NASCAR: This time at Indy, it’s just stock cars for Kurt Busch

Leave a comment

The last time Kurt Busch was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was embarking on a quest to become only the second driver to complete all 1,100 miles of the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the same day.

While his quest ended with engine failure in the ‘600’, the first part of his Double went almost flawlessly as he managed to finish sixth at Indy in his first open-wheel race.

Now, the Outlaw is returning to the world’s greatest race course. But there will be no Double this time around – just 400 miles in his No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet on Sunday at the Brickyard 400.

However, the memories remain from this past May of pushing to not only perform well in a different discipline, but uphold NASCAR’s honor in the world’s biggest race.

“In the world of NASCAR, we race 40 weekends a year and it consumes your life and sometimes can burn you out,” Busch recalled recently. “But Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., is the guy who threw down the gauntlet – ‘You are representing NASCAR’ – and at that point, it hit me that this was bigger than my personal goals.

“I was going to be judged as the only pure NASCAR driver with no Indy experience to go there and compete with the best of the best in their biggest race. I never seem to do things the easy way. I had to pick the year that Indy was at its most competitive.”

But Busch was able to hang with IndyCar’s finest, and that brought him a world of respect from competitors and fans alike.

“When I landed on the front straightaway at Charlotte after finishing Indy, everybody was applauding me like I was no longer the bad guy,” he said. “I was their NASCAR guy coming home, who went to Indy and made them proud so much that people were saying, ‘We always knew he was a racer.'”

Busch is now focusing on what it will take to conquer Indy in a stock car. He’s never won there in 13 Brickyard 400s. But it’s not like he’s the only that’s trying to solve the place. Of the 16 drivers that currently occupy the Chase Grid, he’s among a group of 12 that’s winless there.

A victory on Sunday would give him two for the year (Martinsville), which in turn would make him a virtual lock for the post-season. But it will not be easy.

“Indianapolis is tough,” Busch said. “It’s been a tough place for me but it became even more of a challenge when they did the diamond cutting of the track.

“It’s just hard trying to find the balance you need that works at the beginning and will get you to the end of the race. We tend to have long, green-flag runs there and, for some reason, it has just been a track where I’m still trying to figure out the nuances you need to have a proper-handling car that gets around there and is fast.”

Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.

Haas’ sophomore F1 season starts badly with double DNF in Australia

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Haas Formula 1 team’s sophomore campaign got off to a bad start on Sunday as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were both forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, making its debut in Australia 12 months ago.

Grosjean scored a memorable sixth-place finish on that day in Melbourne, and looked poised to repeat the result in 2017 after qualifying sixth on Saturday.

A poor start was Grosjean drop to seventh, but he managed to hold position through the opening stint of the race ahead of the pit stop cycle.

However, Grosjean had no chance to wield some strategic genius as Haas did last year, with a water leak forcing him to retire while inside the top 10.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car,” Grosjean explained.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that. I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car.

“I guess the key for us is to keep the momentum and get the consistency we didn’t have last year, where I’d be fifth in Bahrain then 19th in China. I really want to improve on that and get more consistency in terms of results. If we do that, then I’m sure there are going to be plenty of races where we can score good points.”

Grosjean’s new teammate for 2017, Kevin Magnussen, suffered an early setback when he clashed with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson on the first lap, and ultimately retired due to a suspension issue stemming from the incident.

“I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit,” Magnussen said.

“We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast.

“That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “Not the race we wished for, or we expected. With Romain it looks like we had a water leak. We don’t know yet where that came from.

“Obviously, Kevin’s race was destroyed in the third corner after the contact with Ericsson. He then ended up later with a suspension failure, which we still have to investigate why.

“The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast. We need to work on a few parts and, hopefully, we can get back strong again in China in two weeks.”

Sam Posey previews 2017 with ‘The Winds of Change’ (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

As the 2017 kicks off from Australia, our resident poet laureate Sam Posey has penned his latest essay on what’s to come ahead of the new year.

Here’s a look ahead to the new season, with Posey’s “The Winds of Change” looking at the vast transformation in the sport that occurred over the winter, from the change in ownership, to the change in cars, to the change in the lineups… and to the change in the pecking order.

An archive of Posey’s 2016 essays are linked here.