Jim Utter of Motorsport.com and Chris Knight of Catchfence.com join me in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway media center to help analyze the fight between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.
Jim Utter of Motorsport.com and Chris Knight of Catchfence.com join me in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway media center to help analyze the fight between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.
After Kyle Busch crashed at the end of Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he quickly exited his car on pit road and started walking with a purpose toward the other end.
Without having seen the replay, I didn’t know where Busch was going or who he was mad at, but I figured he might want to have a chat with the responsible party.
So I pulled my phone out, and then this happened:
Logano stayed and spoke to reporters after the fight was broken up, telling the media Busch didn’t land any punches (the video is inconclusive on that, although there were no obvious marks on his face).
“I don’t run from conflict,” Logano said of the confrontation. “You just talk about it, but he wasn’t in a talking mood. He was in a fighting mood, I guess. Typically, you can handle this stuff like men and talk about it. You don’t have to fight, but whatever.”
Logano said he’s never had any previous problems with Busch and added the two have “always raced really well together.”
“We’ve never had an issue,” he said. “But I guess that’s over.”
Busch was gone by the time I got to the infield care center, but during a brief FOX interview, he indicated the bad blood may not be over.
“I got dumped,” he said. “He flat-out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me. That’s how Joey races, so he’s going to get it.”
Each week, I’ll provide some quick analysis through a post called the Top Five — five notable storylines from the just-completed race. Next up: the Daytona 500.
Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 victory was one of those things that just sort of makes sense in a head-shaking way.
Busch had never even won a restrictor-plate race and was 0-for-63 at Daytona and Talladega entering Sunday. Yet in Monster Energy’s first race as Cup Series sponsor, the car carrying the Monster logo ended up in victory lane.
It was also the first race without Tony Stewart as a full-time driver — and he went to the winner’s circle as a car owner after never winning the 500 himself.
Plus, the win came during a turbulent time for Stewart-Haas Racing — a move to Ford this season with uncertain results ahead, trouble finding sponsorship for two drivers and a lawsuit against a now-former sponsor.
It was only two years ago that Busch was suspended for an alleged domestic violence incident, forcing him to miss the 500. Since then, the woman who accused him was indicted for stealing from the charity she ran and Busch got married in the offseason to his new wife, Ashley Van Metre.
There always seems to be an answer for Busch, a comeback around the corner, a second chance, another shot.
Just look no further than this Speedweeks. It began with headlines about Busch getting sued by his former agent and ended with Busch earning NASCAR’s greatest prize.
After a wild race that eliminated more than half the field, it seemed like the remaining drivers were hesitant to make a move and form two lines in the final laps.
Joey Logano kept trying, ducking down over and over to see if he could get anyone to go with him. It didn’t work, and the result ultimately allowed the leaders to stay in line and determine the win themselves.
What gives? I asked Logano why no one went with him. He opened his mouth but no words came out, and he just shrugged.
“Scared, I guess,” he finally said. “I don’t know. I don’t have any answer.”
Logano said he was shocked everyone decided to play it so conservatively.
Here’s a guess: Some of the drivers in the top 10 — like AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Paul Menard — obviously wanted to win, and would have made a move if it presented itself. But instead of forcing something, it was better to stay put for a sure-thing finish rather take a risk for the win and potentially drop back to 11th.
Each of them ended up with a top five to start the season, so you can’t fault them; but you can also understand Logano’s frustration.
For the second straight year, Matt DiBenedetto scored an impressive finish in a car that had no business being that good in a Cup race.
DiBenedetto finished ninth in the Daytona 500, climbing out of his car to the cheers of his family and new GoFas Racing team on pit road (they literally clapped and yelled as he got out).
I asked him whether this finish was better than his sixth-place result at Bristol for BK Racing last spring.
“This one was a little more survival, that one was a little more racing,” he said with a smile. “I’d say they were different feelings. But the Daytona 500, just being in it in the first place is unbelievable. This one feels really good, because it’s been my dream since I was 5 to even be in it. So to get a top-10 in it, man, I’m just checking off all these dreams come true.”
