Timing of preseason tests aside, “Rowdy” Busch ready to roll

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Between off-season testing, the Christmas holiday and tending to matters at his Camping World Truck Series team, Kyle Busch hasn’t had much time to relax this winter.

And with Preseason Thunder testing beginning today at Daytona International Speedway, he couldn’t help but be a little irked at the timing.

“All in all, I feel like this Daytona test from what I remember – I used to remember it being the end of January, and for some reason it’s the beginning of January [now],” he said during a rain delay at DIS.

“It takes away time from people being able to get stuff repaired, and I just think we’re here too soon in my opinion.  But it is what it is. They put a date out there and say you’ve got to be here. We’re here.”

While he may not have been able to disconnect much from the racing side of things in the off-season, he says he nonetheless finds himself “the freshest” when it’s time to embark on a new year.

“I like the beginning of the year,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. “I think Daytona is Daytona – Daytona, if you can win it, great. It really doesn’t mean a whole lot. I think the first five races don’t really mean a whole lot.

“It’s more about learning your team, getting a chemistry going, whether you have a new car or just the new chemistry within your team, and just being able to build, put your building blocks together in the first five weeks, and then it’s on from weeks 6 to 26 essentially, so you’ve got 20 weeks to prove yourself and make it in the Chase.”

Busch comes off a fourth-place finish in last year’s Cup championship with four victories, and he put together a solid Chase with five Top-5s and seven Top-10s. But it wasn’t a perfect one, as his title hopes were effectively finished by a crash in the fourth Chase race at Kansas.

Like everyone else in the NASCAR garage, Busch has taken note of CEO Brian France’s continued hints of format changes that may include an altered points system that puts more incentive on wins.

However, he believes that NASCAR should look to changes that will enable drivers to make poor performances such as his ill-fated day at Kansas last October hurt less.

“In a way, you look at the points structure and you try to say, well, you need to reward winning more,” he explained. “Okay, go down the list of the last five, six, seven years – who’s won the most races? It’s Jimmie Johnson. So you’re going to award a guy who wins all the races more points, and he already has the consistency?

“I think what you’re looking at is you’re trying to take away the bad days. So if you have a bad day, if you finished in the 30s or the 40s or something to that effect and you can go back the next week and you can win, essentially you’re knocking back those bad finishes…”

Busch also touched on his 2014 plans for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the CWTS, confirming that he and Erik Jones will share the No. 51 Toyota and that Darrell Wallace Jr. will drive the No. 54 Toyota. He also said he would be testing for KBM in the Trucks’ Preseason Thunder sessions at Daytona on Monday and Tuesday.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (5)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Jack Harvey*

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate at this moment plans.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today but both acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.