Kurt Busch on the move toward potential Chase berth

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Kurt Busch and Furniture Row Racing are continuing to punch above their weight – and doing it rather well. “The Outlaw” came out of last night’s metal-mangling finish to the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona with a sixth-place result, causing him to break into the Top 10 of the Sprint Cup standings for the first time all season.

“We didn’t quite have the speed and momentum to break through at the end and challenge [race winner] Jimmie [Johnson],” said Busch in a team statement. “But it was a solid finish, with a lot of high-fives with team members after the race.”

Time will tell if Busch can hold on to a Chase berth as the regular season continues to wind down. He jumped five positions last night to ninth in the championship, but is just two points ahead of Tony Stewart in 10th. Just as important, he still hasn’t hit the win column in 2013, while Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne – the two drivers currently in the Chase’s wild card spots – each have won once.

But the good news for Busch is that he has caught fire (the safe, figurative kind) in recent weeks. A 35th-place finish at Michigan last month knocked him back to 20th in the standings, but since then, he’s rattled off three consecutive Top-10 results with finishes of fourth at Sonoma and back-to-back sixths at Kentucky and Daytona.

Busch and Furniture Row still have a lot of fighting to do in order to make the Chase, but it seems their confidence is growing week by week.

”These Furniture Row Racing guys are working hard and it’s paying off,” Busch said of his team’s efforts. “We made mistakes here and there and everywhere, but we’re putting it together now and it’s starting to bear the fruit. We moved into the top-10 in points, so that’s pretty cool.

“We have a long way to go, and yet we still are getting better.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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