Lucas Oil 200

NASCAR Notes: Kyle Busch Motorsports lays out Truck plans for 2014

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Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch may have had to shut down his Nationwide Series operation, but his Camping World Truck Series side is still raring to go for 2014.

While Busch has already said that he and 17-year-old Erik Jones would split time in the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra that won last year’s CWTS owner’s championship, the exact details of that hadn’t been revealed until very recently.

Jones, who became the youngest winner in CWTS history last fall at Phoenix International Raceway, will drive a 12-race schedule this year in the No. 51 that begins with the March 29 event at Martinsville Speedway.

That victory was part of Jones’ tremendous 2013 season, which also saw him take two of the top late model races in the country – the Winchester 400 at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway and the Snowball Derby at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway. He also earned his first career win in the ARCA series last August (Berlin, Mich.).

“I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the No. 51 Tundra and representing Toyota and [sponsor] ToyotaCare,” Jones said in a team release.

“I really learned a lot last year from Kyle and everyone at KBM. I felt like each time out we all grew as a team and at the end of the season I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream by winning in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions. Going into this season, I feel like we have a great chance to get back to victory lane and go out and defend our Owner’s Championship.”

As for Busch, he will be in the No. 51 for 10 races, including the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday night, Feb. 21.

“Rowdy” earned five CWTS wins in 11 starts last year, including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway that enabled the No. 51 to take the CWTS owner’s title on a tie-breaker over Matt Crafton’s No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota.

Darrell Wallace Jr. is already confirmed to drive KBM’s sister truck, the No. 54 Toyota Tundra.

More sponsor news has come in from Front Row Motorsports, which will welcome back transportation company CSX for a four-race swing as primary sponsor on David Ragan’s No. 34 Ford Fusion in Sprint Cup.

CSX will enjoy primary status on the No. 34 at the Daytona 500, Darlington, the August race at Michigan, and the September race at Richmond. The company will also be what the team calls a “major associate” sponsor at Pocono in August and Charlotte in October.

Ragan won last year’s spring race at Talladega Superspeedway with primary sponsorship from FarmRich Foods. They too will be back with the No. 34 this season, serving as its primary sponsor for the Phoenix race on March 2.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.