Despite elimination, Kyle Busch’s crew chief says Chase format is fair

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A 26-point cushion going into Sunday’s Contender Round elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway was not enough to keep Kyle Busch in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

A crash at Lap 102 collected Busch at the back of the pack and effectively ruined what had been a strong post-season for “Rowdy.” Going into ‘Dega, he’d rattled off five Top-10s in five Chase races and Top-5s in the last two.

But Busch’s 40th-place finish on Sunday dropped him seven points behind the cutoff for the Eliminator Round. It’s a tough way to go out, but his crew chief, Dave Rogers – who spoke to the media while Busch made no comments himself following the race – says there’s no point in complaining about the new Chase format that placed the unpredictable ‘Dega as the second of three cut races.

“It’s a fair format because they give us the rules before the Daytona 500,” Rogers said. “They told us what the rules were and we all signed up the play. I love this game and I love playing this sport. They can change the rules every year and the points format — that’s none of my business.

“I just have to read the rules and try to perform at our best according to them. I’m bitter and I’m discouraged, but I’m not going to sit here and say it’s unfair. The rules are the rules — they didn’t change them halfway through Talladega. Nothing to complain about there.”

And just as Rogers accepts the format, he also accepts that things can change instantly at NASCAR’s wildest speedway.

“It’s not a shock [not to advance] — you’re just here at Talladega and you know things can happen,” he said. “It happens. It’s not a shock, but on the other hand, it’s by no means an indication of what this race team is about.”

The championship may be out of reach, but Rogers, Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing camp can prove what they’re about by doing well in the final four races of the season.

It’s a stretch that Rogers looks forward to running with Busch, who he says has stepped up as a leader for the team during the post-season even as things haven’t always gone their way.

“We’ve had a couple things go against us — getting the nose knocked off at Loudon, today, and Kyle’s done a really good job of biting his lip and just backing the race team to let us do our job,” he said.

“Kyle, I can’t say enough good about him. I’m really proud of him. It’s been a lot of fun working with him and we’re not done yet. We can’t win the championship, but we can still advance in points and work our way up to fifth. We’re going to go to Martinsville working hard and we’re going to try to win all these races.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.