Crew chief Daniel Knost sees better things ahead for Kurt Busch and 41 team

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Although he’ll likely make the Chase for the Sprint Cup based upon his win earlier this season at Martinsville, to say this has been a good first half-season for Kurt Busch may be a bit of a stretch.

With Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 marking the halfway point of the 2014 Sprint Cup season, the elder Busch brother has struggled more than succeeded in the first 17 races of his tenure at Stewart Haas Racing:

* Even with the Martinsville win, he has only two other top-five finishes and no other top-10 showings.

* His average start is decent (13.5), but his average finish (22.2) is mediocre at best.

* Busch has finished outside the top-20 in 10 of those first 17 races.

* Perhaps the most disappointing part of the season is his ranking: he’s been 26th in the standings for the past three weeks. Busch is the lowest-ranked driver who has at least one win and is all but qualified for the Chase. The next lowest ranked is Denny Hamlin (17th).

But crew chief Daniel Knost is optimistic that things can change around for Busch and the No. 41 team in the second half of the season.

“Definitely, our first goal is to be more consistent,” Knost said in a team media release. “Consistency is really important over the long haul in racing. I think we need to continue to improve our pure speed. I think we’ve made significant gains in that area, but there is still more room to improve.

“We certainly want to win a few more races. We want to develop consistency and develop a very pragmatic approach by the time we hit the Chase so we aren’t doing as much guesswork.”

This is Knost’s first season as a Sprint Cup crew chief. And while he’s essentially been learning on the job, he sees signs of improvement for Busch and the No. 41 team, and is also at the point where some recent finishes could have been better in his mind.

“Honestly, I think in two of our last three races where we scored a top-15 finish, we had the potential to be significantly better than that so, to me, the execution has got to be better,” Knost said. “You have to continue to evolve in this sport and anyone who stays stagnant is going to continue to fall behind.

“What was a good car last year is not a good car this year. What was a good car at the beginning of this year is not as good of a car now. What is a race-winning car at this point won’t be by the end of the year, so you need to continue to evolve as far as cars continue to get better.”

Knost’s comfort level increases with each race, and now that the series is revisiting tracks for the second time this season, Knost has a more of a baseline to work with.

“I would say I’m more comfortable,” Knost said. “At this point, I have more of an expectation for the way that practices lay out and how the week lays out. I’m more comfortable with making decisions. As far as Daytona goes, there is a lot that’s out of your control. I guess I knew that going in, but now I really know that. From that perspective, I guess I would say that I just have more of an idea in terms of expectations.”

Knost and Busch have developed a good rapport and communication. Unfortunately, five DNFs (three crashes, two engine issues) have put the team behind.

“I’ve definitely learned that people respond to things differently,” Knost said. “Whether it’s communication, circumstances or results, everyone responds to those things differently. One of the key things to get right as a team leader is to figure out how to work with all of these different people and try to find a way to get the best out of each one of them when they don’t react the same to certain things. That’s been a big learning curve.

“Technically, there are all sorts of little details that, each time you come out of a test, practice or race, you look back at the things you did well and the things you missed. You hope you don’t miss those things multiple times. I feel like there have been plenty of things I would do differently if given another opportunity. I think there are some things I’ve done well and would do again if given the opportunity but, in general, you just see a lot of the little details someone with more experience might take for granted. Those are the things that become second nature with experience but, when you haven’t done it before, you have to actively think about it.”

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Hunter-Reay released from hospital; not yet cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been released from a nearby hospital at Pocono Raceway after his accident in qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) but has not yet been cleared to drive. He’ll be re-evaluated by INDYCAR Sunday morning.

The full release from INDYCAR and Andretti Autosport is below:

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was evaluated at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday for injuries to his left hip and knee sustained in a crash in qualifying for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Hunter-Reay was treated and released but has not been cleared to drive, pending a re-evaluation Sunday morning.

“During qualifying today, out of nowhere, the car stepped out on me,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was a bit of a wiggle, which I caught. The second time it happened, it came with no warning – which is a bit confusing. I hit my hip pretty bad as well as my knee, so the doctors thought it would be best to go in for further evaluation. After a CT scan and MRI, I am able to go and get a good night’s sleep. I’m sure I’ll wake up sore, but will hopefully be able to get back in the DHL machine tomorrow.

“I know the entire Andretti Autosport team worked hard to get the car put back together and with 500 miles, there is still a chance to win from the back of the field. I can’t thank the Holmatro Safety Team enough for their quick response along with the medical staff at INDYCAR, Pocono and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest. Also, thank you to the fans for reaching out with their support.”

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Pocono (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the series trip to the “Tricky Triangle” for the ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass also continues for another episode from the three-turn oval, Pocono Raceway, in Long Pond, Pa.

NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter and Indy Lights analyst Anders Krohn checks in for the latest edition of the show, which you can see above.

On tap in this week’s episode are interviews with Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Will Power, and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay led first practice; however was involved in a heavy accident in qualifying later Saturday afternoon and transported to a nearby hospital.

His status is unclear for Sunday.

Newgarden leads the championship but had a tough qualifying run – he was only 14th Saturday afternoon – while Power was second among Chevrolets and starts fifth. He is the defending Pocono race winner.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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