Can the Busch brothers be hometown heroes?


Kurt and Kyle Busch are out to defend their home turf this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – and jump-start their respective 2013 campaigns as well.

Older brother Kurt has never won in his backyard, collecting just one top-5 finish in 12 Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval. He returns to Vegas after posting 28th and 27th-place finishes at Daytona and Phoenix respectively to start the year. But those results are hiding what have been strong performances from the former Cup champion.

Last week at Phoenix, Kurt was forced to start from the rear of the field in his backup car but managed to make his way into the top 10. Unfortunately for him, late handling problems and a run-in with the wall ruined what had been a good drive. Two weeks ago at Daytona, he was running in the lead pack early on before being caught in a nine-car incident that damaged his car; the subsequent repairs on pit road knocked him multiple laps off the pace.

“We proved that we can run up front in both Daytona and Phoenix, but accidents and untimely car issues have held us back,” Kurt said. “We have the potential to be contending at the end, but need to have a clean and error-free race.”

As for his “Rowdy” younger sibling, Kyle has had his share of early trials too. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota fell out of the Daytona 500 due to engine woes, and at PIR, his own impressive charge to the front was effectively stopped with a spin on Lap 48 that ended with his car sustaining a damaged front splitter; he wound up 23rd at the finish.

Still, Kyle relishes the opportunity to once again rise to the challenge in front of family and friends. He scored a win at LVMS in 2009 that he considers one of the biggest of his career and is keen on a second triumph in Sin City this weekend.

“Vegas always means a little bit more pressure – more pressure on myself – just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there,” he said. “Thankfully, I have won there and I’ve knocked that one off the list, but certainly you want to win there every year.

“It seems like either Carl [Edwards] or Jimmie [Johnson] are better than most, but I love Vegas, the atmosphere and everything going on around that place. It’s always been a big race for us and the team.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.