Kyle Busch keeps pace in championship with another Top-5

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From Kyle Busch’s perspective, he squeezed as much out of his car as he could have en route to a fifth-place finish in today’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Busch continued his consistent Chase for the Sprint Cup so far, punching out a Top-5 result after finishing second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Chase leader Matt Kenseth in the first two post-season races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire.

But in a sign of how tough his championship battle will be, he still fell back to third in the standings behind race winner Jimmie Johnson – even though he has earned an average finish of third so far in the Chase.

“We were about a fifth to seventh-place car much of the day, and we ended up fifth…Certainly, I wish we definitely could’ve gotten more,” Busch said afterwards. “We probably could’ve if I could’ve got the outside lane on the final restart; I probably could’ve finished third, but we didn’t get that.

“We had to fight through it and pass a couple cars the hard way, and we ended up fifth. It’s certainly the finish that our car had today. When you look at the grand scheme of things and it’s three straight Top-5 finishes to start the Chase, it’s not too bad.”

Like his teammate Kenseth, Busch was stuck on the inside lane going into the final restart with 26 laps remaining after taking four tires on his final stop. However, he insisted that taking four was the right call instead of going for two in an attempt to gain track position.

“[I’m] definitely glad we made that call and I just wish that maybe I would have come out one spot worse off pit road so I could have had the outside,” Busch said. “As quick as everything happens in this sport, you can’t always predict and get what you want.”

“The inside lane just doesn’t get going [on restarts] here. I think it’s because you’re lower in the bowl than the outside lane is and you’re coming up out of it and you’re just having to come uphill and obviously, the more uphill you have to go, it’s harder – whether you’re a human being or mechanical horsepower.”

Busch now sits 12 points behind Kenseth as the series heads for Kansas, which has not been one of the better tracks for “Rowdy.” In 12 career starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Busch has finished no better than seventh (2006) and has crashed out in his last two runs there.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.