Kyle Busch trying to boost fading Chase hopes with three to go

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On Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch admitted to taking a glance at the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with three races remaining in the season. He probably didn’t like what he saw.

Busch enters Texas fifth in the Chase at 36 points behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, who are currently tied atop the table. He dropped two spots in the standings after he finished 15th last weekend at Martinsville Speedway due to late-race handling woes.

The good news for Busch is that he won at Texas back in the spring. But the bad news is that another win on the 1.5-mile oval in tomorrow’s AAA Texas 500 may wind up not doing much for him if the guys he’s chasing – Kenseth, Johnson, third-place Jeff Gordon (-27 points) and fourth-place Kevin Harvick (-28 points) – turn in solid results, too.

“It’s certainly going to be a lot tougher now than what it had been and obviously, we’re going to have to have some luck on our side and the other guys aren’t going to be able to have luck on their side,” Busch said before qualifying fifth for Sunday’s race.

“If you have bad luck with the front two, then that’s going to bring five guys back into it, I feel like. It’s going to be an even tighter [championship] race. That’s what the fans want to see, probably [what] the media wants to see and what I want to see, but I bet you the front two don’t.”

Busch led a race-high 171 laps and took the lead for good off pit stops with 19 laps to go en route to claiming April’s NRA 500 at Texas. He’s hopeful that he can return to that form of dominance this weekend, as he attempts to erase his deficit to the leaders.

As far as the Chase is concerned, Busch believes that this year’s post-season has been better for him than those in seasons past. But as he noted, his wreck last month at Kansas and his late-race fade at Martinsville have put him in a big hole.

Now, from his standpoint, it’s win or bust.

“You don’t have that option here anymore in the Chase for as much as those guys up front are running well,” he said. “You can’t have any of those [bad races]. We’ve got to be on top of our game and come out here and the best we can do is lead all the laps and win all the races in these final three and see where the points stack up.

“If we do that and we still don’t win it, we did our job. If we don’t do that then, essentially, we didn’t do our job. We still got to be able to run the best that we can and try to make up ground and see where it all lies.”

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

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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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.”