Kyle Busch on failing inspection, Cup drivers in NNS and getting ‘more noise’ than Keselowski, Logano

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Kyle Busch didn’t appear fazed by the fact his Nationwide Series car failed pre-race inspection and he was forced to start at the back of Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300.

When asked by ESPN’s Vince Welch before the race how it would impact his chances in the race, the younger Busch brother was curt and to the point.

“Absolutely none, everything’s fine,” Busch said. “It’s just unfortunate that we weren’t able to qualify and qualify on the pole. We just gave everybody else a chance today.”

It’s that kind of response that gives additional ammunition to fans who are growing tired of Sprint Cup drivers racing – and dominating, particularly Busch and his record 65 career wins – in the NNS.

The younger Busch brother was momentarily taken aback when Welch asked how he would feel if he was a full-time Nationwide driver and forced to compete against someone who is so dominant in the series.

Once again, Busch failing to directly answer the question.

“Well, good thing I don’t have to think about that, so I really won’t,” he said. “I just worry about what I am and what I have to do today with this Monster Energy Camry and get it to victory lane.”

Finally, Welch broke through when he asked Busch what he learned during his Nationwide days.

“I learned how to race,” Busch said. “I learned a little bit how to Saturday race, but also you learn a little how to Sunday race and what those guys (Cup drivers) are doing.

“My (NNS) rookie season (2004), I won five races against those guys and I probably could have won more if it wasn’t for them being in the series, but I still won a lot and learned even more.

“I think it’s something that helps you out if you want to further yourself on up to Cup and get ready for that.”

Saturday was Busch’s 275th career start in the Nationwide Series. In addition to his 65 wins, he came into the race with 154 top-five and 189 top-10 finishes.

Break those down further, and Busch has won 24 percent – essentially one in every four – of the NNS races he’s entered.

He’s finished in the top-five 56 percent of the time and an in the top-10 an unheard 69 percent.

ESPN analyst and former Sprint Cup driver Ricky Craven took Busch’s supremacy  in the series to task. Craven empathized with full-time NNS drivers forced to continually finish behind Cup drivers such as Busch, particularly in the latter part of the season.

Craven is on to something: Of Busch’s 65 NNS wins, only 13 times has the runner-up been a Nationwide driver.

“He doesn’t need 100 Nationwide races in his career to prove he’s great to me,” Craven said of Busch. “He’s a great driver, but running 26 races a year and he’s a top-tier Sprint Cup driver seems like a conflict of interest. I’m not saying he doesn’t belong in the Nationwide Series, but 15 times a year is enough.

“There are (NNS) drivers that have disappeared because of the suffocating effect of not being able to get attention, to sell the sponsorship. I’m not saying what Kyle’s doing is wrong, he loves it, but it’s great for Kyle Busch. And in this business, or in sports, drivers and athletes will be selfish if you allow it.”

Craven likely won’t get an argument from Busch on the selfish part, whether fans love him or hate him.

“I seem to get more noise than when Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano win,” Busch admits.

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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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