Don’t look now, but Kyle Busch is putting together a strong Chase

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Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick may be in the Eliminator Round of the Chase thanks to wins in the last two weeks.

But look who’s proven to be the “best of the rest” among the remaining Chasers: Kyle Busch, who has built up a 26-point cushion going into Sunday’s elimination race at Talladega.

Quite frankly, that’s an impressive turnaround from where he and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team were at the tail end of the regular season.

How many of us were thinking that Busch would do well in the Chase while he was in the middle of that horrendous four-race stretch in August (42nd at Pocono, 40th at Watkins Glen, 39th at Michigan, 36th at Bristol) – a stretch that included him and crew chief Dave Rogers going at each other over the radio in Thunder Valley?

The results weren’t coming. The chemistry was seemingly shot. And Busch seemed destined for an early post-season exit.

Instead, Busch has rattled off runs of seventh, eighth, 10th, third, and fifth in the first five Chase races.

You can’t help but think of Marvin the Martian: “Where’s the Kaboom? There’s supposed to be an Earth-shattering Kaboom!”

It’s not happening. Even though Busch and JGR can’t quite match up on pure speed with the Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske drivers, they’re doing what they have to do to get deeper into this Chase.

“It wasn’t a win – which is what we really want – but it’s another solid finish for us,” Busch said after leading 41 laps en route to his fifth-place run in Charlotte on Saturday night. “We just need to go to Talladega next week and try to avoid the ‘Big One’.”

After sitting on the pole and leading the first 13 laps, Busch gradually faded to the lower reaches of the Top 10. But under caution at Lap 135, Rogers called for a big adjustment – an added left-rear spring rubber and a wedge removal – that proved to work well for Busch as he charged back into the Top 5.

“These things are so finicky on pit stops,” Busch continued. “It’s been that way all year long for us. Little adjustments just didn’t help us tonight. We made that one big change, and the car really took off for us.”

And now, the 18 camp is one more strong result away from getting to the Eliminator Round – a possibility that seemed quite remote not too long ago.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.