NASCAR: Kurt Busch looks to make noise of his own in Chase opener

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Between Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, it’s probably safe to say that more people believe the latter will be Stewart-Haas Racing’s best hope to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But while Busch hasn’t had the overall performance that Harvick’s had in 2014, the “Outlaw” and his No. 41 SHR team has shown steady improvement after a first half that saw him win at Martinsville but also suffer multiple DNFs.

Busch will begin the Chase this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway as the No. 10 seed. He and SHR tested at the 1.5-mile oval in Joliet, Illinois late last month.

In addition, the group has also tested at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the lead-up to the Chase. Busch hopes that those sessions will prove valuable and help them put up good results that can ensure an advancement to the Contender Round.

“I hope we are able to take advantage of the test and not fall behind on that first practice session [Friday] – that has been some of the trouble this year and we have played a little bit of catch-up after the first Friday practice,” Busch noted in a team release.

“Now, with a test session used at Chicago, a test session used at Loudon, we have to apply that knowledge the right way and make these finishes count because that is what the Chase is all about.”

Last year at Chicagoland, Busch turned in a fourth-place effort for Furniture Row Racing. But over the years, Chicagoland has been an up-and-down track for him: One Top-5 and 7 Top-10 finishes, plus five finishes outside the Top 25.

Busch likes the place enough, but as you’ve probably guessed, it hasn’t always been lucky for him.

“An example is the 2002 race,” Busch said, referring to a race where he finished sixth for Roush Racing after starting on the front row. “We had a really fast car for that race but, for some reason after the last pit stop, the car just wasn’t handling the same as it had been. We were just way too tight and really couldn’t figure out why.

“When we got back to the shop and started going over the car, we realized that the radiator pan had come off and that’s like 100 pounds of front downforce. We were going so fast that the car bottomed out and dragged the radiator pan out. It’s just weird stuff like that.”

One could argue that Busch’s already had enough “weird stuff” happen to him in 2014, and that he definitely doesn’t want more of it on Sunday.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.