Honestly, there were several great stories in the top 10. Look at Michael Waltrip! (You probably didn’t have a choice on the post-race show, but still…) The guy finished eighth in the Daytona 500 at age 53 and ended his career with a top-10. Not bad.
Also, Brendan Gaughan finished 11th — his best finish in a Cup race since Homestead…in 2004!
No matter how much Kyle Busch changes over the years, one thing is consistent: If his equipment lets him down at an unacceptable level in his eyes, Busch is going to sound off about it.
He’s ripped Toyota engines, for example, as well as Goodyear several times. And on Sunday, it was the latter who drew his ire again after he spun and started a crash that took out several cars, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth.
“Goodyear tires just suck,” he told reporters in his garage, according to Yahoo.
He also told FOX that Goodyear’s tires “aren’t very good at holding air.”
Yeesh. That’s probably not going to go over very well, but I also doubt Busch regrets his comments.
I asked Goodyear director of race tire sales Greg Tucker for his company’s side of things. He said Goodyear found evidence of a rub or a cut on Busch’s left rear tire, but the No. 18 team felt it was the right rear that went down. Stucker said there was a break on the right rear, but was inconclusive as to whether it was there beforehand or was caused when Busch spun and crashed.
Stucker acknowledged it was “tough for anybody” to hear criticism like Busch’s but said the top priority was to “get the facts and get it back to the team.”
So will Goodyear speak with Busch? Stucker said Goodyear has a regular call with the whole JGR team.
“It’ll come up there and get discussed at that point,” he said.
Earnhardt hit Kyle Busch’s car hard during Stage 2, which ended his Daytona Day. But it was a very respectable return — he was at the front when the incident happened — and he also showed the ability to take a decent hit without sustaining a concussion.
That sounds like a low bar for safety, but it has to be somewhat of a relief.
Afterward, the driver credited work on the headrests for keeping him safe.
“We changed some things in the interior that I feel will help me going forward,” he said. “I just appreciate all the effort NASCAR has put in to safety. I know we say that a lot, but if they hadn’t put the money into the studies that they did, I probably would have gotten hurt again right there.”
What exactly were the headrest changes? Earnhardt said the team “closed it up to where we really have no gap on each side.”
Basically, a driver’s head usually leans one way before hitting the wall and then slams over to the headrest on the other side (“It’s like hitting a baseball bat when you get there,” Earnhardt said), even if it’s only a couple inches of a gap.
But by making the headrests so close together they basically cradled his helmet, Earnhardt was able to absorb less of a jarring impact.
“The car itself sees a whole lot less (G forces) than the body does, and if you close (the headrests) up, you can minimize the Gs and get closer to what the car is seeing in those impacts,” he said.
It wasn’t too long ago, Earnhardt said, that drivers didn’t even want left-side head rests. They wanted room to be able to move around; now, that’s been proven to be more dangerous.
“That was really, really smart for us to go and have those meetings with NASCAR and say, ‘Hey, what can we do better?’ and talk about it,” he said. “That’s something I’m happy I did.”
Here are my picks for the 2017 NASCAR Cup playoffs (alphabetical order):
A few expanded predictions:
— Clint Bowyer will get back to his old competitive self after joining Stewart-Haas Racing. By September, any hiccups SHR has in the transition to Ford will be forgotten.
— Four Toyotas will make it, but rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez will barely miss out because of a few late-race mistakes.
— All four Hendrick drivers will be in the playoff, including Kasey Kahne after his best season in several years. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finish the regular season within the top 10 in points.
— Both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers will be in and Kyle Larson will win two times in the regular season.
— Austin Dillon will win his first Cup race by late August.
— Overall, Hendrick Motorsports will be the best team in the regular season (with Jimmie Johnson having the most wins), followed by Team Penske. Joe Gibbs Racing will experience a slight drop-off after two great years, just part of the usual cycle in racing.
