Runner-up result puts Kurt Busch, FRR in the Chase

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After fighting and scrapping throughout the Sprint Cup regular season, Kurt Busch and his single-car Furniture Row Racing team received their just reward Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

Overcoming early pit woes with a pace that never flagged on his No. 78 Chevy, Busch took home a second-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 to clinch a spot in NASCAR’s post-season stretch.

Of course, the job is not yet done. As he indicated on Thursday, Busch, a former Sprint Cup champion, is not here to simply make the show, but to put a second Sprint Cup on his mantle.

Still, the glassy, emotional eyes he sported in his post-race television interview seemed to indicate that he knew the magnitude of his accomplishment tonight.

After damaging his reputation with several controversies in the past, he has won back many fans with his efforts this season for the Colorado-based FRR. Now, he and the little team that can – not could, can – will be dueling with the big boys this fall for a title.

“It’s been a journey,” Busch told ESPN. “It’s been a great ride of trying to persevere and go up against the odds, when certain things are against you that are out of your control – and sometimes, you induce things that put you in the position to have to dig hard and keep working.”

Busch took the lead for the first time at Lap 66 and once more at Lap 110, but lost it after a slow stop on pit road under yellow at Lap 136. The FRR pit crew’s problems through the regular season had been a focal point going into tonight’s race.

But after that issue, Busch quickly picked himself back up, moving up to second by the halfway point of the race. His team then gained redemption on his next stop (also under yellow), enabling their man to leapfrog early contender Brad Keselowski for the lead.

Busch would eventually give up the lead on the next green stint, but kept within the Top 5 for the remainder of the night.

And with Jeff Gordon, his main nemesis for the 10th spot in the Cup standings, having to rally from two laps down after pitting under green for a loose right-front wheel, it became more and more clear that Busch was going to pull it off.

Afterwards, Busch praised his team for a job well done.

“[Team owner] Barney Visser started this with these guys in Colorado years ago, and here we are in the Chase,” he said. “And when you get a guy like [crew chief] Todd Berrier to come in and help arrange things, cut weight out of the cars, knows his way around the garage – he’s a veteran leader.”

“…We’ve got some muscle in us. We haven’t won a race yet this year, but we’re in the Chase and we’ve got a good ten weeks ahead where we can do some great things.”

The Chase begins next weekend in Chicago, and with that, the final chapter together for Busch and FRR will begin as well. Next year, he’ll move on to what will be a four-car armada at Stewart-Haas Racing.

But thanks to their work tonight at Richmond, at least this feel-good story is going to have a few more pages.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”