Kyle Busch: Charlotte could ultimately be second biggest race of season next to finale at Homestead

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CONCORD, N.C. – Next to the season finale and Sprint Cup championship deciding race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 could ultimately be the second second biggest race of the season, says pole-sitter Kyle Busch.

After claiming the pole Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch agreed that Saturday’s race has optimal significance for all Chase drivers, but especially for those who are at potential risk of being eliminated and missing the upcoming Eliminator Round after next Sunday’s race at Talladega.

“Yes, I would say that this certainly has a big importance especially to the guys that are farther back,” Busch said. “They know this is a track that’s in their own destiny, that they can do good at, that they can win at.

“Next week (at Talladega) is a complete unknown. You could have a David Ragan win the race, we’ve seen that (in the past). That won’t do anything good for the guys that need wins to get themselves moved on.”

So, particularly for the four drivers who are at the bottom of the Sprint Cup standings currently – Kasey Kahne (ninth), Brad Keselowski (10th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th) and Jimmie Johnson (12th) – are essentially in must-win situations Saturday night if they hope to get to the next round, particularly with the unpredictability of ‘Dega.

But Busch, who is second in the Cup standings, also has his own idea of what he’d like to do Saturday, as well as where he and his team go from there.

“In my mind, the perfect scenario for us and the 18 team is to come out of here with a solid top-five finish hopefully, go into Talladega, race ’em like heck, win that race, go to Martinsville and win that race, then go to Homestead and win that race,” Busch said. “You do those three things and you’re the champion. Sign me up, sign me up.”

Gee, listening to Busch, that “perfect scenario” sounds so simple and easy.

Yet, it’ll likely be anything but – unless Kyle knows something the rest of us don’t.

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Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).