Kurt Busch hopes Chase lightning can strike twice for him, just like in 2004


CHICAGO – Kurt Busch finds himself in familiar territory as the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins this weekend.

It was 10 years ago in 2004 that Busch became the first driver to win the then new-fangled Chase for the Nextel Cup format, a 10-race playoff that featured 10 drivers battling it out for the championship.

Busch emerged victorious and appeared headed to several more championships in the following season.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

But in a way, Busch is back in the same position as he was heading into NASCAR’s first-ever playoffs in 2004: even though it’s still called the Chase, it’s an entirely new format with new twists (three elimination rounds), more drivers (16 instead of 10 as in 2004) and there’s a lot of unknown among drivers and teams going into the 11th edition of the Chase.

“It doesn’t,” Busch said when asked if it seems that long since he won his Cup crown. “It seems like maybe five or six years have gone by. It’d be easy just to scratch off the zero (the second zero in 2004) and add a one on the Nextel Cup that I have.

“To add a Sprint Cup to Stewart-Haas’s trophy case in 2014, the team is ready. (Kevin) Harvick’s team is definitely a strong frontrunner. Our program, our strength, we’re going to wear ’em out with consistency in the first few rounds and see where we stack up.”

Admittedly, Busch would not be in the this year’s Chase had it not been for his win in spring at Martinsville. He’s admittedly had struggles for a good chunk of the first 26 races but feels a positive turnaround is definitely in the cards for the final 10 events.

“You have a formula in your own mind, you have a plan and you stick with it. If it unfolds exactly how you planned it, then you stay a step ahead of everybody else,” Busch said during Thursday’s Chase Media Day in downtown Chicago. “I don’t want to reveal all our secrets, but we’ve applied them the last two months. I like the way Kevin Harvick and I have worked together. We really tried hard with Tony and Danica this last month to get (them) that win.”

Harvick and Busch are the only flag-bearers for Stewart-Haas Racing in this year’s Chase, as both Stewart and Patrick failed to qualify. But even with just two representatives in the playoffs, Busch feels SHR has just as good of a chance to make it to the four-driver, winner-take-all final round at Homestead in mid-November as any other team.

“You win by numbers and Hendrick Motorsports has four of the top 16 teams,” Busch said. “When it goes to that final round at Miami-Homestead, if we have two of our two still left, we have a 50 percent chance of winning it. You win by numbers.”

And even though Patrick and Stewart aren’t in the Chase, they can still help Busch’s and Harvick’s respective marches to the championship.

How so?

“Well, they can wreck a lot of people out there,” Busch said with a laugh, before adding with a serious second thought. “I know they won’t do that.

“Teammates do come into play. Tony and I share very similar setups. The way we drive, the way we think, Tony and I are so similar and it’s been great to go through that this year and see that.

“It’s up to us to keep track with Kevin, he has his speed and raw power, but for us on the 41, we’re the mirror image on the 14. If he finds something, that’s an extra step that’s going to help the 41 team.”

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Josef Newgarden claims first Indy 500 victory, outdueling Marcus Ericsson in 1-lap shootout


INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden won the 107th Indy 500 with a last-lap pass of Marcus Ericsson, giving team owner Roger Penske his 19th victory in the race but his first as the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In a one-lap shootout after the third red flag in the final 20 laps, Newgarden grabbed the lead from Ericsson on the backstretch and then weaved his way to the checkered flag (mimicking the same moves Ericsson had made to win at the Brickyard last year). Santino Ferrucci finished third for AJ Foyt Racing, maintaining his streak of finishing in the top 10 in all five of his Indianapolis 500 starts.

“I’m just so thankful to be here,” Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “You have no idea. I started out as a fan in the crowd. And this place, it’s amazing.

INSIDE TEAM PENSKE: The tension and hard work preceding ‘The Captain’s’ 19th win

“Regardless of where you’re sitting. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving the car, you’re working on it or you’re out here in the crowd. You’re a part of this event and the energy. So thank you to Indianapolis. I love this city. I grew up racing karts here when I was a kid. I’m just so thankful for Roger and (team president) Tim (Cindric) and everybody at Team Penske.

“I just felt like everyone kept asking me why I haven’t won this race. They look at you like you’re a failure if you don’t win it, and I wanted to win it so bad. I knew we could. I knew we were capable. It’s a huge team effort. I’m so glad to be here.”

Newgarden became the first driver from Tennessee to win the Indy 500 and the first American to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing since Alexander Rossi in 2016.

“I think the last two laps I forgot about being a track owner and said let’s go for it,” Penske told Snider. “But what a great day. All these wonderful fans. To get No. 19 racing my guy Ganassi, my best friend in this business. But a terrific effort by Josef. Tim Cindric called a perfect race.

