Kyle Busch comes up short at Kentucky, but runner-up finish could be start of a turnaround

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Kyle Busch hoped to win all three races this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

He started off strong with a win in Thursday’s Camping World Truck Series race, but fell short of a second straight win on Friday when he finished third in the Nationwide Series race.

Saturday, Busch almost had a chance to salvage a second win for the weekend, but in the end, his Toyota Camry just wasn’t enough to match race winner Brad Keselowski.

Even so, Busch started 18th and finished second in the weekend’s main event, a hard-fought end result for a driver who had struggled at times over the previous seven races.

In fact, Busch’s finish at Kentucky was his best since winning at Fontana in the fifth race of the season.

And Saturday’s finish was also Busch’s first top-five finish since finishing third at Richmond more than two months ago.

“A longshot from where we’ve been this weekend, let alone this year,” Busch told TNT afterward. “It was the most competitive we’ve been and we’ll see how we can keep that speed going on in weeks throughout.”

Keselowski dominated most of the race, but Busch had his time to shine, leading 31 laps in the 267-lap event.

When asked after the race whether he thought he could have held off Keselowski and made it at least two wins for the weekend, Busch felt he could – until his car became progressively looser as the event continued.

“I thought I could,” Busch said. “I got out there in clean air and tried to take advantage of it as much as I could. I tried to hustle it as much as I could there early to get a big lead, and once we got to traffic, I knew I’d back up a little bit.

“That was the loosest I was in the whole race and the loosest I was at the end. I was trying to hang on to it best I could and not wreck. I thought I’d do probably 10 times in the last run.”

Overall, while he failed in his bid to win all three races on the same weekend for only the second time in NASCAR history (he performed that feat for the first and only time in August 2010 at Bristol), Busch and JGR have to feel encouraged by his second-place finish and teammate Matt Kenseth’s fourth-place showing.

Now it’s on to Daytona.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”