It was tough to tell whether Kyle Busch had nudged Kasey Kahne in their late-race battle for the lead last night at Darlington Raceway, causing Kahne to slap the wall and end his chances for a Bojangles’ Southern 500 win.
Nonetheless, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was angry with Busch, who he also holds responsible for wrecks that ruined his races at the season-opening Daytona 500 and last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
Kahne was on the outside of Busch as the two raced side-by-side into Turn 1 on Lap 333, when Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota suddenly began to slide up the track. The right-rear corner of Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet then brushed the wall before the whole car hit it broadside.
“Well, he needs to quit…I mean, he’s got to just race me,” said Kahne, who wound up 17th. “I mean, I’ve never touched the guy in my life as far as on the race track. Three times this year, there have been other times in other years. I don’t really know what his deal is with me. He blew that entry into [Turn) 1. I got to the outside. I got by him into [Turn) 3. We had a great restart [on Lap 332]. We kept getting our car better. The guys did an awesome job. Then he just blew his entry into [Turn] 1.
“Whether he touched me…I mean, it was very close, whatever it was. The angle he took into the corner, he had no steer and just went straight. Then I went spinning. It was definitely a tough way to end our race. We had just got to the point where I could move off the bottom. I could move up higher because we had been so loose and I felt really good.”
Busch, who faded back to sixth thanks to a slowly deflating right-rear tire, made no comments after the race. Crew chief Dave Rogers maintained that his driver was equally disgusted about his involvement in the incident.
“This is the third time we’ve been involved in an incident with Kasey,” Rogers said according to USA Today’s Jeff Gluck. “All of us over here have a ton of respect for that program and Kyle thinks the world of Kasey Kahne…He was really somber and disappointed it happened. Unfortunately, it’s part of this sport.”
Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”