Kyle Busch keeps pace in championship with another Top-5

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From Kyle Busch’s perspective, he squeezed as much out of his car as he could have en route to a fifth-place finish in today’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Busch continued his consistent Chase for the Sprint Cup so far, punching out a Top-5 result after finishing second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Chase leader Matt Kenseth in the first two post-season races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire.

But in a sign of how tough his championship battle will be, he still fell back to third in the standings behind race winner Jimmie Johnson – even though he has earned an average finish of third so far in the Chase.

“We were about a fifth to seventh-place car much of the day, and we ended up fifth…Certainly, I wish we definitely could’ve gotten more,” Busch said afterwards. “We probably could’ve if I could’ve got the outside lane on the final restart; I probably could’ve finished third, but we didn’t get that.

“We had to fight through it and pass a couple cars the hard way, and we ended up fifth. It’s certainly the finish that our car had today. When you look at the grand scheme of things and it’s three straight Top-5 finishes to start the Chase, it’s not too bad.”

Like his teammate Kenseth, Busch was stuck on the inside lane going into the final restart with 26 laps remaining after taking four tires on his final stop. However, he insisted that taking four was the right call instead of going for two in an attempt to gain track position.

“[I’m] definitely glad we made that call and I just wish that maybe I would have come out one spot worse off pit road so I could have had the outside,” Busch said. “As quick as everything happens in this sport, you can’t always predict and get what you want.”

“The inside lane just doesn’t get going [on restarts] here. I think it’s because you’re lower in the bowl than the outside lane is and you’re coming up out of it and you’re just having to come uphill and obviously, the more uphill you have to go, it’s harder – whether you’re a human being or mechanical horsepower.”

Busch now sits 12 points behind Kenseth as the series heads for Kansas, which has not been one of the better tracks for “Rowdy.” In 12 career starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Busch has finished no better than seventh (2006) and has crashed out in his last two runs there.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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