Ryan Blaney passes Kyle Busch on final restart, hangs on to win Nationwide race at Bristol

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Ryan Blaney caused a late-race crash that took out Kyle Larson and Dylan Kwasniewski, and then rallied off the final restart following a subsequent caution to steal away the win from Kyle Busch in Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The younger Busch brother was looking to set Nationwide Series history, hoping to earn a fourth consecutive win at BMS.

But the 20-year-old Blaney got a great restart with six laps to go while Busch appeared to have the rear of his car up in the air after being hit from behind by Regan Smith. That allowed Blaney to get a bit of a lead coming to the green flag and he never looked back.

“I have to apologize to Kyle Larson,” Blaney said of the earlier wreck. “I got loose and I’m real sorry about that.”

As for his duel with Busch in the closing laps, Blaney, who led just seven laps in the event, added, “Kyle didn’t go on that last restart. He said his tires were jacked up. … I was just driving my guts out (that he wouldn’t be caught by Busch).”

Busch tried to close the gap and came within about a car length of catching Blaney with two laps to go, but the Team Penske driver was not to be denied, earning his second career NNS win in 24 series starts (he also won in Sept. 2013 at Kentucky Speedway).

Needless to say, Busch was not happy afterward. TV replays showed Regan Smith got into the back end of Busch’s Toyota and lifted it up

“My rear tires weren’t on the ground and I couldn’t go anywhere,” a dejected Busch told ESPN.

It’s understandable that Busch would be miffed. He started from the pole, dominated the 300-lap event by leading 161 laps, only to fall short.

Later in the BMS media center, Busch expounded on his frustration at both losing the race and the potential record.

“(In the latter third of the race) I couldn’t get by (Kyle) Larson on a single-lane race track – it’s pathetic,” Busch said. “But you know, once I did get a position on him, kinda sorta, I just – you gotta try to move the guy out of the way, so I forced him high and got clear of him. And then that was gonna be the race until the last restart, when my rear tires weren’t on the race track and I couldn’t accelerate forward.”

“… The 22 was, I don’t know, 5 mph faster than me going to the first double-yellow stripe. And I didn’t go, because I didn’t want to go. But everybody behind me is trying to go because they’re following the 22. I’m trying to wait for him to stop so I can go by the single red mark on the wall. It’s stupid. NASCAR doesn’t police it and so everybody keeps jacking around on it and you know – one of these days, I’m just gonna lock all four down and stack the whole field up.”

When asked how many more laps he might have needed to potentially catch Blaney, Busch became miffed once again.

“I don’t know if I could have,” he said. “It’s a single-lane race track. You can’t (expletive) pass here. It’s pathetic.”

Chase Elliott finished third, followed by Ty Dillon and Smith, who had words with Dillon after the race.

“I just don’t like the way he (Dillon) raced all night,” Smith told ESPN. “He ran into me three or four times all night. Everybody else out there is able to give room and he doesn’t. He said he got tight. That seems to always be the excuse, when you get tight, you lift off the gas pedal. Next time I run him over, I’m going to get tight, too.”

Dillon countered Smith’s claims by saying he had to be aggressive.

“We just got a little too tight,” Dillon said. “It’s Bristol, man. That’s why I was upset. We were going for all we can. Nobody got tore up. It’s racing. I had a lot of fun. … I’m not going to give anybody anything when I’m trying to run for the championship.”

Brendan Gaughan finished sixth followed by Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, James Buescher and Chris Buescher.

Larson appeared to be the best chance of catching Busch, but was involved in a wreck 20 laps from the finish with Ryan Blaney and Larson’s Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, Dylan Kwasniewski, suffering heavy rear damage. The other cars suffered less severe damage.

“We went in side-by-side into (turn) one,” Larson said about battling for position with Blaney. “I thought he was going to chase me up the track and instead he sent me into the wall. This really sucks.”

Blaney went up heading into a turn and took out Larson. Blaney accepted the blame for the incident, saying over his team radio, “Sorry, I got loose. I’m sorry.”

When told about Blaney’s apology, Larson seemed understanding.

“Ryan’s a good kid,” Larson said. “I know it wasn’t on purpose. This is Bristol. It’s short track racing.”

Championship contender Elliott Sadler was collected in a spin by Timmy Hill on Lap 184. While his crew tried to repair the damage several times while keeping Sadler on the lead lap, he eventually went one lap down to the leaders.

Then, just moments afterward, Sadler wrecked into the outside retaining wall. His team got him back out onto the track, only to be involved in another wreck on Lap 264.

Sadler’s struggles put a serious dent in his title hopes, not to mention dropping him from third to fourth, and from 11 points back to 28 points in arrears to series leader Elliott in the Nationwide Series standings.

Smith remains in second place while Dillon passed Sadler and into third place.

Rain threatened to shorten the scheduled 300 laps near the end of the event, but stayed away long enough to get the entire race in.

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”