“Had a great race, safe race. I’ll never forget it. I know Josef wanted it so bad and wondered why he couldn’t be there, but today all day long, he worked his way up there, and at the end when it was time to go, I was betting on him.”

After Newgarden finally got his first Indy 500 victory on his 12th attempt the two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion climbed out of his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet, squeezed through a hole in the catchfence and ran into the stands to celebrate with fans.

“I’ve always wanted to go into the crowd at Indianapolis,” Newgarden said. “I wanted to go through the fence. I wanted to celebrate with the people. I just thought it would be so cool because I know what that energy is like on race day. This was a dream of mine. If this was ever going to happen, I wanted to do that.”

After finishing 0.0974 seconds behind in second with his No. 8 Dallara-Honda, Ericsson was upset about how IndyCar officials handled the ending.

Though it’s not the first time a red flag has been used to guarantee a green-flag finish at the Indy 500, IndyCar races typically haven’t been restarted with only one lap remaining. The green flag was thrown as the field left the pits in an unusual maneuver that had echoes of Formula One’s controversial 2021 season finale.

“I just feel like it was unfair and a dangerous end to the race,” Ericsson told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I don’t think there was enough laps to do what we did. We’ve never done a restart out of the pits, and we don’t get the tires up to temperature.

“I think we did everything right today. I’m very proud of the No. 8 crew. I think I did everything right behind the wheel. I did an awesome last restart. I think I caught Josef completely off guard and got the gap and kept the lead. But I just couldn’t hold it on the (backstretch). I was flat but couldn’t hold it. I’m proud of us.

“Congratulations to Josef, he did everything right as well. He’s a worthy champion, I’m just very disappointed with the way that ended. I don’t think that was fair.”

There also were a lot of emotions for Ferrucci, who was tearing up as he exited his No. 14 Dallara-Chevy. In the past eight weeks, the team has weathered the deaths of A.J. Foyt’s wife and longtime publicist Anne Fornoro’s husband.

“It’s just tough,” Ferrucci told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “We were there all day. All day. I’m just so proud of our AJ Foyt Racing team. We had a few people riding on board with us. This one stings, it’s bittersweet. I’m happy for third and the team. I’m happy for Josef and all of Team Penske.

“I was trying not to tear up getting into the race car before we started the race. Different emotions. It was different. I think coming to the end, the last few restarts. I think IndyCar did the right decision with what they have done. a green-flag finish for the fans. Wish we had a couple more laps to finish that off.”

Pole-sitter Alex Palou rebounded to finish fourth after a collision in the pits near the midpoint. Alexander Rossi took fifth.

The race was stopped three times for 37 minutes for three crashes, including a terrifying wreck involving Felix Rosenqvist and Kyle Kirkwood that sent a tire over the Turn 2 catchfence.

It had been relatively clean with only two yellow flags until the final 50 miles.

After spending the first half of the race trading the lead, pole-sitter Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay (who started second) collided while exiting the pits under yellow on Lap 94.

Leaving the pits after leading 24 laps, VeeKay lost control under acceleration. He looped his No. 21 Dallara-Chevy into the No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Palou that already had left the first pit stall after completing its stop,

Palou, who had led 36 laps. stayed on the lead lap despite multiple stops to replace the front wing but restarted in 28th.

“What an absolute legend trying to win it,” Palou sarcastically radioed his team about VeeKay, who received a drive-through penalty for the contact when the race returned to green.

The incident happened after the first yellow flag on Lap 92 after Sting Ray Robb slapped the outside wall in Turn 1 after battling with Graham Rahal.

Robb put the blame on Rahal in an interview with NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch.

“I think I just need to pay more attention to the stereotypes of the series,” Robb said. “Pay attention to who I’m racing, and that was just way too aggressive of a move I thought. But yeah, I guess we’re in the wall and not much further to say.”

An already miserable May for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing continued before the race even started.

Rahal, who failed to qualify but started his 16th consecutive Indy 500 in place of the injured Stefan Wilson, was unable to start his No. 24 for Dreyer & Reinbold/Cusick Motorsports.

After two aborted attempts at firing the car’s Chevrolet engine, team members pushed Rahal behind the pit wall and swapped out a dead battery. Rahal finally joined the field on the third lap, but he wouldn’t finish last.

RLL teammate Katherine Legge, who had been involved in the Monday practice crash that fractured Wilson’s back, struggled with the handling on her No. 44 Dallara-Honda and nearly spun while exiting the pits after her first stop on Lap 35.

Legge exited her car about 30 laps later as her team began working to fix a steering problem.