NASCAR: Martinsville win should be a relief for Kurt Busch on several levels

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So Stewart-Haas Racing’s two newest drivers – Kevin Harvick and now Kurt Busch – have themselves a victory in 2014. For Busch, this one is as much as a relief for the rest of his 2014 as planned, as it is a great comeback story from two years with mid-level teams.

As the sixth winner in as many NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 2014, Busch has all but locked himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The only way he isn’t is, again, if there are more than 16 race winners within the first 26 regular season races.

In terms of his gelling with SHR, crew chief Daniel Knost and the rest of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet team, Busch and company are now starting to get the results to back up the pace they’ve had thus far throughout the first six races. With third at Auto Club Speedway last week and now the Martinsville win, that’s back-to-back top-five finishes.

“His pit calls were wonderful,” Busch said post-race. “The pit crew did an excellent job holding serve on pit road, and every time that I had a little handling issue, Daniel had a fix for it today, so great teamwork. Thank you, Daniel.”

This also takes a bit of stress off Busch for his month of May double, running in both the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport and then the Coca-Cola 600 that night of Sunday, May 25.

So long as he produces a qualifying attempt for the Coca-Cola 600 on Thursday, May 22, he’s good to go for the Chase within the regulations. He would be free to miss the start of the Coca-Cola 600 if Indianapolis were to have some sort of delay, or if Busch was to win the 500-miler.

Of course missing the Charlotte start would defeat the whole intention of running 1,100 miles in a single day of racing.

Back in his day job, Busch is particularly proud of the teamwork already established by the No. 41 camp, which is also relieving.

“So it shows what teamwork is all about. That’s what I want everybody to take away from today is teamwork,” he said. “What better way to win than using that old cliché, can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I’ve got a Hendrick chassis and a Hendrick motor prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing, and we brought our No. 41 car home to victory lane.”

Take the controversy of the Brad Keselowski dust-up out of it and this was a needed result on several levels for “The Outlaw.”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds