After Bristol problems, Kyle Busch needs good recovery at Atlanta

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Last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway was the nadir of a horrendous month for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.

The Irwin Tools Night Race had Busch penalized early for speeding, collected in a multi-car crash, and engaged in a spat over the radio with crew chief Dave Rogers before finishing 36th – his fourth consecutive finish outside of the Top 35.

Busch may already be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by virtue of his win earlier this season at Fontana.

But out of the 12 drivers that have clinched post-season berths, he may be the one in most need of a good performance this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

He got a good start on the weekend yesterday when he qualified eighth for Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500.

“Our first [run] was by far our best of the three we made in qualifying,” he said. “We just were wrecking loose out of the turns and it made it hard to be aggressive.

“It’s still a good effort…And definitely better than where we were in practice today.”

Busch can take confidence from the fact that he won at Atlanta last season, aided by a superb late pit stop that allowed him to take the lead.

The bad news is that JGR’s former Midas touch on 1.5-mile ovals is no longer so, thanks in part to a lack of engine performance compared to those teams with Hendrick engines and the Roush Yates-powered Team Penske.

That part was something Busch had noted during the week.

“We’re not quite where we need to be with our mile-and-a-half stuff, but Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen,” he said in a release.

“You have to have good grip, you have to have good fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else – so you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early or save a little and be there late.”

Grip, pace, and patience are all important, but after last week’s frustrations, the last one will be most critical for Busch.

He sometimes seem to thrive on the controversy he generates (and you’ve shown in the comments section this week that he can generate a lot).

But with two races to go before the Chase and with his team in a tailspin, now’s not the time for that.

Now is the time for him to put up a big result and get the 18 camp back on solid footing before the championship stakes are raised.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.