A Bad Weekend for the Buschs

Kyle and Kurt Busch will both miss the 57th Daytona 500 on Sunday, but due to two very different sets of circumstances.

Kurt, the older of the brothers, has been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR for conduct detrimental to the sport after a family court in Delaware found that he abused his then-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, in his motor home in a race last September at Dover.  A family court commissioner handed down that ruling of domestic abuse on Friday afternoon, before the driver of the number 41 Haas Chevrolet was punished by the sanctioning body early Friday evening.

Kurt Busch is the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, and has won 25 Cup races in 14 full seasons for Roush Racing, Penske Racing, Phoenix Racing, Furniture Row Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing.  In missing Sunday’s race, he misses another opportunity to win the 500, something he hasn’t done in 14 previous tries, although he has finished 2nd on three occasions, most recently in 2008.

After NASCAR suspended Kurt Busch on Friday, Chevrolet also “suspended their relationship” with the driver, in essence saying that even if he was allowed to drive in NASCAR, the manufacturer would not allow him to drive one of their cars.  Kurt’s current team, Stewart-Haas Racing, runs Chevrolets, meaning that even if he is allowed back on the track by NASCAR, he might not be able to return to his Stewart-Haas ride.

Regan Smith, a 31-year old XFinity series regular, will replace Kurt Busch in the 41 car for the 500 on Sunday.  Smith has one career Cup Series win, in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington, but has proven himself to be a competent superspeedway racer.  It is the fourth time since 2012 that Smith has filled in for a Cup Series driver, filling in for Tony Stewart the day after the Kevin Ward fatal accident last year, and filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in two races in 2012 after Junior got a concussion.

Kurt appealed his suspension, and due to the circumstances and timing, NASCAR expedited the appeal process so that if it was overturned, Kurt could still run the Daytona 500, which he had been scheduled to start 24th in.  Both his initial appeal to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel was denied, as was his final appeal to NASCAR Chief Appellate Officer Bryan Moss.

Considering that both the sanctioning body and his car manufacturer have indefinitely suspended Kurt Busch, and considering what has happened elsewhere in professional sports in the past year regarding domestic violence, particularly in the very high-profile cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, there is a real possibility Kurt’s career in NASCAR may be over.  Only time will tell.

This is not the first time Kurt has been in trouble with NASCAR, either.  Kurt, known by some as an aggressive and temperamental driver, was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and later fired by Penske Racing for insulting team officials on the radio and twice having incidents with reporters.  He was suspended one race in 2012, also for an incident with a reporter.  And now he’s in more trouble than he’s ever been.

On Saturday, in the NASCAR XFinity Series race at Daytona, Kyle Busch, the younger of the brothers, crashed head-on into a concrete wall on the extreme inside of the track between the tri-oval and turn one.  The crash resulted in a broken left leg and a broken left foot for Kyle, who naturally will miss the Daytona 500 due to the injuries.

Kyle initially got most of the way out of his car under his own power after the crash, but couldn’t get his left leg out of the car without the help of emergency personnel, who then laid him on the ground and stabilized his leg.  He was placed on a stretcher and taken directly to Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, bypassing the on-site hospital, and within a couple of hours was in surgery, according to media reports.

The crash resulted in the worst injuries suffered at Daytona since Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.  Kyle Busch will miss the 500, and a few subsequent events, as he is currently described by his Joe Gibbs Racing team as “out indefinitely”.

Matt Crafton, the 38-year old two-time defending champion in the Camping World Truck Series and has plenty of NASCAR experience, will drive Kyle’s number 18 M&Ms Toyota in the 500 on Sunday.  Crafton has filled in for drivers before, but only in qualifying, so he will make his Sprint Cup Series debut in his first 500 start on Sunday.

As for both Smith and Crafton, no word has been given as to whether or not they will continue driving for Stewart-Haas or Gibbs on an interim basis next week at Atlanta.

After the crash, which was into a concrete wall and not a SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, which was a point of contention among many after the crash.  SAFER barriers were first used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002, as part of the safety movement across all forms of motorsports after, among other events, Earnhardt’s death, but are expensive, so many tracks began by placing them in the places where hard impacts occurred most frequently.

