Top-5 helps Kyle Busch move forward in Chase

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Last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch bemoaned his fifth-place finish there as his main rivals in the Chase for the Sprint Cup – Jimmie Johnson and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth – finished ahead of him.

After yesterday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, we figure Busch is at least a little happier. Because while he again finished fifth for the second straight week, he took the checkered flag ahead of both Johnson (who finished 13th) and Kenseth (who finished 20th).

Down 37 points to Kenseth at fifth in the Chase going into ‘Dega, Busch now finds himself tied for third with Kevin Harvick at a slightly less daunting margin of 26 points behind Johnson, who now holds the championship lead with four races to go.

Sunday began in frustrating fashion, however. While making his way to pit road for his first green-flag stop of the day at Lap 42, Busch was unable to get across and into his stall. As a result, he had to ride around and then come back a second time to get his four tires and fuel.

That dropped Busch all the way to the rear of the field, and he was eventually put a lap down. Fortunately for him, his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin was in the lead pack and Hamlin promptly tucked in behind Busch to get him in position for the “free pass” back to the lead lap.

A caution flag on Lap 78 ensured that Busch got the free pass, and the race was on from there. Busch would be a threat late, leading three times for nine laps, before he was shuffled back in the final laps.

Busch was part of the single-file pack on the high line during those last circuits, and he too seemed surprised that a train of cars on the low line never rose up to challenge them.

“It was interesting that everybody stuck up on the outside that long and certainly that was the fastest way around,” Busch said. “There wasn’t anyone making up any time on the bottom.

“I figured that a lot of people would try to and be able to make up some time, but a couple tried and never made anything happen. We ended up with a decent finish here today, so that’s all we could ask for.”

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.”