Kyle Busch fails to pass inspection, starts 39th for today’s Nationwide race

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The most dominant force in the NASCAR Nationwide Series will have to start from the back in today’s 300-mile Nationwide race at Auto Club Speedway.

The No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch, who has already won twice in four Nationwide starts this season, was unable to pass inspection and could not take part in the first round of qualifying.

“Initially, we went around because our wheel studs were too short and when we came back through, we’d fixed the wheel studs and we had too much skew in it,” crew chief Adam Stevens said to Fox. “We didn’t do anything to change the skew but the numbers jumped on the [inspection] platform.

“We all go across the same platform, and we rolled through last night and we were happy with all the numbers that we had. So we start backing skew out of it, a little bit at a time, and the numbers aren’t moving…For some reason, the adjustments we’ve made haven’t moved the needle and baby-stepping it hasn’t done it, and we’ve run out of time.”

Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network reports word from NASCAR managing director of competition John Darby that a rear axle housing issue on the No. 54 was behind them failing to pass inspection.

As a result, Busch will start 39th in the TreatMyClot.com 300, which could make for a wild show as he attempts to rip through the field once again.

Two weeks ago in the Nationwide race at Las Vegas, he was forced to start from the rear due to his team having to make an unapproved adjustment after the cars had been impounded post-qualifying.

He was back in the Top 10 by the time the race had reached 20 laps, and went on to finish second to Brad Keselowski.

As for who will be on the pole for today’s race, that honor goes to one of Busch’s JGR teammates, Elliott Sadler. His final-round lap of 176.991 miles per hour in the No. 11 JGR Toyota was enough to out-hustle a third JGR man, Matt Kenseth (176.948 mph).

Ty Dillon and Joey Logano will start from Row 2, with the JR Motorsports tandem of Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick following in Row 3. Turner Scott Motorsports partners Dylan Kwasniewski and Kyle Larson make up Row 4, while Richard Childress Racing’s Brian Scott and Brendan Gaughan sit in Row 5.

Nationwide points leader Regan Smith will start on the inside of Row 6 along with James Buescher. Trevor Bayne, who sits just one point behind Smith in the championship, qualified 13th.

JGR has won the Fontana Nationwide race nine consecutive times and could very well make it a 10th straight triumph later today. The green flag is set to drop shortly after 5 p.m. ET.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.