Kyle Busch on failing inspection, Cup drivers in NNS and getting ‘more noise’ than Keselowski, Logano


Kyle Busch didn’t appear fazed by the fact his Nationwide Series car failed pre-race inspection and he was forced to start at the back of Saturday’s 300.

When asked by ESPN’s Vince Welch before the race how it would impact his chances in the race, the younger Busch brother was curt and to the point.

“Absolutely none, everything’s fine,” Busch said. “It’s just unfortunate that we weren’t able to qualify and qualify on the pole. We just gave everybody else a chance today.”

It’s that kind of response that gives additional ammunition to fans who are growing tired of Sprint Cup drivers racing – and dominating, particularly Busch and his record 65 career wins – in the NNS.

The younger Busch brother was momentarily taken aback when Welch asked how he would feel if he was a full-time Nationwide driver and forced to compete against someone who is so dominant in the series.

Once again, Busch failing to directly answer the question.

“Well, good thing I don’t have to think about that, so I really won’t,” he said. “I just worry about what I am and what I have to do today with this Monster Energy Camry and get it to victory lane.”

Finally, Welch broke through when he asked Busch what he learned during his Nationwide days.

“I learned how to race,” Busch said. “I learned a little bit how to Saturday race, but also you learn a little how to Sunday race and what those guys (Cup drivers) are doing.

“My (NNS) rookie season (2004), I won five races against those guys and I probably could have won more if it wasn’t for them being in the series, but I still won a lot and learned even more.

“I think it’s something that helps you out if you want to further yourself on up to Cup and get ready for that.”

Saturday was Busch’s 275th career start in the Nationwide Series. In addition to his 65 wins, he came into the race with 154 top-five and 189 top-10 finishes.

Break those down further, and Busch has won 24 percent – essentially one in every four – of the NNS races he’s entered.

He’s finished in the top-five 56 percent of the time and an in the top-10 an unheard 69 percent.

ESPN analyst and former Sprint Cup driver Ricky Craven took Busch’s supremacy  in the series to task. Craven empathized with full-time NNS drivers forced to continually finish behind Cup drivers such as Busch, particularly in the latter part of the season.

Craven is on to something: Of Busch’s 65 NNS wins, only 13 times has the runner-up been a Nationwide driver.

“He doesn’t need 100 Nationwide races in his career to prove he’s great to me,” Craven said of Busch. “He’s a great driver, but running 26 races a year and he’s a top-tier Sprint Cup driver seems like a conflict of interest. I’m not saying he doesn’t belong in the Nationwide Series, but 15 times a year is enough.

“There are (NNS) drivers that have disappeared because of the suffocating effect of not being able to get attention, to sell the sponsorship. I’m not saying what Kyle’s doing is wrong, he loves it, but it’s great for Kyle Busch. And in this business, or in sports, drivers and athletes will be selfish if you allow it.”

Craven likely won’t get an argument from Busch on the selfish part, whether fans love him or hate him.

“I seem to get more noise than when Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano win,” Busch admits.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.