A majority of the walls at Daytona are SAFER barriers but, as mentioned, Kyle Busch hit a concrete wall, making the impact much more violent.  Within two hours of the accident, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III announced that tires would be used as an impromptu softer wall for Sunday’s race, before the installing SAFER barriers on “every inch of this property”, saying the planning process for that would start on Monday.  Chitwood’s message was, in essence, that this will not happen again at Daytona on his watch.

Due to the Busch brothers both being out of the Daytona 500, making this the first running of the 500 since 2000 without one of the Buschs in the field.  Additionally, at least one Busch has been in the field for every Sprint Cup Series race since Kurt failed to qualify for a race at Atlanta on November 18, 2001 (before Kyle’s Cup career began).

For two very different reasons, it has been a bad weekend for both racing members of the Busch family.

 

 

 

2015 Daytona 500 Starting Lineup
Row 1:  Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson
Row 2:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Crafton*
Row 3:  Joey Logano, Carl Edwards
Row 4:  Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle
Row 5:  Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 6:  Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney
Row 7:  Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson
Row 8:  Jamie McMurray, Mike Wallace
Row 9:  Landon Cassill, Justin Allgaier
Row 10:  Cole Whitt, Danica Patrick
Row 11:  Paul Menard, Ryan Newman
Row 12:  Michael McDowell, Regan Smith^
Row 13:  J.J. Yeley, David Gilliland
Row 14:  Michael Annett, David Ragan
Row 15:  Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon
Row 16:  Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 17:  Aric Almirola, Michael Waltrip
Row 18:  Matt Kenseth, Johnny Sauter
Row 19:  Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr.
Row 20:  Brad Keselowski, A.J. Allmendinger
Row 21:  Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin
Row 22:  Bobby Labonte
Failed to qualify:  Alex Bowman, Brian Scott, Jeb Burton, Justin Marks, Josh Wise, Ron Hornaday Jr., Joe Nemechek
*substituting for Kyle Busch

^substituting for Kurt Busch

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Chase for the Sprint Cup Power Rankings

My overall rankings for the 10-race Chase.

1. Matt Kenseth.  He has 5 wins this year, with 4 coming on 1.5-mile tracks.  Half the chase races are at 1.5-mile tracks, with additional races at Talladega and Dover, good tracks for Matt.  He starts the Chase as the points leader based on those wins.  Much of the media has him as the favorite, and so do I, with Johnson’s recent struggles.

2, Carl Edwards.  Winner at Richmond, “Cousin Carl” has some momentum.  Like Kenseth, he is good at 1.5-mile tracks, Talladega, and Dover, as well as Pheonix.  If he is decent at Martinsville, expect the 99 to be in contention to win it all at Homestead.  Unlike Kenseth, and many others in this Chase, he has experienced racing at Homestead with the prospect of winning the title, finishing 2nd  twice.  That experience could put him over the top.

3. Jimmie Johnson.  A month ago it was unthinkable the 5-time champion would be this low in these rankings.  Since then, he has posted finishes of 40th, 36th, 28th, and 40th.  It should be difficult for anyone to suddenly flip a switch and be championship material again, but if anyone can do it, it’s Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.  They are very good in the Chase format, winning 5 of the 9 Chases run, with finishes of 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th in the other 4.

4. Kyle Busch.  Here’s the elephant in the room.  There are questions surrounding Kyle, as usual.  Can he be consistent enough to contend for a championship?  Is he mature enough?  Can he keep his composure in big-pressure spots if he’s in contention late in the Chase?  I have a feeling we’ll get some answers in the next 10 weeks.  Like Edwards, Busch is riding some momentum, and he’s good at Chicago, New Hampshire, and Dover, the first three tracks the Chase will visit.  After those races, we’ll know if he’s in it or not.

5. Kasey Kahne.  I was hesitant to put him this high, because he was 14th in points, reaching the Chase on a wild card berth.  Kahne, though, is another driver very good on those key 1.5-mile tracks, particularly Charlotte and Texas.  He’s also had moderate success at Phoenix, Dover, and New Hampshire.  Like Edwards, Martinsville is Kahne’s weakness among the Chase tracks.  Kahne may be the wild card in another way, as he will likely be consistent enough to contend for a title, like early in the season, or he will lack consistency and struggle down the stretch.