— I hate leaving Ryan Blaney out, but I’m not a Blaney detractor. I picked him to make it last year, and it’s certainly possible he could have a great year.
— Joey Logano will win his first championship in 2017.
The 2017 version of the 12 Questions begins with 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch. Starting with this interview, the 12 Questions are in both podcast form and written form (a transcript has been edited for clarity below).
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
You have to have some sort of natural ability to apply all the work and everything you do to the racetrack. There’s drivers out there I’ve tried to help along the way during the past few seasons that I give them all the work and everything possible I know what to do, and yet they can’t quite equate it to the racetrack. So there has to be a talent there.
What is the real number there? I think you have to have 100% talent, but you also have to work at it 100% in order to be successful. You can’t just be a 50% talent and a 50% work ethic, because that’s half of both, right?
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
I got candy. (Smiles) I got M&M’s, Snickers, Skittles, Starburst, Milky Way, Twix — I got everything. And I’ve got their dogs covered, too (with Pedigree). The Mars brands are great for helping me recruit fans, that’s for sure.
But also, I think people change over time. I think I have (changed) a little bit and have gotten more fan friendly, let’s say. We’ve had some neat experiences over the years with some of our fans. Many might remember the video from leaving Martinsville or the autographs I put on somebody’s motorhome with all the Kyle Busch stuff in Watkins Glen. It’s been fun to meet those people, see those people — the true, dedicated Kyle Busch fans. And it’s growing.
What we don’t want to see are the Jeff Gordon fans and the Tony Stewart fans and the Carl Edwards fans just leave because they feel like they don’t have anything to follow in NASCAR anymore. They do. I remember when I was a kid, Jeff Gordon was my first guy — but I also liked Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. I liked all these guys, one of them was just my favorite. I can see where some people might get stuck on that, so I’m hoping you can pick me.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
My hardest job away from the racetrack I guess would just be travel. Traveling every single week, going to the events back and forth, I think that’s challenging. Our schedule is pretty demanding. We start it now and it’s 38 weeks straight. Even though there are off weeks in there, you’re still going to be doing something — and it revolves around this sport.
And then in the offseason, I’m an owner, I’m a dad 24/7. So I wear a lot of different hats. And what hat I’m wearing in particular moments, it’s hard for me to remember. But I try to position myself well for each of those situations.
4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
There’s a right way, a tactful way in approaching somebody that’s out to dinner — especially with their wife or their family. And in my opinion, that way is if you’re finished with your food and that guy just sat down, go do it quick before they start eating. But once that person — me, for instance — is picking up a hamburger and stuffing his face full of grease, don’t come over and ask for a picture or an autograph, you know what I mean? Like wait until the person completes their meal and they get up to leave, if you can have that patience to wait around for a few.
Do people actually approach you when you’re in the middle of a bite?
Oh yeah, no doubt. All the time. The biggest thing that’s disappointing is people want to be on their time. When you want something, you can’t be on your time and expect it right now; you have to be on that other person’s time, right? If I’m going to go get Peyton Manning’s autograph at dinner and I see him out with his family, I’m going to sit there patiently and wait until he’s done and he’s on his way out of the restaurant. And I’m going to follow him out and get my picture taken or an autograph or whatever the heck I want. I’m not going to go bug the guy while he’s eating and trying to enjoy an evening.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I think what may be missed are the stories of the people within our sport. Some of that has been coming out — that one kid, for instance, the crew member from the Xfinity Series who met me from the Kyle Busch Foundation who is now a pit crew member on the Xfinity side and trying to make his way to the Cup side. That got hit last year and that was a really good story, that was cool.
