Final pit stop propels Kyle Busch to Atlanta victory

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A great final pit stop helped Kyle Busch take the lead with 36 laps to go, and he was able to hold on to it and score the win tonight in the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

With his fourth victory of 2013, “Rowdy” was also able to clinch a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, marking a return to NASCAR’s post-season after missing out in 2012.

“It’s a heck of a lot different than 365 days ago, I’ll tell you that much,” Busch told ESPN in Victory Lane. “I can’t say enough about this team. Their work tonight definitely helped me out tonight.

“I wasn’t happy with the car at all in the beginning of the race. But [crew chief] Dave [Rogers] and the guys made some really good calls and made some great adjustments there tonight to get us back up front.”

The critical moment of the race came on pit road under yellow following a Lap 288 spin for Jimmie Johnson in Turn 4. The leaders came down for service, with Busch in third behind then-leader Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.

But Busch was able to leapfrog them both and win the race off pit road. From there, he was able to maintain the lead through two more restarts with 28 and then, 21 laps to go, before taking the win by just under a second over Logano.

“My boys on pit road – what can I say?,” Busch said. “That’s the same group since 2008, they’re amazing. I love those guys and I’d do anything for ’em.”

Logano lost ground in the final restarts, but came alive once more in the final laps. He peeled off third place from Kurt Busch with six laps to go, and then got around Martin Truex, Jr. for the runner-up spot with three to go.

“Big picture, it’s great, but I feel like I had the race-winning Ford here,” said Logano, who led a race-high 78 laps and jumped two spots to eighth in the standings going into the final regular season race next week at Richmond International Raceway.

“When I restarted third behind Kyle, I didn’t give myself enough room, spun the tires. I got pinned in, the 56 [Truex] put me three-wide and I was in trouble at that point. To go all the way back to sixth and then have to work my way back up – I just we had five or six more laps.”

First Wild Card holder Truex, whose cast on his broken right wrist came apart around his palm during the race, was also able to help his Chase chances with a third-place run. Kurt Busch did the same with a fourth-place effort that puts him 10th in the championship, six points ahead of Jeff Gordon, as Richmond looms. Second Wild Card holder Ryan Newman finished fifth, with Gordon taking sixth.

But reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski suffered a massive blow to his bid for the post-season. While leading the race, his engine began to lose power around Lap 245 and he promptly fell back into the field and off the lead lap.

Eventually, Keselowski was forced to go to the garage before the finish. His 35th-place result knocked him to 15th in the standings, 28 points out of the Top 10 – and also left him needing something of a miracle next week in Virginia.

“Obviously, we don’t dictate our own fate,” he said about his fading playoff hopes.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”