After leading most laps, Kurt Busch ends up short at Daytona

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There’s the racing game, the waiting game and the weather game. Kurt Busch won the first two in Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, but fell just a wee bit shirt on the third.

Busch led the most laps – 36, nearly one-third of the rain-shortened 112-lap race – in what was a scheduled 160-lap event.

As the race began, Busch waited patiently until he got past early leader Matt Kenseth and had a car potent and capable enough to win.

But with so much uncertainty about the incoming weather around DIS, Busch wound up being at the wrong place at the wrong time, went from first to third on the final pit stop following the massive 25-car wreck on Lap 98 and 14 laps later, ultimately ended up third.

It was still a great finish, but if fate and strategy would only have played out a bit differently, Busch likely would have won his second race of the season – and the first ever at Daytona in his Sprint Cup career.

“I thought we had a good finish today,” Busch said after the race in the DIS media center. “You know, I’d love to be out there racing and competing for the win, and the car ran strong.

“We dominated, led most laps, and the Haas Automation Chevy was a good car right from the time it was completed and shoved into the wind tunnel, and those guys really did a good job back at the shop to prepare the No. 41 for all the speed that you need here at Daytona.

“We led a lot of laps today and thought we were in good position, and when you’re racing knowing that there’s weather in the area, it’s best to be in that lead position because that gives you the best shot at when the rain does come and if they do call the race, that you’re the leader.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t win or place, but Busch indeed showed he had a good car, good run and the promise of even more success potentially going forward from Daytona.

“Most importantly, though, we’ve made a good turn on the 41 car the last month with good solid finishes,” Busch said. “Today it’s disappointing to finish third after leading the most laps, but all in all, looking at the long-term projection, it’s been solid on the 41 car, and it was great to run good Daytona weekend, July 4th.”

Even though Almirola beat Busch out of the pits on the final stop, there’s no cause to blame Busch, his pit crew or crew chief Daniel Knost. It was just racing luck – or in Busch’s case, bad luck.

“Daniel was on top of when we needed fuel and when we were playing the halfway game,” Busch said, “as well as when we were playing the pit the last time to make it all the way to lap 160.

“And it seemed like it was putting us in a good position to lead laps, which we did.  We were leading at the time, and that’s what you want if the rain is going to come out.”

While Busch understood why NASCAR was forced to call the race when it did, he admits some disappointment – most likely because he wasn’t at the front of the pack when the decision to make it an official race was reached.

“It seems early to call a race,” Busch said. “t is Sunday already, and the majority of our fans that showed up were going to use this day to travel back home. On average how far are the fans here locally traveling to get back home? Is it four hours? Maybe we could have run later on today and still finished and everybody could have back home and to work on Monday.

“You know, the network TV side of it versus the safety of the fans, as well, with thunder and lightning in the area, it’s a tough call to make. I didn’t do my job to be the leader.  We didn’t quite have a couple solid restarts at the end to be the leader for when the race was going to get called.”

Busch hopes to build upon the momentum from Sunday’s third-place finish heading into next Sunday’s race at New Hampshire, especially as the communication and relationship with Knost continues to develop and improve.

“There’s some times when a driver and a crew chief hit it off and they’re off to the races right away,” Busch said. “Daniel and I have been slower to mature together in our relationship, and so we’re 18 races into our first date.

“Now we’re going into the second half of the season, and all of our first dates are done. We’ll go to New Hampshire and that’ll be the last new track that we see together, and then from there on out, all the tracks that we’ve been to we have notes and we have test sessions planned, and that’s where we have to make the 41 team stronger.”

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”