6. Ryan Newman.  The 39 team left Richmond thinking a late caution and a bad pit stop had cost them a wild card spot in the Chase.  Sunday, of course, they found out with the rest of us that there was more to it.  Newman could use his surprise Chase berth as a springboard to a title shot.  However, the “Achilles heel” of Stewart-Haas Racing this year has been 1.5-mile tracks, which make up half of the Chase races.  The full resources of SHR will be needed to give Newman a shot, and he will have them due to Tony Stewart’s season-ending leg injury.  Another negative, though, is that this is a “lame duck” season, as Newman announced Monday he will drive for Richard Childress Racing in 2014.

7. Joey Logano.  Like Newman, Logano just barely got in.  In fact, there is now speculation that Penske Racing may have asked David Gilliland to intentionally let Logano around to help his points situation at Richmond.  (Great, this week’s been crazy enough.)  He has some momentum, if you ignore his finish at Richmond, he had a win, 3 top fives, and 5 top sevens in the previous 5 races.  Penske Racing won the Chase last year with Brad Keselowski.  The 2 car isn’t in the Chase, so all the resources of Penske will be with Logano, not a bad thing to have.

8. Kurt Busch.  The 2004 Champion may be a dark horse in this Chase.  No one gives the single car team out of Denver a chance.  They are the first single car team and the first team based outside of NC to qualify for the Chase.  This team, however, has some help.  They have a competitive alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and after winning at Darlington in 2011 with Regan Smith, they have been poised to win all year with Kurt Busch, with a 2nd at Richmond, three 3rds, and four additional top fives.  He is a “lame duck,” but his team has probably assumed that all year.  Expect him to win a race or races in the Chase; we shall see if the underdog team can contend at Homestead.

9. Kevin Harvick.  Some writers have him among their top 3, and a couple even have him winning the title.  I’ll be different, and coin a new term, as he may be the “lamest duck.”  Harvick has been at Richard Childress Racing since 2001 (2000 if you count Nationwide), and is leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing at season’s end.  In six previous Chase apperances, he has finishes of 3rd (twice), 4th (twice), 8th, and 10th.  He has shown some consistency, but he only has 6 top fives on the year.  I don’t see that as strong enough to contend for the title.

10. Clint Bowyer.  I just can’t see someone with as crazy a week as Bowyer has had going to Chicago and doing well.  There also must be some negative momentum, not just from the Richmond incident but also from a couple of poor finishes.  Also, after Jeff Gordon got the short end of the stick in the MWR penalties (he’s still not in the Chase), and considering the two have a history, there could be some fireworks (who knows).  On the bright side, Bowyer is good at the first three tracks In the Chase:  Chicago, New Hampshire, and Dover.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Junior has had a pretty good year, other than the fact he hasn’t found the winner’s circle.  He was, of course, leading big at Michigan when he blew an engine.  Consistency has been an issue this year, not just for Junior, but for all of Hendrick (never thought I’d say that).  In five previous Chase apperances, his best finish is 5th, but not since 2004 and 2006.  His best Chase finish in three appearances while at Hendrick is 7th.  I don’t see anything here to suggest he will be a contender for the title.

12. Greg Biffle.  Biffle struggled for much of the regular season, as did all of the Fords, but put together enough good finishes to make the Chase.  “The Biff” did finish 2nd in 2005 and 3rd in 2008, but has never really been close enough to taste the champagne.   He won at Michigan in June, but his best finish since the win was 8th, and at a road course.  Out of the 8 races at tracks that are featured in the Chase, he had only one top ten finish, and that was a Martinsville, a track he traditionally struggles at.  The signs don’t look promising for the veteran to contend late into the Chase.

Chase Schedule: 9/15 Chicago, 9/22 New Hampshire, 9/29 Dover, 10/6 Kansas, 10/12 Charlotte, 10/20 Talladega, 10/27 Martinsville, 11/3 Texas, 11/10 Phoenix, 11/17 Homestead