Kurt Busch, Furniture Row Racing out to make history

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Since the inception of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a single-car team has never been able to break into NASCAR’s “playoff” stretch. Tonight at Richmond International Raceway, that could all change.

Kurt Busch and Furniture Row Racing control their own destiny in the Federated Auto Parts 400, which Busch will start from the outside of the front row. Should “The Outlaw” notch his first victory of the season tonight, he’ll have the chance to battle for a second Sprint Cup title.

And for himself and FRR, the single-car squad based out of the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, making the Chase would also stand as a massive victory for the underdog in a sport that’s dominated by multi-car powerhouses.

But while Busch would regard such an accomplishment as a big one, he isn’t racing for 10th in the Cup standings, either.

“Championships are what every driver sets out to achieve,” Busch said Thursday at Richmond. “When they’re building a team, they want to win championships.”

First thing’s first, though, and for Busch and the No. 78 FRR team, that’s making sure to stay within the Top 10 of the standings tonight so they can get in the post-season. Busch holds the 10th spot on the table, but has no wins this year and only has six points between him and 11th place Jeff Gordon.

At several points this season, Busch looked in position to take the checkered flag only to have various issues keep him from doing so. But he doesn’t like to play the “what if” game. All that matters now is tonight.

“We’re here to make the Chase with the 78 car,” he said. “Two weeks ago at Bristol, we had a right rear [wheel] hub failure. That put us up against the fence. We knew at that point Atlanta and Richmond would be the two most important races of the 78 car’s career.”

Busch got the first part down with a fourth-place finish at Atlanta last Saturday night that was fueled by a brilliant late restart. He reckons that restarts will once again play a key role in tonight’s race.

Another possible factor? Pit road. Busch’s FRR team has had its share of pit woes during the year, but Busch is still confident that his crew will shine when they need to.

“I see this coming down to a pit stop or two, down to a restart at the end,” he said. “I know they’re going to put their best stop down when it counts, because we know the whole season rides on this weekend.”

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

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