This sport is very demanding. It’s not just demanding for media or drivers, it’s also big for team members. They work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. They’re off Thursday, but they’re flying Thursday sometimes at 3 in the afternoon to go to a venue. And then they work from 8 a.m. until midnight or sometimes 2, 3, 4 a.m. on Sundays, getting home on that Monday morning.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Note: I forgot to ask this question. Not sure what happened; I just missed it. My bad.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
For sure. I think we’re in an entertainment business. We are a traveling circus — some of us look at it like that. We do shed value to the facilities, to the fans — they pay for the entertainment of the race and they want it to be exciting. Some of them want to crashes, some of them want to see cars upside down, some of them want to see things they’ve never seen before. But in this day and age, man, we’re into now nearly 70 years of NASCAR racing; there’s not very many first-seen things that are going to come anymore.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
You’ve gotta do something really bad to get my middle finger.
Are you serious?
Yeah. I don’t do middle fingers a whole lot. You pretty much know a middle finger is coming if you get it from me. Like it’s that bad. Sometimes, I do it in the Truck and Xfinity level as a learning tool for the other drivers, for the younger ones.
I remember Ty Dillon at Michigan — I couldn’t pass the kid for 10 laps. He was just in my way. So finally I got by him, and when I got by him, I gave him one full, straight lap of the bird out the window. And ever since then, it’s been pretty good. There was one other time I had to get on him again about it.
I don’t really use it in the Cup Series, because either A) It’s never really worth it or B) You have to do something really stupid.
Landon Cassill actually got the middle finger in practice one time from me at Atlanta. I was on a qualifying run and he just decided in James Finch’s 51 (car) to pull right up on the racetrack right in front of me through (Turns) 3 and 4 and blend in while I’m on a flier. I should have just wrecked him, but I didn’t. But when I got by him, I gave him the bird.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
Yeah, I do. I have the “That guy needs paid back” folder and the “Hey, that guy has been pretty good to me” folder. Sometimes I’m like, “That guy has been pretty good to me, man, I should cut him a break — nah, I’m not going to cut him a break right now. I’ll save it for later. I’ll get him another time.” There’s this Rolodex that keeps going in your mind of folders about drivers who have either done you well or done you wrong.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I guess I’d say it was President (George W.) Bush. We had dinner with him at the Greenbrier (in West Virginia) a few years ago. He actually came to one of our JGR sponsor summits.
I’ve had plenty of dinners with Mars family members. Obviously, they’re not necessarily famous, but they are famous — they’re a very wealthy family.
Shop Murph boutique owner! Yeah, I’ve had plenty of dinners with her. So that’s on the list, too.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
I’m perfect, dude. (Smiles) Man, that’s a hard one to answer. I don’t know. Obviously, everybody wishes they had more time, right? Not having enough time with Brexton, not having enough time with the race team, so it’s kind of hard to balance that right now. I’m struggling in that regard.
I certainly know I need to improve my skills in being able to be a little better of a leader, a CEO-type person at KBM, but also be able to change hats and be a dad and share that time with him as well.
12. The last interview was with Landon Cassill, and his question for you is: “If Brexton wants to be a race car driver, what are some things you can do to make him a better driver than you are now?”
Watching film, doing notes, paying attention, working on the cars. I worked on cars when I was a kid — that’s why I know them so well, that’s why I know what I think I’m feeling that’s wrong with them and I can communicate that to the crew chief instead of just saying, “It’s tight here, it’s loose here.” That’s easy (to say), but why is it tight? Why is it loose? It’s because it’s over on the right front or it’s because it wants to unhook the back because the track bar is too high. Stuff like that.
So being able to teach him all those things, communicate about that stuff. The unfortunate thing I feel like I’m at a disadvantage with him is when he’s 5 years old, I’m still going to be racing. So when he starts racing, the best tool I have for him right now is Tom Busch (Kyle and Kurt’s dad), who has already made two race car drivers and (Tom) being able to go to the racetrack and help Brexton.
Once Brexton gets to about 13, 14, 15, that’s when I’ll be able to get with him and race against him and follow him around and we’ll have somebody filming it and we’ll watch it and I’ll really be able to help him.
The next interview is with Martin Truex Jr. Do you have a question I can ask him?
How does it really feel to get all the good stuff from Joe Gibbs Racing?