NASCAR: Kurt Busch starting 5th, looking for more Sonoma success

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Only two drivers have collected three consecutive Top-5 finishes at Sonoma Raceway: Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch.

But while Bowyer will have to start 25th in tomorrow’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the Northern California road course, Busch had a much better qualifying session on Saturday and will roll off fifth.

In his last three runs at Sonoma, Busch has won (2011) and finished third (2012) and fourth (2013) – all with three different teams. His run on Saturday will put him in good position for another solid result.

“It was a good lap,” he said. “We prepared well for this race with a couple of test sessions and executed a good practice run yesterday. The lap time we ran put us P1 in the first practice. We knew we needed to gain a little more and today, we got beat by a couple of guys that laid down really good laps.

“For us, it was a better than average lap. That gets us fifth and the way the team has bolted together this qualifying set-up, I think that gives us a good pattern for what we have to put under it for a race set-up.”

Busch led a strong qualifying effort for Stewart Haas Racing, which also got Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick into the final round. When the dust settled, Harvick qualified sixth and Patrick 11th.

“Road course qualifying kind of stresses me out because there are so many opportunities to make a mistake,” said Harvick. “Our first goal was to get through the first round with a solid lap and we were able to do that. Second round was good for us too, always want to do better, but we can see the front so that is a good thing on a road course.”

Said Patrick about her day: “We only made one qualifying run yesterday, but it felt good in the opening round today. It just got tight in the second session and we ended up 11th. We would have liked it to be better, but we’ll take it. We’ve got a lot of folks from [sponsor] GoDaddy here tomorrow, so I’m happy we are starting up front.”

For a full recap of today’s qualifying, click here.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”