Kyle Busch earns Nationwide pole for tonight at Bristol

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Kyle Busch captured the pole position for tonight’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 300 with a lap of 125.142 miles per hour in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Busch unseated Kyle Larson from the provisional pole with roughly seven and a half minutes remaining in the second and final round of knockout qualifying.

He then improved to his final pole time of 15.333 seconds on his next lap (his third timed lap in Round 2).

“It was quite eventful to be honest with you, but that’s pretty quick around here for these Nationwide cars,” Busch said to Fox Sports after claiming his fifth Nationwide pole of 2014.

“…[Crew chief] Adam [Stevens] and the guys again have done a nice job this weekend, so we’ll see if we can capitalize on what we’ve got right now and see if we can win here after 300 laps.”

Joining him on the front row will be Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, who will make his second front row start of the year (pole at Iowa Speedway in May) in the No. 22 Ford.

“I thought I got beat getting into the corner, by my Dad [Dave Blaney] said he killed me off the corner, so I guess I got in a little bit deeper than I expected,” Ryan said.

“I didn’t think we were great the first round – we kinda took it easy a little bit – but [crew chief] Jeremy Bullins did a great job of adjusting it here for the second round, the one that counts. I just needed a little more stability in the corner.”

Kyle Larson and Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott will start from Row 2, followed by a pair of Joe Gibbs Racing pilots – Elliott Sadler and young Erik Jones – in Row 3. Ty Dillon and Regan Smith are in Row 4, and Row 5 belongs to Richard Childress Racing teammates Brian Scott and Cale Conley.

The first round was slowed by a red flag following a two-car incident involving Carl Long and Hermie Sadler. About 10 minutes into the 30-minute round, Long spun out off of Turn 4 and slid into the back of Sadler on the frontstretch.

Sadler sustained serious rear-end damage to his No. 19 car, but Fox Sports reported during the qualifying telecast that his team would make repairs to the wounded primary instead of bringing out their backup. He was able to make the field on owner’s points.

Five drivers failed to qualify for tonight’s race: Milka Duno, Derrike Cope, Matt Frahm, Carl Long, and Ryan Ellis.

The green flag for tonight’s 300-lap event should fall shortly after 7:30 p.m. ET.

NASCAR Nationwide Series at Bristol – Food City 300 Starting Lineup

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.