fault of Busch or his team – for the most part, anyway.

It’s been a series of unfortunate mishaps, such as at Michigan, where he lasted just five laps before a crash sent him into the garage for repairs and an ultimate 39th-place finish.

These types of things happen to every NASCAR team at some point, perhaps more often to some than others.

Busch has a remarkable record at Bristol in all three Series. Even though he won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race, he cut a tire late and finished well back in the pack.

Busch has a remarkable record at Bristol in all three Series. Even though he won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race, he cut a tire late and finished well back in the pack.

Nevertheless, the timing does not suit Busch, not to mention much of anything else that’s happened.

“We’ve had a tough couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s been a struggle. At Pocono we had an engine deal and then we got behind at the Glen with a fueling issue and crashed.

“Then at Michigan we were good on the first couple of laps on the bottom of the track. I got greedy, took it to the outside and crashed.”

Busch may well think that he can solve his problems at Bristol – as well he should.

At the 0.533-mile track he has 16 NASCAR series victories, five in Sprint Cup, seven in the Nationwide Series and four in the Camping World Truck Series.

In 2010 he became the first driver to sweep all three series races at one track.

But that won’t happen this year. He won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race and led three times for 81 of 200 laps. He suffered a cut tire late in the event and finished 24th.

He had his chance at redemption in the Nationwide Series race on Aug. 22 and has another in the Irwin Tools Night Race on Aug. 23.

“When they changed the track to this current surface in 2007, I just really took to it right away,” Busch said. “I really liked it and I’ve been fast there, but also I’ve had great race cars from Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It’s just a fun race track no matter what series I’m running there.

“You make one mistake, or someone else makes one mistake, that’s it. We’re hoping things will fall in place this weekend and we get to victory lane.”

That would be a welcome change. Again, although Busch is safely in the Chase, there’s no doubt he would like to see overall performance – not to mention his luck – change.

“I feel like our cars have been mostly competitive,” he said. “They have not been 30th-place cars or anything like that.

“We just haven’t been able to finish.”

So far, through one event at Bristol that seems to remain unchanged.

But it ain’t over yet.









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