Kyle Busch leads surprising group of Chasers in Top 10 at Kansas

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Kyle Busch is probably muttering “Hallelujah” right now.

After all, he and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team’s prayers were answered.

Busch was motoring along in the Top 5 late in today’s Contender Round opener at Kansas Speedway when an apparent engine issue started to develop.

“Y’all better pray it’s going to make it,” Busch reportedly said over the team radio.

Considering Kansas has been a rather hellish place for Busch in regards to results over the course of Sprint Cup career, perhaps him asking for divine help was understandable.

But whether it was the work of angels or a sturdy Toyota motor, Busch avoided calamity and picked up a third-place finish behind winner Joey Logano and runner-up Kyle Larson.

With his best-ever Cup finish at Kansas, Busch is now second in the Chase Grid going into next weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, 19 points over the cutoff to advance to the Eliminator Round.

“It says good things about us,” said Busch, who recovered from a speeding penalty on pit road near the midway point of the race. “…I can’t say enough about [crew chief] Dave Rogers and the fight in this 18 bunch. They’ve done a really good job this year, this Chase time. It’s a matter of just trying to keep piecing these [results] together like that.

“Mile-and-a-halves [tracks] haven’t been our strong suit this year, and we know we have some work to do on that program. [Logano and Larson] just left us. They were flat out flying today, and I’m sure there are a couple other cars that were good enough to finish third, fourth, fifth. We were probably sixth or seventh, but we’ll take a third.”

Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, also acknowledged the performance gap between JGR and the front-running Hendrick and Penske teams.

But with all four of the Hendrick drivers and Penske’s Brad Keselowski suffering various setbacks today, Hamlin’s seventh-place run puts him fifth on the Chase Grid, 14 points to the good.

“We didn’t think we were going to contend here for a win today, but we knew we could contend for a Top-5, Top-10 finish and we did,” said Hamlin.

“I saw those guys around us having a lot of issues, and we don’t have a lot of the speed that those guys have. So maybe if we can get them out in this round, we can get a fighting chance and get to the end of this thing.”

In between Busch and Hamlin were two more surprises – Carl Edwards in fifth and Ryan Newman in sixth. That gives both Edwards and Newman identical 16-point cushions over the cutoff.

For Edwards, it’s his sixth Top-5 finish and his 11th Top-10 finish in 15 starts at Kansas, but he’s still searching for his first win there.

As for Newman, he went to the lead during a round of yellow-flag stops with less than 40 laps to go and held the point following a restart with 33 to go.

But another yellow quickly came out and set up another restart with 28 to go. It was there that Newman apparently decided to look at the big picture.

“I was a leader and a sitting duck,” Newman said. “The first restart, I think I got a push from [Logano] and he shot me out just enough so I could run around [Busch]. But the next restart, I saw [Busch] out there gaining, gaining, gaining. I thought to myself, ‘Blocking is probably not the best thing to do in this position.’

“I knew a lot of the other guys were having a bad day. I could’ve been a little bit more aggressive on my part, but that would’ve put him more aggressive if he was in a bad mood.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.