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.

(Updated) NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations immediately, cancels NHRA Summernationals

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

UPDATE: Hatcher reached out again to NBC Sports later Wednesday afternoon with an addendum that could be promising for race fans in other markets: “Upon hearing the news about the Englishtown track, we’ve received a significant level of interest from other track operators about hosting a national event in 2018.  We’re not sure if this is possible for 2018, but we’re definitely looking into it, if not for 2018, then perhaps for 2019.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”